Frequently Asked Questions
New to beekeeping and not sure where to start?
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For those new to beekeeping, getting set up with a Flow Hive is a great way to get started, as our revolutionary honey harvesting technology removes the need for additional harvesting equipment, making this enjoyable hobby much more accessible.
We love welcoming new beekeepers into the Flow Family and have a swarm of resources to assist you in your beekeeping journey.
How many brood boxes should I use?
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As with many beekeeping questions, opinions vary greatly on this one.
There are many factors that can affect this decision, including local climate and colony size – so it's a great idea to consult with local beekeepers, or jump onto our Community Forum to assist in finding the perfect set up for you.
Wintering your Flow Hive
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We cannot emphasise enough that it is best to consult local beekeepers on this topic as advice will vary greatly depending on local conditions. If there is a bee club near you, we encourage you to join it or find a local mentor who can offer you support.
Wintering preparations will be based around the needs resulting from your local climate – in areas that have mild winters with winter forage, considerations will be far fewer than for areas which experience freezing conditions.
What feeders will work with a Flow Hive?
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Where we are located in Northern NSW, Australia there are flowers most of the year round, so feeding isn’t usually necessary. However, many parts of the world have long winters where bees may need to be fed. This is necessary when there are no flowers available for foraging and there are not enough honey stores in the hive to feed the bees through the colder months.
There is lots of discussion and debate on feeding bees – the two more popular options seem to be; i) sugar water feeding, and ii) dry sugar feeding. (Note: Use white sugar, rather than raw or brown sugar.)
What type of bees can go in Flow Hives / Frames?
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The Flow Hive has been specifically designed and tested for use with the European honey bee (Apis mellifera).
We believe the Flow Frames should work well with most, if not all, subspecies of Apis mellifera. It’s now also confirmed that the Flow Frames are suitable for use with the Japanese Honey bee (Apis japonica). Read more on the adaptation of the Flow Hive for Japanese honey bees here.
Although we have researched and trialled their use extensively, we have not yet confirmed that every subspecies will take to the frames successfully. For example, it’s reported that African bees, Apis mellifera scutellata, will not readily take to plastic foundation of any kind.
Do the bees willingly fill the Flow comb compared to the traditional wax comb?
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In many years of testing we have found the bees readily coat the Flow Frames with wax and fill them with nectar (which they turn into honey).
We have done many experiments using the Flow Frames in the middle of a standard super with wax foundation frames either side, along with trialling the Flow Super above and below a traditional super.
Do I need to smoke the hive?
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Although you should not need to smoke the hive when you harvest from your Flow Frames, we do recommend that you use a smoker whilst undertaking beekeeping activities, such as routine inspections of the brood nest.
Smoking the hive masks the alarm pheromone and helps to keep your colony calm.
Do I need to wear a bee suit, bee veil or gloves when I drain the honey out?
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We recommend you wear a protective beekeeper suit whenever you are opening your hive and working with your bees, and though this should not be necessary when harvesting, it is important to have a suit on hand in case your bees become agitated.
For more information see this Flow sponsored safety pamphlet.
How often do I need to check the brood?
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The frequency which you need to check the brood depends on your location. In our area (Northern NSW, Australia) it is normal to inspect the brood nest of each hive a few times a year for disease. In some areas beekeepers check more frequently.
If colony numbers appear to be declining or the hive is weak it should also be inspected.
Do I need to leave some honey in the hive for the bees?
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Yes – your bees need honey stores to get them through the times when there is no nectar available. The number of frames of honey that you should leave depends on your climate. We recommend you consult with local beekeepers as to how much they leave for their colonies over the winter.
The Flow Frames make it a lot easier to see how much honey is in your frames at any time, so you can learn to manage how much honey to harvest and how much to leave for the bees.
How do the bees know when to uncap the comb, and how long does it take?
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The bees are quick to notice when the honeycomb cells are empty - we guess empty cells must feel quite different underfoot if you are a bee. You can watch them work on the end cells as soon as you reset the Flow Frame to the closed position.
We have found the bees will sense the cells are empty and straight away begin uncapping, repairing the wax in the cells, and refilling. Usually they finish uncapping all the cells in a day or two. If the hive is not so busy it may take longer.
Can you harvest beeswax from a Flow Frame?
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You cannot harvest wax from a Flow Frame. Honey comes out of the Flow Frames free from wax and ready for the table.
All the wax stays in the hive and the bees reuse it. Bees use about 7kg honey to make 1kg of wax, so this aspect of the Flow system can improve your hive’s rate of honey production.
Do Flow Frames work with Australian native bees?
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No, you can’t use Flow Frames with an Australian native beehive.
Australian native bees have a completely different comb/pod structure and honey production pattern to the European honey bee.
Are the Flow Frames made from BPA free plastic?
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Our Flow Frames are manufactured from the very best food grade materials.
The clear viewing ends of the frames, as well as the honey tube and caps, are made from a virgin food grade copolyester. The manufacturers have assured us that it's not only BPA-free, but it is not manufactured with bisphenol-S or any other bisphenol compounds.
Can I use Flow Frames in cold or freezing conditions?
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The Flow Hive was trialled in Canada by John Gates in the fall of 2014, and no issues were found regarding the cold. Bees keep the hive warm because the brood nest needs to stay around 35 degrees Celsius or 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
In cold climates it would be recommended to harvest early and often so the possibility of crystallisation is less likely. Also read our page on Wintering Your Flow Hive.
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If I get a Flow Hive, does that mean I never have to open up the hive?
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All Flow Hives need to be opened for inspection, just like regular beehives. This is an important activity in monitoring your hive for pests and disease. The number of inspections needed per year varies a great deal. In places with a high level of bee disease, many beekeepers open and inspect each hive every month or six weeks during the spring and summer. Experienced beekeepers observe the behaviour of bees at the hive entrance and can usually judge whether they need to open the hive for further inspection.
If I haven’t kept bees before should I get a Flow Hive?
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Yes, beekeeping is a wonderful learning experience!
The Flow Hive makes extracting the honey easy. While this saves much of the work involved in keeping bees, you will still be spending time observing your bees and inspecting the hive to ensure your bees are healthy.
How do I get bees?
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Bees rarely find their way into empty beehive boxes, even though they are designed to be a perfect home for them. There are a number of ways of starting a colony and you should read more than this small overview to learn all that is involved.
A small nuc (nucleus) hive can be bought from beekeeping suppliers in most countries (for Australia see: http://www.aussieapiaristsonline.net/bees-for-sale.html). A nuc consists of four or five frames of brood and honey along with a few thousand bees, including a queen bee. You buy these in the Spring, then place them in a standard box with a divider which can be removed as the colony expands.
Can I separate the three Flow Frames I’ve ordered, or are they one unit?
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The frames are modular, and are operated separately to extract honey. You could buy six Flow Frames and create two sets of three to put in the middle of two existing supers. When you put them in the middle of your super, the bees will fill these frames first, and when you drain them, they will move any honey in the outer standard frames into the Flow Frames, so you may find you don’t have to remove and extract the normal frames again.
Do I need a queen excluder?
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We recommend the use of a queen excluder as this ensures no drone or worker-bee eggs and larvae end up in the Flow Frames.
Having said this, most of our experimental Flow Hives did not use an excluder and we never found worker brood in them and very rarely found drone brood. We have designed Flow comb to have deep cells of a size that suits neither worker or drone brood.
Do the bees ever put pollen in a Flow Frame? Is this a problem?
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Occasionally the bees will store pollen in Flow Frame cells. In our experience this isn’t a problem as the frames will still operate when some cells are full of pollen. Pollen cells may block the flow of honey from above, but the honey will drain around the blockage, and usually back into the Flow channel. If it doesn’t drain back into the channel, the bees get to lick it up.
Will the queen lay eggs in the Flow Frames?
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The Flow Frame cells are wider and deeper than normal comb cells so that the queen will not lay worker eggs in them.
Occasionally, we have found that a queen will lay a few drone (male bee) eggs in a Flow Frame. This doesn't stop the Flow Frame from working, but does kill any drone eggs or larvae in the cells when you extract the honey.
Will Flow work with pollen draws?
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Pollen draws fit on the outside of the hive, the Flow system does not interfere with this at all.
If you can fit your pollen draw to a standard Langstroth box, then there should be no problem fitting it on a Flow box.
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What paint or varnish is safe to coat my Flow Hive with?
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Many beekeepers use oils such as tung or linseed oil, however, we have found when finishing with oils in wet climates, that mildew (black mould) can grow on the surface of your hive. While this will not affect the structural integrity of your hive and should not have any impact on your bees, this may not be the look you were anticipating.
It can be a challenge keeping wood outdoors looking like new, especially in wetter climates. If you wish for your hive to stay mould free and to maintain the natural timber look for as long as possible, we suggest you go to your local paint store and ask for a finish that will last outdoors.
Isn't cedar bad for bees and other insects? Doesn't it repel them?
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Western red cedar is a standard wood used for hives in the UK and other places. It's very different from Spanish cedar or other aromatic cedars commonly used to deter moths and other insects. It's very common to find feral honey bee colonies living inside hollow western red cedar trees.