Flow hive – honey harvest

I wasn’t sure that this day would actually arrive – new technology, lots of things that could go wrong between putting on the Flow honey super and it being filled. But it happened today – I harvested a whole bunch of honey without carrying frames, upsetting the bees, or getting stung.

Like with everything to do with bees, I suited up, got the smoker going, and took things slowly. No sense in making silly mistakes (which I’ve done before and will do again) and losing honey.

First order of business was to check the side viewing window to see if the cells there were capped – they were not, so I was pretty certain that my maximum harvest would be from the 5 central frames and not the 2 ends.

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Side viewing window – bees hard at work making honey

I pulled each frame out to inspect it – if the honey cells are not capped with wax, they are not ready to harvest. If too many uncapped cells are drained, the honey is too “wet” and can ferment over time.

The 5 inner frames were all capped and heavy – it still surprised me how much honey weighs!

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View from the back of the hive – look at all that honey in there! The far left and right frames were not harvested today – too many uncapped cells.

I had read through the instructions and watched several videos from the Flow hive people about how to harvest. Easy enough to do and everything worked as advertised. After reading about how some Flow beekeepers had cut lengths of flexible tubing to run all the honey into a covered bucket, I decided to go that route. It was much easier to cut a few holes in a bucket lid and let the honey drain directly into the honey bucket than to carry glass jars to the apiary and have to worry about 1) having enough jars for the task, and 2) dealing with curious bees trying to rob the honey from the open jars.

Now to insert the long metal “key”, crack the cells, and hope this thing worked.

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It worked!

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Honey draining from the Flow frames through the tubing.

After the frames were empty, I replaced the caps and reset the Flow frame. I had barely gotten the next frames ready to drain, and the bees were already cleaning the dribbles of honey from the first frames in preparation to rewax the cells and make more honey.20160726_175443

A picture of the whole setup, with a cow photobomb – 2 deep brood supers (painted white) with the varnished Flow honey super on top. No honey will be taken from the brood supers so they have food to eat over the winter (I will supplement with winter “candy” patties to make sure they have the best chance of surviving to the spring).

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And there you have it. It took much longer than I was expecting for my bees to start filling the Flow honey frames, but once they did, they filled them quickly. There is still a lot of summer left, and the fall flowers will be blooming as well. Maybe I’ll get another harvest out of the Flow.

Soon…

As you can see, much has changed since my last Flow hive update – for the better!

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Some people with Flow hives have reported that the bees are not capping all the cells on their frames all at once. I will need to open things up and pull out the Flow frames to make sure that all the honey cells are capped before I harvest – if too many cells are still being filled, the honey will have too high of a water content and ferment. I do want to try my hand at making mead, but on my own time, with properly “dry” honey!

Unfortunately, it’s going to be a spell of hot and humid days around here, so that will have to be an early morning hive check. I have no desire to overheat in that bee suit. But once the frames have been checked, if any are 90% or more capped, I can harvest just that frame and leave the rest of the frames alone. I find that fantastic.

The outer frames appear to be works in progress, as seen from the observation window.

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I have a traditional 10-frame medium honey super on the other hives, and am keeping an eye on that as well. The frames just have foundation on them, so those bees need to draw out the comb before they can start making honey.

Honey harvest

The hive inspector was here the other day to check hives, and we discovered that the three hives were all honey bound. Honey bound happens when the bees fill up all the frames with honey and the queen has nowhere to lay eggs. The solution is to move emptier frames from the outside of the box to the inside (bees work from the center frames to the outer ones), and to harvest the honey from the filled and capped frames, then put the emptied frames back in for the bees to use.

All told, I extracted around 20 pints of honey from the frames. I didn’t harvest all of the honey-filled frames on the advice of the inspector. The final product is beautiful and tasty! I’ll also be processing the wax to use for salves, balms, and candle-making.

Flow honey super update – I have the slowest bees ever, I think! They are taking their time to fill in the gaps with wax, then make the honey. I’m hoping since I harvested a bit of the honey they had, they will start working on getting the Flow super filled up. Only 3 frames have activity at this point.

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Honey

It’s not much, but I got some honey from the hives today! One of the hives had been exhibiting swarming behavior, so during a calm period yesterday afternoon, I went to the beeyard and did some hive maintenance – cut the grass down around the hives and checked all the hives to see how everyone was doing.

Hive #2 was the one acting like it wanted to swarm, but everything looked good. They haven’t been as excited about the Flow honey super as hive #3. I removed the Flow super, made sure all the bees were out, and replaced it with a standard 10-frame honey super. I looked over the Flow frames, and the bees had started to fill in the gaps, but there wasn’t much going on in the frames. We’ll see if they like the traditional frames better.

Hive #3 had build some lovely comb up through the queen excluder and to the Flow frames. This lovely comb was filled with honey! I scraped everything clean and put the comb aside. They are all over the Flow frames, and I will check again in a couple of weeks to see their progress. It’s not as fast as I was expecting, but with the cool weather we’ve been having, I have to wonder if that’s not part of the delay.

Hive #4 is perking right along but honey super for them yet. They also had some comb built on the queen excluder – that got scraped off and will be put in a container for when I need wax for a salve or something.

Here it is – our first honey “harvest” from the Apiary at Innisfree, along with the clean wax (on the left). Delicious!

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In case you’re wondering, the best way to eat this honey is to pop a piece of the comb and chew – honey flavored “gum”!

Flow hive, day 2

Gave the bees a day to discover the Flow honey super, then checked yesterday to see what was going on inside. This is what greeted me when I removed the back cover:

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At this point, it looks like they are cleaning the cells of any debris, and the sugar water I sprayed on it to entice them. It may be difficult to see in this picture, but it looks like they have begun to fill some spaces with wax.

I wasn’t expecting this much action a day after I put it on the hive, but I’ll take it. The view was the same in the other Flow super – bees climbing in and out of the cells, cleaning and preparing.

Adding the Flow honey super

It looks like the temperatures are finally moderating (at least for now!), and the bees are bringing in lots of pollen, so it seemed like a good time to add on the Flow honey super.

After opening and closing the Flow honey super to make sure everything was working, I misted each side of each frame with a 1:1 sugar/water syrup. I’ve read from people already getting honey from their Flow that this is a good way to get the bees interested in the frames. They will clean up the sugar/water and start filling the cracks in the frames with wax, then start on honey production.

The hives were pretty mellow this morning around 11am – it was in the mid-50s and a slight breeze. All the action was at the front of the hive, so with a little smoke, I was able to remove the outer cover and inner cover. I checked the bottom brood boxes and things are going well. They have 70-80% of the frames drawn out and full of brood, honey, and pollen. That percentage seems to be the conventional wisdom of “full enough to add another box to the hive so they can expand”.

Easy peasy to set the honey super on top of the queen excluder, then inner cover on top of that. When setting the outer cover in position, I saw that the knobs on the top wood strip are too long and the outer cover will not sit flat. Next time at the hardware store, I’m going to look for smaller knobs. I may remove the current knobs and see if I can sand them down enough to let the outer cover sit flat.

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The hive without the Flow honey super is my weakest hive. They don’t have the frames in the bottom boxes built up enough for me to add a honey super. I’ll keep monitoring them. If they get a honey super this summer, it will be a traditional 10-frame medium box.

If you’re wondering about the bottom board, it’s a Freeman Beetle Trap bottom board (comes in 8- and 10-frame version). The white thing in the back is the pull-out tray where you add a mixture of oil and water. The bees will hassle the beetles, which fall through a screen and drown. You can replace the oil/water mixture when it gets gross, or strain the solids out of the oil and reuse. I’m happy with the results – have caught hive beetles and some ants. It also catches falling debris from the hive, so the mixture will get scummy if you don’t change or strain it regularly.

All three hives were busy this morning – lots of pollen arriving. Some pale yellow, bright yellow, and orange. All the girls coming back with pollen were loaded down. It’s amazing how they can fly with that much on their legs!

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What’s the big deal about the Flow hive?

Chances are, you have heard about this new idea in beekeeping called the Flow hive, the invention of father and son Stu and Cedar Anderson from Australia. To make a long story not so long, they thought they  had a great idea to change beekeeping, set up a Kickstarter, received a whole pile of money from backers who also thought it was a great idea, and now had to figure out how to make what they thought was going to be a small-scale business into a now multi-national business. Things happened, ship dates were delayed, at least one machine went kaput, etc etc. as they tried to keep a handle on everything. Check out their website for their full story and videos.

The interwebz is love it, hate it, and everything in-between. Many of the haters are of the “people who don’t know anything about bees are going to now have beehives and screw it up” sort. Flow has a ton of videos about the nuts and bolts of beekeeping available on YouTube (to join the three tons of videos about the nuts and bolts of beekeeping  already available on YouTube), they have compiled lists of beekeeping organizations by country and state, and have generally be pretty darn proactive about giving people the resources they need to be successful in beekeeping. The glass of information is full – take hold of it and drink deep.

Fast forward – I received my two Flow supers a couple months after the targeted shipping date (not the full hive option, just the 7 frame super) and put them together. The cedar wood is a nice upgrade, by the way. Some of the corner joints didn’t fit very well (too tight), so I had to Dremel them down to fit. Aggravating, but nothing to skewer them over. I’ve gotten worse constructed items from well-known bee supply companies. I got them assembled, then coated them with Spar urethane for protection from the weather.

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Flow super fully assembled – the bees will be living in the box under this, and there will be a cover on top.
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Side view – observation window with cover
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Covers removed and ready for honey harvest. This side is at the back of the hive so the bees are not disturbed while harvesting.

The girls have been bringing in the pollen over the last week, which means spring is definitely here, so I will check the hives on a calm, sunny day to see how the frames are filling up. When it looks like they need more room, I’ll add a Flow super to 2 of the hives, and a regular medium honey super to the third hive. This is a brand new honey super, so the bees will have to make the honeycomb on the frames before they can start the honey process. Will the Flow supers be filled and ready to harvest before that?

Why did I spend the money on this? Like many beekeepers, I don’t want to disturb the bees more than necessary. Taking frames out of the hive to harvest the honey is something that can upset the bees (I’m taking their winter food, in their opinion), and honey harvesting itself is hard work – put on the beesuit, go to the hives, take the heavy honey box off the hive to wherever you’re harvesting the honey, remove beesuit, uncap the frames, put them in the honey extruder, spin the honey out, filter the bits and pieces out of the honey, pour the honey into jars, put the frames back in the box, but the beesuit back on, take the box back to the apiary, put the box back on the hive, clean everything up.

Also, 1 frame can be harvested at a time. You can lift the frame up to see how many cells are capped, and if it’s ready – harvest time. If there are still a lot of cells that aren’t full, put it back and check the next one.

By this point, the beekeepers in Australia and other places in the southern hemisphere have had their honey season. They’ve put up videos of harvesting the honey from the Flow hive – standing right next to the hive with no beesuit.

I have seen one video (not in English) of someone who had taken the Flow super off of the hive, and took it in a building to harvest. He seemed to be having lots of problems with the harvest. Without being able to understand what he was saying or know the context of why the super was in a building and not still on the hive, I’m leaning toward operator error. I could be wrong.

So this season will be an experiment in honey harvesting. With any crowdfunded item, there’s a non-zero chance that the item was great in theory and not so great in application. But all indications so far are that the Flow works. Stay tuned to see if it works for me!

And just so it’s in the open, these are documentation posts. I will not be debating the merits (or lack thereof) of the Flow, but recording my experience. Take any hate elsewhere.