What are the advantages of the Flow Hive?

by Flow Hive 8 min read

Ever since the launch of the Flow Hive in 2015, it has drawn mixed reactions from the beekeeping community. While it sparked a wave of enthusiasm for and interest in beekeeping, the Flow system has had its detractors. While some of the scepticism directed at it is rooted in valid concerns, much of it arises from misconceptions and misinformation. 

Many of the initial criticisms have been debunked, and with over 100,000 Flow customers around the globe, the Flow Hive has been a resounding success and a revolutionary breakthrough in the world of beekeeping. Although the Flow Hive makes honey harvesting easier, this doesn’t mean that every beekeeper needs to use a Flow Hive to successfully care for their colony. Each approach to beekeeping has its unique advantages and drawbacks, and there is no universally correct way to care for bees. Beekeeping, like any craft, embraces diversity, and this diversity is its strength.

Here we’ll take a look at some of the criticisms of Flow Hives and dispel certain misconceptions. We’ll also briefly mention the advantages of Flow Hives and take a look at why they are beloved by so many beekeepers.


     

    What are the advantages of the Flow Hive?

    Effortless honey harvesting

    Conventional beekeeping methods involve the arduous process of dismantling the hive, removing frames, and extracting honey using specialized equipment. The Flow Hive eliminates this messy, sticky, labour-intensive work. There’s something thrilling every time you turn your Flow Key and watch as gorgeous honey drains straight from the hive into your jar, leaving the bees undisturbed. The Flow system makes honey harvesting easier and less stressful for both the beekeeper and the bees.

    Flow Hive vs conventional extraction

    Innovative design

    Innovation has always been at the forefront of Flow – not surprising for a company founded by an inventor who loves beekeeping! Each iteration of the Flow Hive builds on the original concept to improve and refine products based on user feedback. The built-in observation windows, pest management tray and adjustable hive stand are just a few examples of the features that set the Flow Hive apart.

    The hive's built-in observation windows allow you to monitor the bees' progress without disturbing them, making it an excellent educational tool for beginners and a fascinating learning experience for kids.

     

    Unique flavours

    One of the remarkable aspects that constantly astounds customers is the distinctive nature of each Flow Hive harvest. This uniqueness arises from this groundbreaking system that enables you to harvest honey frame by frame. This approach allows you to savour the individual flavours and subtle aromas specific to your local area. Bees forage on a wide variety of flowering plants and tend to fill cells in succession one frame at a time. This results in honeycomb frames that can look, smell and taste unique. 

    With Flow's patented technology, you can harvest in small, separate batches, directly into your jar. This means there's no need for the blending typical of conventional harvesting methods. As a result, you can savour the pure essence of your local environment in every jar of honey, preserving the unique qualities that set your honey apart from all others.

    Multiple honey colours from a single Flow Hive
    Varied honey colours from a single Flow Hive

     

    Ethical impact

    Flow is about more than harvesting honey in a gentle way – we’re about creating community, educating on the importance of bees, and empowering beekeepers. Bees are tiny environmental champions and we strive to follow in their footsteps by doing business in a regenerative, ethical and sustainable way.

    We’re striving for a world in which pollinators are protected and celebrated for the key role they play in sustaining life on our planet. For this reason, we’re a certified B-corp, meaning we have to meet the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and legal accountability. 

    We’re committed to the future of people and pollinators, and that’s why we’ve already donated over $1M AUD to projects that support and conserve pollinators. Because if we look after the bees, they’ll look after us. And the honey really is an amazing bonus!

     

    Community and support

    The Flow Hive has sparked a vibrant global community of beekeepers who share their experiences, knowledge, and tips. Coupled with unrivalled educational resources and excellent customer support, this sense of community makes Flow a great choice for first-time beekeepers. 

     

    What are the disadvantages of the Flow Hive?

    Cost

    It's undeniable that the Flow Hive comes with a higher price tag compared to conventional beehives. However, this upfront investment can be balanced against the expenses associated with conventional honey extraction methods. In the conventional process, labour-intensive harvesting and the need for costly extraction equipment can add up significantly over time. In the long run, when you factor in the time, effort, and investment required for extraction equipment in a Langstroth hive, the pricing becomes quickly more comparable.

    Flow technology is the first of its kind in the world. With an aim to do business in an ethical and sustainable manner with all those involved in the creation of Flow products, this is a further contributing factor to the price point.

    All plastics used are of the highest quality available, and all timber is sustainably sourced, harvested, and milled, which means it is more expensive than using lower-grade, less environmentally conscious timber sources. All staff are paid fair wages and employed in fair-trade conditions.

    With an aim to make these premium products as accessible as possible, there are a range of options to suit different budgets.

     

    Plastic in beehives

    Some beekeepers hold strong reservations about using plastic components anywhere within beehives. Plastics have been used for many years in beehives for both brood and honeycombs and have not been found to negatively impact on bee colonies.

    Foundationless brood frames are provided with all Flow Hives. This allows the bees to build their own natural brood comb structure with different cell sizes for the different types of bees. 

    Bees building natural comb in a foundationless brood frame
    Bees building natural comb in a foundationless brood frame

     

    Flow Frames are manufactured from the highest quality food-grade materials. All plastics are BPA-free, and are not manufactured with any bisphenol compounds. Third-party labs have tested this material and have found it to be free of estrogenic and androgenic activity. The bees coat the Flow Frame cells in wax before they store their honey, so the honey does not come into contact with the plastic in the Flow Frames.

     

    Flow Hives are bad for bees

    Critics have raised concerns that the Flow system might tempt beekeepers to harvest honey too frequently, leaving the bees short of their own food supply. Some also contend that the ease of honey extraction will lead to lazy beekeeping, discouraging beekeepers from regularly inspecting their hives and maintaining their colonies.

    It's important to understand that while the Flow Hive simplifies the honey-harvesting process, it doesn't absolve beekeepers of their responsibility to care for their bees properly. This involves ensuring that the bees have an adequate food supply, especially during periods of scarcity, conducting regular checks for diseases and pests, and adhering to best practices in beekeeping. Beekeeping is a commitment and a continuous learning experience, demanding time and effort but offering significant rewards in return. 

    Education and support for beekeepers have always been at the forefront of our mission. We provide a wealth of resources through our FAQs, blogs and educational videos. Cedar’s weekly Facebook Live sessions cover a range of beekeeping topics and allow you to ask questions in real time. Our community forum is a great place to swap tips and get advice from beekeepers around the world.

    To provide comprehensive education, our online course at TheBeekeeper.org covers everything aspiring beekeepers need to know. With insights from leading beekeeping experts, the course starts with the basics and progressively delves into more advanced topics, equipping members with the knowledge and skills to become confident beekeepers.

     

    You can’t harvest wax or honeycomb from a Flow Hive

    Flow Frames are designed purely for the ease of harvesting honey, and as such, you cannot produce beeswax/honeycomb from these. Honey comes out of the Flow Frames free from wax and ready for use. All the wax stays in the hive and the bees reuse it. Bees use about 7kg of honey to make 1kg of wax, so this aspect of the Flow system can improve your hive’s rate of honey production.

    If you are interested in collecting beeswax from your hive, the Flow Hive Hybrid is designed for those interested in collecting beeswax and enjoying the natural honeycomb experience, offering the best of both worlds. This complete hive combines Flow Frame technology with conventional timber frames in the Flow Super, enabling beekeepers to harvest both honey and honeycomb. This means you can collect beeswax from the four conventional frames within your super.

    Additionally, there are a couple of options available for those using a Flow Hive 2 or a Classic model who wish to harvest honeycomb. One approach involves removing the plug from the inner cover, allowing the bees to access the roof area where they can build comb. Putting a container such as a Pyrex dish above the hole for the bees to build comb in is more convenient and less messy than harvesting from the roof cavity. Another option is to add an extra box of foundationless frames above the Flow Super, allowing you to cut the honeycomb directly from these frames.

     

    Honey will crystallise in the Flow Frames 

    Flow Frames offer numerous advantages for dealing with honey that is prone to crystallisation:

    1. Temperature — Honey often crystallises in the super when it is removed from the hive and the temperature drops. Because the Flow Frames are harvested while still on the hive, they retain the heat from the brood box and this can reduce the likelihood of the honey crystallising in the Flow super.
    2. Quick harvesting — There is a window of time between when honey is capped and ready for harvest when it crystallises. The Flow Hive facilitates quick and easy harvesting, allowing beekeepers to take advantage of this short timeframe to collect liquid honey.
    3. Sampling honey — Beekeepers can easily sample the honey without opening the super to check if it is ready for harvest. This is done by simply inserting the Flow Key only an inch or so down the harvesting cavity and harvesting a small amount. 

    Crystallisation is a natural occurrence that can affect all types of honey, regardless of whether it's extracted using Flow or conventional methods. 

    All honey will eventually crystallise, usually long after harvesting. However, certain floral sources, such as rapeseed (canola), clover, ivy, and goldenrod, are more prone to crystallisation within a relatively short timeframe after being capped. These types of flowers produce nectar with higher levels of glucose which is what makes the honey crystallise.

    Some beekeepers opt to remove the Flow Super altogether when crystallisation-prone plants are in flower. In this case, they often use conventional frames to collect the crystalising honey, which they feed to their bees as a nutritious alternative to sugar syrup over the winter and into early spring. 

    Watch Jamie Oliver go into detail about harvesting rapeseed honey early to prevent crystallisation in the Flow Super:

    If you find yourself with crystallised honey in the Flow Frames, as per conventional hive methods you can place the frames in a warming box (kept at 40°C) where the honey will liquefy again. Alternatively, whilst the frames are still on the hive, you can disrupt the cells and cappings by opening and closing the frame with the Flow Key a couple of times, which will trigger the bees to remove the crystallised honey and repair the comb. Note that the bees need a good quality water source in order to be able to do this.

     

    Which beehive is best?

    We hope this has helped clarify any concerns you might have about Flow Hives. As we’ve already mentioned, there are countless approaches to beekeeping and endless opinions on what’s best for bees. As long as beekeepers prioritise the welfare of their bees, these different methods all have their place. If you’ve got more questions about whether a Flow Hive could be right for you, contact our friendly support team today.


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