No, I didn’t buy one but fellow beekeeper Larry Dunn did and was kind enough to lend it to me for a trial. The Flow Hive, for those of you that have never heard of it, was the crowd-funding sensation of 2015 raising over 12.4 million dollars when they were only looking for $70K. The father-son team out of Byron Bay, Queensland, Australia spent 10 years developing and testing this before jumping into the market- here is a synopsis of my experience here in Alaska’s Interior:
Price- Wow! One of the claims made is that it will do away with all that expensive extracting equipment. Mann Lake advertises an “Extracting bundle” for $600; of course the shipping will kill you. I solved that by having it shipped (free in the lower 48) to my daughter’s house and then bring it up as 49er free baggage- it’s all packed extremely well. The Flow Hive is $700 for a single brood box combined with the Flow Hive Super plus shipping (that’s been all over the map – I’ve see anything from $150 to $49 to the United States). Who buys an extractor? I have two 3-frame extractors that come with uncapping knives, tub and capping scratcher which I rent for $25/day; pretty reasonable for something you only use once a year.
Hive size – The hive can be used as either a 10-frame or an 8 frame for the brood boxes. In my opinion 8 frames in the brood box is not enough for Interior Alaska; 9 will fit (snugly) and you should expect to allow 2 brood boxes (18 frames). Mann Lake sells an 8-frame starter kit for $140 (complete with frames & foundation plus the cute gabled copper clad roof) and you’d need a second brood box for $56. Even with shipping it is a good deal. The next question is quality of material.
Quality- The Flow Hives and components are made from sustainably sourced Western Red Cedar (whatever that means) – Mann Lake’s are made from pine (just as attractive in my opinion). I have put together literally hundreds (perhaps thousands) of boxes from Mann Lake and would say that the number of defects is <2%. The same quality control does not seem to exist in the Flow Hive- stories abound. Foundation is not included- they advocate foundation-less frames. Going with the flow (pun intended) I put 9 foundation-less frames in my first brood box. They were very good at drawing them out but they did confine their comb-drawing activities to the “rear” of the brood box i.e. the end furthest away from the entrance. About June 1st I rotated the brood box 180° in hopes they would make an even curtain of brood comb- they did but with great reluctance. I added a 9-frame second brood chamber (above) on June 15th- by 1st of July they hadn’t touched it, so 4th of July weekend I moved 1 frame of brood from the lower box to the upper (now it had 8 frames in lower). By June 10 they had still not done much in the second box but I added a small swarm (about 2.5 lbs) and they really went to town drawing out and filling the second brood with honey. The swarm was Italian and queen-less so I removed the queen excluder after 4-5 days and let them have full run of 2-deep boxes and 17 frames.
Flow Hive™ super - July 26th I removed 2 of the plastic Flow Hive frames and moved 3 frames of capped brood up to the honey super. I placed a queen excluder above the 2nd brood box (the brood frames moved up were to draw the bees up through the excluder as they are not at all keen on the bare plastic Flow Hive frames, the brood hatched out and I replaced the plastic frames and waited, and waited, and waited. NOTHING!! They may have put a little wax in the cracks between the Flow Hive cells but certainly did not store any honey.
On July 26 (after several days of rain) I went to show some visitors the Flow Hive- the red cedar was so swollen that I couldn’t get the observation/harvest panel off the back. Finally, after stripping the knob off the panel and great prying efforts it came off – not the kind of quality I’d expect.
On the phone with 3 other flow-hive havers I found the same story. General consensus was that it was a bust. Keep your eye on Craigslist this fall if you want to try one- of course one season will not prove or disprove the system but I at least can extract from the 2nd brood box – one flow hive-haver got 11 full-deep, beautifully-capped frames of light honey.
IMHO- Remember this is simply my opinion based on one season (and a real wet one at that) but I don’t think it’s the ticket for beekeepers in Fairbanks; here’s a list of pros & cons:
- Very expensive
- As sold not enough brood space for Interior Alaska
- As sold there is too much space between bottom board and lower rails on frames (in the sustainably harvested Western Red Cedar supplied) - bees build lots of burr comb making it very difficult to reverse boxes.
- Almost everybody I’ve checked has the Varroa detection sheet in the upper slot; IMHO it should be in the lower so the mites can’t reach the screen.
- Wood swells considerably- upon assembly of hive make sure the back observation panel is a loose fit.
- If you use 8 frames in the brood box there is quite a bit of slop; mine built really fat combs and even attached the outermost to the walls; 9 frames will fit maybe too snugly.
- Bees are loath to work the plastic Hive Flow super- I haven’t talked to anybody whose bees stored honey there.
- Be careful with the Flow frames; Don had one come apart and spent 20 minutes in reassembly.
+ ?? Does anyone have anything positive to say? I’d like this to be somewhat balanced; let us hear your story.