Tuesday 23 February 2016

The so called Flow Hive.

As this is a subject that isn’t going away and keeps being brought to light, (usually but not always by people that have little or no experience of keeping bees), I thought I should attempt a response of my own that I can use as and when required that makes my position and views clear.


Firstly for people that have no practical experience of beekeeping it should be noted that the structure that matters in this instance it isn’t actually a hive but what we beekeepers call a “super” in English or la hausse in French. This is a supplementary box that goes on top of a hive to enable the beekeeper to collect honey that is in excess to the colonies requirements. The fact that they can also supply a hive to go with it is neither here nor there as it’s the supplementary box and its constituent parts that are different. This supplementary box for honey production is usually separated from the hive proper with a grill that keeps the Queen in the hive itself.

My first objection may not seem very important to some people and that is that the device relies on artificial pre-formed honey comb structures made entirely from plastic when the natural situation would be bees making comb with their own wax.

These plastic frames are designed to shift vertically along the center (or midrib) of the honeycomb structure. This is operated by turning a key that shifts the midrib breaking open the back of the cells containing honey which then theoretically drains backward, drips down the back of the plastic frame and is captured in a trough that leads to a tube that drains to the outside and into your jars or other containers of choice.  Once the comb is drained, you turn the key again which shifts the comb back into its original position when the bees supposedly chew open the wax seals on the front of the comb and refill them assuming somehow the bees know that the cells have been emptied from the back?  All of this is achieved without removing the lid or removing and exposing the comb and bees to the air.

All sounds wonderful but then the sales spin always does.

The first thing is that honey cells need to be filled and sealed with wax by the bees before the honey is ready to be extracted and stored. Taking honey before this has happened will usually mean that the water content is too high thus leading to fermentation, (more than 19%).

Now they make much of how kind this system is to the bees because there is no requirement to remove the lid and remove the frames. They claim that it’s possible to see if the cells are sealed simply by looking through the glazed side but anyone with experience will know this simply isn’t true. As you can see from the photo the faces of the frames simply aren’t visible even from the top with the lid removed which means the frames have to be lifted out to see the entire faces.

Another concern for me is honey robbing.  Pictures on the Flow™ Hive site also show honey dripping from the hive into open jars with no bees in evidence when in reality any source of exposed honey would immediately attract thousands of bees and potentially trigger a robbing frenzy as other hives in the area rapidly discover free open air honey. Either way, you wouldn’t be sitting there with open honey without there being bees all over and in it. Anyone that doubts this should stand by a hive with a teaspoon of honey and watch the speed with which bees arrive.

Then there is the not so small matter of the nature of the honey and whether it would actually just run out or not. Again anyone with actual experience of keeping bees in most European countries will know that there are some types of honey, perhaps the majority, which simply won’t. Indeed there are some that can’t even be extracted by spinning out of the frame if they start to set in the frame, Oilseed rape being one of them which requires very precise timing for extraction and Heather honey is thixotropic and cannot even be spun out from the combs in an extractor and is usually pressed. These will clog and jam the mechanism requiring the Flowhive frames to be removed and cleaned with hot water.

Price?   Well if you want to spend over 500 US$ for a 7 frame flow hive when you can buy a regular Super with 9 waxed frames for €30 you must have money to burn.

So what if any are the benefits?

Zero as far as I can see, it won’t be less intrusive or kinder to the bees that much is clear and the super with the Flow frames will still need to be frequently removed, emptied of bees and cleaned. If your reason for buying this is because you are afraid of bees or you think it will make it easier you are mistaken.

If you really are determined to try one I reckon that if you wait there will be a glut of them on the market at knockdown prices when people realise they aren’t all they are cracked up to be, or on the other hand I may be wrong.