The beekeeping industry has made some big leaps forward since the days when skeps were commonly in use. General practices have improved and researchers have had some success with developing pest-resistant bees.
Beekeeping equipment has also seen many advancements including the invention of the innovative Flow Hive design. It takes the ever-popular Langstroth and makes it possible to harvest honey quickly, easily, and without the need for an extractor.
In this guide, we’ll explain how a Flow Hive works and help you decide whether it’s worth the investment.
What is a Flow Hive?
A flow hive is a relatively new style of hive that uses standard Langstroth frames. Instead of removing the entire frame to harvest the honey, a tube is inserted into one end of the super. Once a flow key is inserted and turned 90° the cells split causing honey to flow into the beekeeper’s waiting vessel.
How a flow hive works
The following steps give more detail on how honey is transferred from a hive to the beekeepers container.
Step 1 – Building honeycomb
A flow hive super is filled with frames that are standard Langstroth dimensions. The cells are already partially formed and once the hive gets to work, they’ll instinctively use their beeswax to complete the comb.
There are handy cutouts at one end of the super. These make it easy to observe the frame and check on the colony’s progress. The bees will fill the cells with honey and then cap them.
Step 2 – Inserting the Flow Key
The most unique feature of Flow Hives is the extraction method.
While Langstroths require removing the entire super, Flow Hives are much less invasive. The frame is left where it is and a honey tube is inserted into a trough at the base of the frame.
Next, a key access cap is removed and a Flow Key is inserted into a slot. Once it’s in place, the key is turned 90° towards the ground, causing the honeycomb inside to split.
Step 3 – Collecting the honey
At this stage, the honey cells have formed channels for the honey to run to the bottom of the frame. The liquid reaches the honey tube and exits into the beekeeper’s jar or container.
During this whole process, the bees remain unharmed on the comb’s surface. Should a bee happen to be inside a cell when the Flow Key is turned, there is enough room for it to crawl out unharmed.
Step 4 – Cell repair
After honey harvesting, the key is rotated back to its original point, causing the torn cells to realign. The bees will then tear off the cappings and fix the cells before refilling them.
You can check out the video below to see the Flow Hive in action:
What are some other types of hives to consider?
The Flow Hive is an excellent option but there are some other choices that may work better for you. Check out our complete guide to the types of hives or choose one of the popular options below.
Main parts of a Flow Hive
Flow Hives have a range of patented components that are designed to make beekeeping easier and less intrusive for the hive.
Flow super: Special super that mimics the size of a Langstroth and houses the Flow frames.
Frames: Patented frames that come with Flow Tubes and a Flow Key to extract the honey while the hive remains closed.
Observation windows: Windows on the super make it easy to check the honeycomb progression and your bees at a glance.
Harvesting shelf: A shelf that can be adjusted to allow for different-sized collection vessels.
Brood box: Used to house brood frames which are where the eggs, larva, and pupae develop into adult bees.
Inner cover: A cover that is placed above the top super and has a central hole and removable plug for bee feeding.
Ventilation control: A helpful system that allows beekeepers to adjust the airflow based on temperature and humidity.
Roof: A shingled roof to keep the bees protected from the elements and unwanted pests. The roof can be secured in stormy, windy weather.
Multifunctional tray: A tray that slides into the base which is useful for pest inspections and treatments.
Flow Hive maintenance
The regular inspections and maintenance that get carried out on a Langstroth also apply to a Flow Hive. We suggest checking out our hive inspection article to get an idea of what is involved.
After harvesting a Flow Hive frame the colony will clean up and mend the damaged cells. Leftover honey in the trough will drip back into the hive through a small gap in the frames.
Advantages of Flow Hives
The innovative design of a Flow Hive offers some significant benefits for the beekeeper and the bees.
Harvesting made easy
Quick and easy honey extraction from their frames is the biggest benefit a Flow Hive offers. Other hives require lifting heavy supers and potentially expensive equipment, while Flow Hives provide honey with the turn of a key. It’s an ideal option for people with mobility constraints to get involved in this hobby.
Rather than disturbing the bees and lifting out a whole super, the hive remains intact during honey production. This non-invasive approach doesn’t require brushing away bees or smoking. Most importantly, no stray bees get crushed under a heavy box.
Tools like honey extractors can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the size of your operation. With flow hives, there is no need for these added expenses.
The Flow Hive is a self-sufficient unit that doesn’t use up a lot of space. Compared to a Langstroth, there’s no storage space needed for extras like spare supers, smokers, and honey extractors.
Traditional honey harvesting may require the beekeeper to cut off the cappings, remove the honey, then replace the comb in the hive. This process causes massive cell damage which takes the hive a long time to repair. While repairs are needed after harvesting a Flow Hive, it is much less work for them to fix.
Quality construction materials
Flow Hives are made from sustainable A Grade Red Cedar wood. This gives the hive a rich, warming color that looks impressive in any yard or field. The use of cedar means the hive will last many years before it needs replacing.
Disadvantages of Flow Hives
The flow hive has some enviable features, but like any hive, there are also some cons to consider.
May appeal to lazy beekeepers
Much of the marketing message that goes behind the Flow Hive is based on ease of use. Except for honey harvesting, all the regular hive maintenance, testing, and treatments need to be diligently carried out. There are concerns people look at Flow Hives as a “set and forget” operation.
Hive prices vary depending on the product, but Flow Hives are generally more expensive than other popular options. You’re paying for the added technology that makes life easier during the honey flow.
If you’re looking to scale up your beekeeping operation, then flow hives may not be the most cost-effective option.
Keep in mind that there will be some savings from needing less equipment.
May be prone to threats
It is important to ensure the tubes are completely sealed. Failure to do this will provide ants, wasps, and other predators with easy access to the hive.
There are also concerns that this design may encourage robbing.
Plastic flow frames
Flow Hive frames are made from food-safe plastic which the manufacturer claims are safe. However, this material doesn’t have the same benefits as natural beeswax, which can remove impurities from honey and preserve it.
Some beekeepers are concerned that the honey may become contaminated with trace elements from the plastic.
There are some concerns that Flow Hives may encourage beekeepers to exploit their bees. The simple use of a tap means that it’s easier to look at hives simply as a big honey tank. This could deny bees of their food source that gets them through winter.
History of the Flow Hive
The Flow Hive was invented by Stuart and Cedar Anderson, beekeepers from Australia. Their goal was to improve the Langstroth so that opening the hive wasn’t needed during harvest.
The new design was put under the spotlight in 2015 when an Indiegogo campaign was launched by the founders. They hoped to reach $70,000 but instead, the pair quickly had reached funding of $12 million. Since then the Flow Hive design has been expanded, with different products added to the range.
The Flow Hive is an excellent beehive that uses innovative design to make honey production easier. The turnkey operation also makes the honey collection process less invasive for bees.
While Flow Hives will surely appeal to beginner beekeepers, it’s important to remember that they’re not completely hands-off. Here at Bee Professor, we hope that this new style of hive will attract motivated people looking to get started in beekeeping. By getting stuck in to the needed work they should be well rewarded with a good supply of honey and happy bees.Featured image credit: Flow Hive, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons