Flow Hives

Flow Hive Management for all seasons – Gippsland, Victoria

The Bottom box is the brood box, the 2nd box is for honey and pollen which is the food supply for bees. The Top Box contains the Flow Frames. This hive is also up off the ground on a bee stand.

If you are new to beekeeping please join your local beekeeping club as they will give you good advice and help regarding all aspects of beekeeping and Flow Hive Management. The Flow Hive system was invented in Australia by Cedar Anderson and his father Stuart Anderson, in February 2015.


A Flow Hive is the same as any bee hive and needs to be looked after and managed like any other bee hive. The BIG difference is that it has its own honey extraction method. The top Flow Hive box contains special frames with plastic cells that can be split using a key to extract the capped honey. This is a very useful and easy way to extract honey especially if you only have one or two hives. The bees are not disturbed and don’t even realise their honey is being harvested. Once harvested, the plastic cells are re set into their original position and the bees are able to begin refilling the cells and re use the wax cappings.


The plastic Flow Frames are quite expensive and if larger numbers of hives are involved a more conventional method of extraction either manual or automatic may be more efficient.

When to add and remove the Flow Hive is very important see below for more details

Extracting honey is only one aspect of beekeeping and having a Flow Hive means that all other aspects of managing your bees apply to you.

Winter through Spring – Setting up a Flow Hive in Gippsland

  1. Flow Hives arrive in flat packs and need to be put together after reading the following instructions.
  2. The timber parts need to be wax dipped, this will stop your Flow Hive and frames from deteriorating in the weather and at least doubles its life.
  3. Wax dipping is important and it’s also important to talk to your wax dipper to ensure you complete putting together your hive only to a certain point so that it can be wax dipped, then assembly can be completed. A spirit level comes with your hive and cannot be wax dipped. The lid needs special attention so speak to and be guided by the person who is wax dipping your hive as they have experience. If you are not wax dipping this will not apply to you.

  1. If you are not going to wax dip your hive, put the hive together following instructions provided. The frames come without foundation. You have the choice to let the bees build their own foundation which has various downsides, or to add wire and wax foundation as in the picture below, which helps the bees build up their foundation in a uniform way which saves the bees energy and work. This makes frame manipulation and management very much easier.
    Another method is to buy plastic frames with plastic foundation which saves the beekeeper and bees a lot of time and work. These fit into the brood box and honey super.

  1. These are all choices that beekeepers can make depending on their time constraints and preferences.
  2. Placement of your hive is important. It needs the morning and early afternoon sun, but needs shade for the late afternoon sun in summer heat. It can be in full sun in all other seasons. Deciduous trees can help with this, otherwise shade cloth in the summer can help. So the entrance facing East or North East is perfect.
  3. The hive needs to be up off the ground as this prevents dampness, grass growing up around the entrance making it difficult for the bees to access. Pavers, bricks, blocks or a bee stand can be used. Bees need a water source nearby that they can’t drown in. So a pond with shallow edges or pond plants they can rest on while getting the water. If using a chicken water feeder add a few pebbles so the bees don’t drown. Bird baths adding pebbles etc. If the water source is deep, add floaties so the bees don’t drown.
  4. Try and avoid windy locations. Locate your hives in a protected site. In Gippsland we can get a harsh easterly wind. So a protective barrier to prevent the wind going straight into the hive entrance is very helpful.

In Gippsland your hive requires

A full depth brood box for your bees and queen. This box allows the queen to lay eggs which are looked after by the nurse bees. This is a continual process as the bees need to replace themselves constantly as during the summer they only live for about six weeks. The brood box needs to be looked after in the same way as any other bee hive.
A 2nd full depth honey box (called a Super) with frames and foundation just the same as the brood box. If this box is full depth the same as the brood box, then the frames can be interchangeable which makes managing both boxes easy. This box will contain honey and pollen to feed the bees as it is their food supply. If this box always contains honey and pollen, it will prevent your bees from going hungry and dying of starvation.

Queen Excluder

Your queen excluder will go on top of your 2nd box when it’s time to put your Flow Hive on. A metal queen excluder is softer on your bee’s wings than a plastic one. They also don’t warp and are easier to clean. You also have a choice of placing this on your brood box, or on top of your 2nd box. If it’s on top of your brood box it will prevent the queen from laying eggs in the 2nd box. However if the queen runs out of room in the brood box they may swarm. So this needs to be taken into consideration when deciding where to put the queen excluder. This article will only refer to the Queen Excluder being placed on top of the 2nd box.

The Top Box Flow Hive

This is your Flow Hive that has the plastic cells and the key. Put your Flow Hive on top of your Queen Excluder in about December depending on the season. Some seasons are late, others are early.

Late Spring early Summer – When to put your Flow Hive on

When your 2nd box which is your honey box for the bees food (also called a honey super) is about half filled with honey it is time to put your queen excluder and your Flow Hive on. Your bees can then start filling the Flow Hive cells with honey. You can see how they are going by looking into the window provided. When the bees start filling the Flow Hive with honey, this honey is excess to their needs. Once the honey is capped, as in the picture below. (a wax lid goes on the honey in those cells to keep it at the correct moisture content) you can safely extract it for your own use without causing the bees to go hungry.

Summer – Why is there no honey in the Flow Hive?

  1. Without a good honey flow bees will often be reluctant to begin working in the plastic Flow Frames.
  2. Another reason could be that the season is cool and wet and not much of a honey flow.
  3. The bees may be located in an area with very little bee food for the bees to collect.
  4. The hive is weak and needs to build up to become a stronger hive, this takes time.
  5. If the queen is weak you may need to re queen to a stronger more productive queen to build up a stronger hive. Talk to an experienced beekeeper from your local club to help you.
  6. It may take the first year of beekeeping to build up your hive to be strong enough for the bees to use the Flow Hive.
  7. You may need to relocate your hive to a property that has plenty of bee food.
  8. See the section on this website regarding flora for your bees. Planting bee food is also advised, but it will take a couple of years for shrubs to be productive. For quick production you can plant Borage which produces hundreds of flowers and stays productive for many weeks. Borage also provides both nectar and pollen for the bees. It produces plenty of seeds that grow new plants giving you a continuous supply. However a mixture of flora provides for healthier bees.

DO I NEED TO ENCOURAGE THE BEES INTO THE FLOW HIVE?

If you have a strong hive with two boxes and the 2nd box has drawn comb and is filling with honey they will in time go into the Flow Hive. If the hive is weak you need to be patient and wait for it to become stronger. It will only become stronger if there is plenty of food, that is pollen and nectar for the bees to collect. It will take time for the queen to lay eggs, for those bees to emerge for the hive to become stronger. Sometimes during the first season the bees will build up to a strong hive and you don’t start getting honey until the second season. Most importantly you need a strong, vigorous queen.

EXTRACTING HONEY FROM THE FLOW HIVE

For strong hives, at various times throughout the summer season you can extract honey from the capped Flow Hive cells for your own use. Make sure you have a ‘closed system’. This means that once you have turned the key and cracked the cells and the honey starts to flow down the tubes into your jars, the jars must have a lid/cap on them. The plastic tubes must go into a jar where the lid/cap seals it. This way the bees are unaware you are harvesting honey.

OTHER BEES IN THE AREA COULD ROB YOUR HIVE OR THE HONEY IN OPEN JARS

If you are using jars without lids, and they are not sealed, the bees soon smell the honey and will crowd around your open jars and could also cause other bees in the area to rob your hive. They may get so excited about the honey in open jars they could fall in and drown. Robbing is one of the main ways of spreading disease so you don’t want to encourage other bees in your area to bring disease and give it to your hive.

CONSTANTLY CHECK THE STATUS OF YOUR FLOW HIVE

If it becomes full and you don’t extract the honey there is nowhere for the bees to store their honey which could cause your hive to swarm. The main reason a hive will swarm is overcrowding. If your hive is very strong you may need to extract/harvest honey quite often, giving the bees space to store more.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY SWARM?

When a hive swarms the old queen flies away taking about half the bees in your hive with her. This depletes your hive and honey production slows right down. The new virgin queen will emerge in the next few hours or days, she will then need to be mated before she can start laying eggs. The swarm may bother your neighbours in your area, so it is better beekeeping practice to reduce swarms as much as possible. Swarming is dealt with in more detail in Bee Management on this GAA website.

Autumn – When to remove the Flowhive in Gippsland

Normal beehive management needs to be carried out during the seasons. Your Flow Hive will provide you with honey, depending on the season and location, during the summer and early autumn seasons.

Check you 2nd box for stores

About mid March, check your 2nd box and make sure it is about half full of honey. If it’s not, then your Flowhive needs to be removed to make sure the bees fill up your 2nd box ready to get through the winter. If your 2nd box is not full for winter, your bees could starve.
If your 2nd box is not filling up with honey and pollen by April, you will need to feed your bees sugar syrup until the end of April. How to feed your bees is covered in detail under Bee Management on this website.

If your 2nd box is nearly full of honey leave your flowhive on

The flowhive can be left on until late April early May only if your 2nd box is nearly full of honey with most of it capped.

Once the cooler weather arrives the flowhive needs to be removed. Take it into your kitchen and extract any honey that is left in it. Capped honey cells can be extracted and put into jars and will last a very long time. Uncapped honey cells means the moisture content is not yet down to the required amount for the honey to keep. This honey needs to be used immediately before it ferments.

 

Winter pack down for a Flow hive

By Renee and Brian Phillips

In our flow hive we run one brood box on the bottom, then a queen excluder, then a standard super (this is the stores for the bees), then the flow super on the very top (this is the extra honey the bees can afford to share with us). I will assume that you have checked the brood box and all is ok, and that the standard super has enough stores (about 8 frames of capped honey) to see your bees through winter. For us the winter pack down loks something like this:

  1. Hopefully your flow super will be fully capped towards the end of the season (which will be March or April depending on your area, nectar flow and the year we are having). When they are fully capped we take each flow frame out, brush off the bees and put the frames into an empty box. When all the frames are out we brush all the bees off the flow super and take the Flow super off the hive.
  2. Now the hive that’s left will be the brood box and the ‘bee’s super’.
  3. Once the flow super is removed we take the queen excluder out from between the brood box and the ‘bee’s super’ to give the queen and the worker bees free reign of both boxes for the winter.
  4. Last winter we tried putting a hive mat on top of the frames in the brood box as well as on top of the frames in the ‘bee’s super’. It was intended to help discourage the bees from building burr comb over winter and sticking the frames together vertically, it really helped so we will be doing it again this year.
  5. You then reassemble the hive with the inner cover and roof. If your hive opening is the standard flow hive opening (i.e across the whole box) you may wish to consider reducing it with a piece of timber wedged into the gap so the bees don’t have such a large area to guard in winter – we leave about a 5cm gap at one end. Your bees are now ready to face the winter.
  6. Take the flow super inside (for us that is our kitchen as we don’t sell our honey, otherwise it would need to be a commercial kitchen to enable you to sell your honey) and extract all the flow frames. We sit the whole flow super with all the flow frames put back into it on a large tray, tilt it on a slight angle and leave it to drain through tubes into a honey bucket until no more comes out. I know taking the flow super off to extract is kind of contradictory as you are supposed to extract directly from the hive, but we found it easier as we didn’t have to deal with the bees ripping the cappings off and trying to re-fill the cells. I have heard of others who extract the flow frames on the hive and leave it for a few days so the bees can clean everything up before removing the flow super for the winter. The bees may however decide to fill the cells again if they have enough incoming nectar – it’s your choice which way you wish to go.
  7. When the flow super is fully drained we wash the flow frames in warm (not hot) water to remove any residual honey which will attract moisture and ferment. If you make the water too warm it will also melt the wax which we try to preserve to give the bees a head start next season. After washing them and making sure they are fully dry we put the flow frames back into the flow super, put a board over the top and the bottom to stop anything from getting in (corflute sheets work well for this) and store them out of the sun until next spring.
  8. If you leave the Flow super on during winter with no queen excluder under it the queen will lay a LOT of drone brood in it in early spring – yes we are unfortunately speaking from the experience of our first winter, hence why we now have a ‘bee’s super’ to give the queen free reign in 2 boxes without giving her access to the flow frames which we remove so there is no ‘dead space’ for the bees to try and heat during winter. Drone brood in your Flow frames is not something you want as you are left with cocoons in your flow super that are hard to remove, and if you replace the queen excluder after the drones were laid you have to shake the hatched drones out periodically as they cannot pass through the queen excluder to get out of the hive.

Spring Management: On the first warm day full spring inspection, we shake all the bees into the bottom box, replace the queen excluder between the brood box and the ‘bee’s super’ and check in a week or two for eggs to make sure the queen is in the bottom brood box as hoped. After this you can add the flow super when the 2nd box is about half full of honey, usually towards the end of December depending on the season.
If you prefer your queen excluder to go on top of your 2nd box, you don’t have to shake the bees down. It gives her free reign to use both boxes to lay her eggs and for the bees to deposit nectar and pollen. In spring this is helpful to produce a strong hive. The choice is yours.

Hopefully using these steps, you will give your bees the best chance at coming through winter strong and ready for another season while also preserving your flow frames for what they are designed to do – collect honey

Useful Australian Links

Home (gippslandbees.org.au)

Flow Hive Beginner Beekeeping QnA – YouTube

Flow™ Hive Full Reveal [Original crowdfunding video 2015] – YouTube

Maintenance Tips & Tricks with Cedar – YouTube

When researching videos to watch, many videos are from America and UK and their seasons are opposite to ours so it is easier to watch You Tube videos made in and about Australia. Also Gippsland has a longer, colder winter and usually a hot summer.