A Flow Frame consists of partly formed honeycomb cells. The bees complete the comb then fill and cap the cells as usual. A lever is turned to split the cells vertically, allowing the honey to flow down and out of the hive without disturbing the bees or requiring any processing.
Because the hive is not opened during harvesting, the bees experience little disturbance or stress. They do not usually notice the beekeeper at the rear of the hive and therefore are less likely to defend their hive through stinging. In urban environments where backyard, balcony and rooftop hives are becoming popular, having calm bees is of particular importance. Once harvesting has finished the bees sense the empty cells and begin the uncapping, re-waxing and refilling process. The partly formed honeycomb cells are designed to ensure that no bees can be harmed or trapped. Opening a hive also offers entry to pests such as Small Hive Beetle, and stresses the bees, making them more vulnerable to disease.
The honey that is harvested from a Flow Hive does not require any heating, filtering or processing. It comes out pure, clean (no wax or bee bits) with all of the aromas and flavours of the local flora. A typical super (honey box) has 6 or 7 frames which can be harvested one at a time (about 3kg) or all at once. Because each frame may have honey from particular flowers and there is no heating, mixing or processing, the different flavours of the nectars in season at that time are markedly present.
The Flow Hive allows for harvesting of honey without opening the hive or lifting heavy boxes. The simple extraction process means that beekeepers can keep up with a good nectar flow to maximise their yield. Many amateur beekeepers report that they don’t around to harvesting their honey because the traditional process can take a whole weekend for just one or two hives. The Flow Hive allows harvesting at any time of the day and requires just five minutes attention over one hour, it is easy to harvest a Flow Hive in the evening after coming home from work. The lifting of supers (honey boxes) weighing up to 30kg is also no longer required. This has opened beekeeping to people who simply can’t do such heavy work.
The Flow frames have been designed to work with any beehive of standard depth. Due to the modular design they can be lengthened or shortened as required to suit any box. Modifying existing hives to house Flow frames is simple. Flow frames can also be combined with standard frames in the same box in any combination desired. Flow frames have been designed to allow for pneumatic or electrical operation which opens the possibility of automatic or remotely triggered harvesting. Harvesting can be controlled individually or collectively with options to connect with smart sensors such as load cells, decibel readers and pheromone detectors.
Simple, functional design for both bees and beekeeper was a driving factor throughout the development phase. The size, depth, angle, wall thickness and dividing split of the cells were all factors to ensure bees felt at home while discouraging them from using the cells for raising brood. Some of the hidden design details include a surface texture that enables bees to travel vertically, a wire strong enough to support a full frame yet thin enough for bees to climb over, a tiny gap on the outlet to allow excess honey to seep back into the hive, a self-cleaning honey gutter at the base of the frame and a top cap that will only fit when the frames are re-set to ensure frames are not left in the harvest position.
Flow frames have been designed and tested over the past decade to ensure that every aspect of the design is fit for purpose, production and for the environment. Material selection was based on functional and environmental criteria before being field tested in working hives. Becoming the most successful crowdfunding campaign outside the US and the 6th biggest in history also brings with it a host of challenges. Part design was optimised to reduce cycle times from 28 seconds down to 16 seconds. 4 cavity alloy trial tools were made to jump-start production while making dual, 12 cavity tools with replaceable interchangeable hot tip inserts designed to minimise downtime and allow for efficient scaling of production.
The ends and side window of a Flow Hive are transparent, giving a unique view of the bee activities between the frames as well as right down into the honey-cells themselves. This allows the beekeeper to judge when the comb is ripe for harvesting and to keep an eye on hive health. Children and adults can easily view the bees at work, therefore encouraging learning about these extraordinary insects. Apart from hive inspections for pest control and brood health a flow hive can be left almost undisturbed. Flow is also building a comprehensive web-based bee husbandry resource including on-line forums, instructional videos and FAQs. Flow believes that education is a key to work toward environmental sustainability.
The FlowHive has been designed to last a lifetime and allow for simple, single part replacements if needed. Repair, not replace is a core ethos. The Flow frames are made from food-grade, closed loop, PP, copolyester and stainless steel. The Flow hives are made from 90% FSC certified timber. Care for bee colony health, environmental awareness and our interdependence with all life are key messages on the Flow site. Flow ‘Beeks’ are encouraged to connect with experienced beekeepers and their local bee associations, resulting in these associations reporting a doubling of their membership. Flow believes that building connections in communities is crucial to sustainability.