The Flow hive was invented about 10 years ago by Stuart and Cedar Anderson in Australia. Not so much a hive as a way of harvesting honey with less fuss for the beekeeper and less disturbance to the bees. It has been described as the most innovative invention in beekeeping since 1851.
Initially the Flow hive was only developed for Langstroth hives but can now be bought for National hives in the UK. This is how it works.
The bottom part of the hive is a conventional brood box. The National Flow super houses 8 flow frames. The Flow frames are placed above a queen excluder in a standard sized box. Two simple cut-outs in one end of the super allow access for collection and end-frame observation. Honey will be stored in the Flow frames. When the frames are full and capped the harvesting of the honey can begin.
Follow this simple procedure:
- Remove the key access cap and honey trough cap.
- Insert honey tube into honey trough opening.
- Insert Flow© key into bottom slot.
- Rotate Flow© key 90° downwards.
When the honey is fully harvested insert the Flow© key into the top slot and close the split frames.
How does it work?
The Flow frames are made of plastic with a split down the centre. The bees complete the comb with their own wax then fill the cells with honey, before finally capping the cells. Once capped the honey can be harvested as described above without disturbing the bees as the cappings stay in tact.
You can harvest the whole hive at once or each frame individually. Individual frames could yield about 6lbs honey and will provide the beekeeper some control over separating honey from different sources, showing the variety of colours and flavours present. Take care when lifting. A National Flow super full of capped honey weighs 70lbs (30kg) or more!
A feature of the Flow hive is the provision of viewing windows. The upper and lower access covers on the frame-end side of the super allow viewing of the bees progress in filling up the frames, while the viewing window of the frame-face is like an observation hive. Between the two windows the beekeeper should get a good idea of how much honey has been stored and capped.
Flow hive management in the UK climate
Bees can be reluctant to move up into plastic frames so how you manage the Flow hive will affect your success in honey production. It is possible to paint or spray the Flow frame surfaces with bees wax to encourage the bees to start building comb. Start with a strong colony in a well stocked brood box so that the bees’ only choice is to move into the plastic frames. Avoid putting your colony anywhere near oil seed rape otherwise there is a danger of the frames being made useless with crystallized honey. Likewise, it is best to avoid ivy nectar late in the year. Australian beekeepers often leave the Flow super on all year round but this may not be advisable in the UK climate because of the risk of crystallisation.
A good place to start would be the UK.Honeyflow.com site which has all the details of the Flow system plus FAQs and teaching videos.