Flow Hive pros and cons is something I’ve wanted to write about for some time. “What do you think about the Flow Hive?” is the main question I get whenever I’m talking to would-be beekeepers or when I’m out in the public sharing about bees and beekeeping. The other question I get is from those who already bought their Flow Hive and are wondering when they will get honey. To be honest, I’ve never owned a Flow Hive, but I have harvested honey from one and helped many beekeepers who have had them. It is from those experiences that I give my opinion here.
A brief description of the Flow Hive is that it is a traditional Langstroth hive, using similar bee space-–though a bit more than a usual Langstroth from what I can tell. It uses Langstroth frames in stackable boxes with a bottom board, inner cover, and outer cover. The only defining feature of the Flow Hive is the honey box that is filled with plastic frames that allow the honeycomb cells to be offset using a metal key so that the honey flows down and out a spout. This box is placed on the hive to collect honey once a queen excluder is in place. When the nectar flow is over, the special honey box is removed. At this point the Flow Hive is just another Langstroth hive, giving the bees a place to raise brood and collect food for themselves.
It’s a pretty cool idea and makes honey harvesting fun. But here is the full rundown of the Flow Hive pros and cons that i’ve observed.
Flow Hive Cons
I’m writing this from the perspective of giving advice to all those who ask for my opinion on Flow Hives here in Arizona, and who are truly wanting to make the best decision for their money and for the bees. I know a few people who absolutely love their Flow Hives, but not many. There are 3 main cons that I see with the Flow Hive: Construction, Cost, and Misinformation.
Flow Hives are made from Cedar wood, which is supposed to be great for weather and durability. Here in Arizona I see the unpainted cedar wood that has dried out and become very lightweight. The Flow Hive wood seems to be a bit thinner than the pine that most of our Langstroth Hives are made of. That means less insulation in my mind, and In the horrible heat of summer here in the low desert, that is a big problem. Hives here should be painted white or a very light color and have the best insulation you can get. Cedar doesn’t give us that. I also see Flow Hives that are a year or two old and they are actually falling apart with pieces missing. Lastly, the vaulted top of the Flow Hive invites bees to build comb in it if they run out of room, or are just particularly crafty bees, as some are.
The next con I see with the Flow Hive is really just the price tag, and that is partly because I don’t believe its quality is worth it. Flow hives cost around $800 for a two box set-up. That is one brood chamber and one honey “Flow” box plus a built-in stand for the newer models. You could make the claim that you aren’t paying for an additional extractor, but then you are only able to harvest honey from that one hive. Backyard beekeepers generally have 2 -3 hives as their colonies grow and expand. You would have to get a Flow Hive for each colony or buy an extractor anyway. I’m also not quite sure about the durability of the Flow frames. Plastic doesn’t do well here in the Arizona heat, and you have to put a lot of pressure on the key to break those cells.
For many beginning beekeepers the cost of even a basic set up for a hive is pushing it. But then there is a price range for everyone. I just have some other ideas on where money can best be spent on bees, and I’ll mention that in my close.
First, let me say that I don’t believe that the Flow Hive company is deliberately misleading people. They seem to be very interested in helping new beekeepers and supporting their customers. However, in reality, bees and beekeepers are not being helped by their system. What I mean by this is that Flow Hives come with only ONE brood box and one Flow box. That means that they are encouraging people to take the honey that the bees are storing for themselves. Now, from my research and experience, we need to give the bees two deep boxes for themselves. One of those boxes is for their brood and the other for their food, though they will mix it up and move around. It is only when the second box is nearly full, AND it is a nectar flow do we put a box on top for honey. See their website and images here.
Many times this year I have had new beekeepers tell me that they harvested honey from their Flow Hive in the Spring after only one box of bees had been built out. This means that once the dearth hits in June, all the honey those bees thought they had stored for their survival is gone with no way to replace it. That is a travesty to me. We need to build the numbers up in our colonies so that we CAN harvest honey when the time comes. But only AFTER the bees have what they need. Many of those colonies will now die if they are not fed sugar syrup through the summer here in Arizona.
Finally, Flow Hive professes that their hives are less intrusive to bees. I really don’t see how that is possible. Your colony still must be opened regularly and frames taken out to be observed. The harvesting of honey is not a big, disruption for bees even with regular honey supers. The bees are either gently brushed off the individual frames, bee escapes are used, or we use fumes to move them out of the honey super. Many new beekeepers who get Flow Hives will be disappointed if they think their “honey-on-tap” is a hands-off approach to beekeeping.
Flow Hive Pros
Unfortunately the pros of Flow Hives are overshadowed by the cons. The pros I see are that they are very attractive and will look great in a garden setting. I like pretty things so that is a great characteristic. The other pro is that honey harvesting is easy once you take the box inside to harvest. No extractor is needed.
Ummm… I can’t think of anything else. Flow Hives aren’t bad in themselves, I just think that they may not be good for beginning beekeepers to start their journey with and be successful. If my Flow Hive pros and cons list is insufficient, please chime in.
If you do want to spend a little extra money on a hive…
I’d like to point you to a new hive that is actually beneficial to bees, especially here in Arizona. The Apimaye hive is something I am becoming more and more familiar with. While it doesn’t have the quaint beehive look, what it does offer outweighs my need for pretty. I’ll make another post about it later, but if you are looking to make the best possible home for bees rather than just a nice way to harvest honey, then this hive is for you. Check it out here. And by the way, it’s cost is still half of what you will pay for a Flow Hive, with many more features.
So to all my Flow Hive friends, keep on keeping bees, but make sure to add a second box before you put that honey box on. Your bees will thank you.