A fairly new concept of beekeeping is the flow hive. First released in 2015 as a new and effective way of ethical beekeeping practices, reactions and reviews to the flow hive have been mixed. The first design of the flow hive has beekeepers sitting on the fence unable to decide whether flow hives are a great initiative.
Flow Hives are a new and sustainable way of beekeeping and collecting honey with minimal traditional beekeeping practices and maintenance involved. The flow hive offers a convenient way of collecting honey with minimal impact on the bees.
Traditionally, beekeeping has involved more maintenance and upkeep to care for bees and collect honey. It has worked well for thousands of years but there have still been some major frustrations in the process involved. Enter the flow hive. Is it a rip-off or is it worth it? We’re going to talk about the benefits and advantages of a flow hive and let you decide.
What is a Flow Hive?
If you’re new to the world of beekeeping and the difference between traditional Langstroth hives and the all-new invention of flow hives and what it is they do, we’ve got you covered.
Forward-thinking evolutionary ideas and entrepreneurship combined have discovered a new way to extract honey with a whole new process of honey extraction, in a device called a Flow Hive.
Invented and brought to life by father and son duo, Stuart and Cedar Anderson, their mission is to help preserve forest habitats and continue to prove the essentialness of bees in our ecosystem.
These two beekeeping enthusiasts, who have been beekeeping for over thirty years, by the way, turned beekeeping entrepreneurs have delivered a device that looks good, is harmless to bee economies, is environmentally friendly, and extracts honey without the time-consuming mess honey extraction usually involves.
A flow hive comes with all the same components as a Langstroth hive:
- Brood box to house the queen and the brood with comb frames
- Bottom board
- Brood/comb frames, usually a set of 5 – 10 are included in a hive
- Queen Excluder
- Honey super, which is where extra honey is stored up and where beekeepers take their honey from
- Inner cover and a lid
These are the typical parts you would find in a Langstroth hive, while the latest flow hive design also comes with the following parts:
- An in-built spirit level to ensure your hive is placed on level ground
- Easy to put together hive stand to alter the height and place it in a stable position
- Ventilated tray covers for seasonal ventilation control
- Ant guards in the form of a liquid barrier to help keep ants and other creepy crawlies away
- A removable tray under the bottom board that collects pests and prevents them from entering the hive
- An adjustable harvesting shelf for different sized jars to collect honey
- A flow-key to open the super when the harvest is ready
- Tubes for the honey to flow freely into your jars
The honey super is where the traditional Langstroth hive and the flow hive differ.
The flow hive design of a honey super is called a “Flow Frame” and is made like any other super but has the foundation of a hive already made into it using food-grade plastic so there’s less work for the bees to do to be able to fill the holes with honey.
- The bees still create their own beeswax layer and caps and can build further onto these frames
- The frames in the brood box come in two different options:
- Partially made comb guides in the frame to help the bees get started
- Frames free of any comb foundations so the bees can start their comb from scratch
- Traditional super frames come without any foundation or have a simple wax coating that the bees can work from
There is a key system in place, that when turned on the outside of the hive box, the super splits horizontally to open the cells and release the honey without disturbing the bees or the caps. In fact, it’s so safe for bees, that they don’t even notice the split has happened.
Because the beeswax caps aren’t disturbed, there’s no wax or impurities in the honey and it doesn’t even need to be filtered. You receive fresh, raw, natural, and unpasteurized honey in as little as 10 minutes.
Through the observation windows, you can easily see when the honey is fully drained from the super which is when you turn the key to put the super back into place.
The honeybees will notice that their hive is empty of honey behind the caps, chew through them, and get back to doing what they do best which is to produce more honey and fill the hive again.
Any comb and honey produced in the brood box is not disturbed and is left for the bees for their winter produce to be able to sustain their colony over the colder winter months.
- Any leftover honey in the bottom of the super is drained back into the hive when the cap is re-attached and licked up by the bees so there’s no fermented or candied honey remaining.
Why Are Many Beekeepers Against the Flow Hive?
There have been numerous concerns among the beekeeping community about whether the flow hive design is actually ethical for the bees and if it is indeed easier for beekeepers.
Here is a list of some of the main concerns among the community:
- It’s pricey
- The lack of the traditional hands-on nature of beekeeping will promote a lazy beekeeping culture
- The food-grade plastic supers are unhealthy for the bees
- The flow hive will also promote a greedy habit among beekeepers to take too much honey
- Initial advertising made it sound like traditional beekeeping was a harmful and violent way of extracting honey from bees
While many of these issues have been handled with care from the creators of the Flow Hive, they have continued to listen and hear their critics out and implement new designs to continue to improve the flow hive.
The latest design, the Flow Hive 2 +, is a testament to the Anderson duo to prove they care for the beekeeping community, the health of the bees ecosystem, and the honey extraction process as much as any other expert or novice beekeeper.
Are beekeepers still against the Flow Hive? Probably.
One simple fact is that people don’t often like change, and the flow hive changes the way beekeeping has worked for 10,000 years.
If you’re new to beekeeping, you might look at the flow hive as an opportunity to be a part of a forward-thinking community, whose main goal just as beekeeping has always been, is to protect bee colonies while also having a faster and more efficient way of collecting honey.
What Are the Benefits of a Flow Hive?
Now that you’re on board with the workings of a flow hive, the founders, the criticism, and the fact that all innovations are judged because they’re “new”, let’s take a look at the benefits of the flow hive.
Here are the benefits of a flow hive:
Less disruption to the bees
While bees are busy working, they don’t need to be disturbed.
Interrupting their flow can be harmful to their progress and set them back in work for a little while.
Flow hives reduce this by incorporating a process of extracting the honey by using a Flow Super that doesn’t involve opening the hive and disrupting the bees.
Unfortunately, sometimes in traditional beekeeping processes, bees can be harmed. We’re not saying anyone does this purposefully or means to cause any harm, it’s just a fact that bees can get harmed in the process of beekeeping.
The invention of the flow super reduces any harm to the bees immensely and therefore causes less stress on the bees and their colonies.
Easy to set up and use
Like a piece of Ikea furniture, a Flow Hive is easy to set up and easy to use.
The user-friendliness of the design is one of the most appealing factors about the flow hive and might be why new beekeepers around the world, or people who have always wanted to try beekeeping but never did for whatever reason, are raving about the flow hive.
Easier for beekeepers
When we say easier for beekeepers, we mean fewer bee stings. Doesn’t that sound nice?
We’re not going to lie, there is still a chance that you could get stung, they are fragile little bees by the way and we’re a lot bigger than they are so we can easily be seen as a threat.
But one of the ways the flow hive works is to help prevent beekeepers from getting painful stings in the inspection, maintenance, and honey extracting processes.
Easier to harvest honey
When harvesting from traditional Langstroth hives, you can usually expect a fair amount of mess. Sticky, honey, mess.
The flow hive has improved this messy honey extracting procedure by eliminating the need to remove combs and use any type of extractor.
No more mess, no more sticky honey where it shouldn’t be, no need for expensive extracting equipment, and no need to maintain any extracting equipment among other beekeeping tools.
Flow Hives Produce Pure, Unfiltered, Raw Honey
The design of the flow hive means you don’t have to filter the honey if you don’t want to.
The honey comes from the opposite side of the comb to where the bees live, so when the food-grade plastic flow super is split to release honey, it never opens the beeswax caps made by the bees which mean there’s only clean and pure honey draining through the super tube.
You can eat the honey right away, it’s perfectly safe.
Cost-effective in the long run
One of the only downfalls to a flow hive is the initial expense to purchase the hive.
When compared with a Langstroth beehive, which can cost up to approximately US$750 – including all the necessary equipment, one hive, and the bee package or Nucs – a flow hive, that starts at over US$650 just for the hive and its equipment, is considered a large investment as far as beekeeping goes.
The difference here is that once you’ve purchased your flow hive, the bee package or Nucs, and some minor protective wear, you don’t need anything else and there’s no need for expensive harvesting equipment.
The equipment that you do have, is easy to maintain and can easily be purchased from the same website you purchased your flow hive from.
Ask any beekeeper, traditional beekeeping isn’t time-consuming in the way of how many hours you need to spend checking and maintaining your beehives, but the honey extraction process is where the time-consuming element comes into beekeeping.
- In some cases, you need to rehome the bees to another hive which can take a couple of days
- Gently remove the combs, place them somewhere free of contamination
- Uncap the honeycomb from the beeswax caps which the bees create to keep honey in the little hexagonal holes. This can be done with a hot knife or an “uncapping comb”, whichever tool you choose, you need to be very careful not to ruin the honeycomb the bees have worked so hard to create so that you can reuse the honeycomb in the hive repeatedly.
- Spin the honey out of the holes with a honey extractor or using the crushing and straining method (this involves crushing the comb though and takes an extra couple of days…)
- Using the tap at the bottom of the honey extractor, release the honey for filtering
- Filter the honey to remove any grime, contamination, and bee parts from the honey
- Let the honey settle
- Divide into jars
As we mentioned, it’s a timely process. Some beekeepers love the lengthy process and find it therapeutic so we’re not saying it’s a bad thing. We’re just pointing out that the extraction process is lengthy. This might be one of the reasons many people who have always wanted to try beekeeping don’t end up doing it.
Compare traditional honey extracting with the steps of the flow hive honey extracting method:
- Use the key to split the flow super
- Attach the hose
- Open the tap
- Let the honey run into the jars
- Enjoy the honey
Flow hives are an effective way of saving time in the honey extracting process.
You can easily check on your bees
The observation windows are a great way for us to check on the bees without opening the hive and disrupting their workday as well as a great way to keep an eye on the health of the bees in the hive and to keep an eye on honey levels in the flow super.
You can watch the fascinating process of bees hard at work without ever having to disturb them.
They Look Good
Langstroth hives, even when well maintained, painted, and looked after, can sometimes end up looking like you’ve got a messy yard. This isn’t always the case; we’ve seen some great-looking Langstroth hives in our time.
The difference with a Flow hive is that the easy maintenance keeps them looking nicer for longer and they add character to your garden the way a nice big garden ornament would do.
Flow hives look like little houses for bees, complete with an angled slate-roof and great big observation windows.
Are Flow Hives Worth It?
Beekeeping is a hobby for some and a career for others. Whatever the reason for beekeeping, it’s generally a community of eco-friendly and nature-loving individuals and groups who take up an interest in beekeeping. Maybe some real honey-lovers too.
Both Langstroth hives and Flow Hives have the same interests and outlooks in mind, to care for bee colonies and promote their ongoing value in our ecosystem, and to collect honey.
While the flow hive might sound like a viable and easy solution to being able to keep bees and harvest honey, some still prefer the good old days where traditional beekeeping has done well for a very long time.
Innovation and new engineering have now, like most other things in the world, provided a new way of doing something that just like everything else new, has been received with suspicion, mixed emotions, a good amount of outrage, and a wide-spread vote of confidence from the younger generations.
Now you need to ask yourself, is tradition something you’re willing to break, and is the flow hive worth breaking it for? We hope that we have provided you with all the relevant information needed to make that decision.
In conclusion, the flow hive has numerous advantages and benefits for both busy bees and humans alike. Although it is an expensive start-up, whether it be for a hobby or to pursue a career in the honey making business, the flow hive provides a great way for everyone, including children to be able to get involved with beekeeping and to join in the advancement of bringing awareness to the importance of bees.