honey bee management

When can I get honey from my Flow hive?

I always wanted to be a beekeeper and now with my complete Flow Hive I can save the bees (they need us!!!) and not disturb them when I’m taking their honey and not getting stung!!! My bees will come in a little wooden box with a screen!! And I already got the jars! I live in northern Idaho and my hive comes in December!! When can I get honey??? Do you know?! –Sadie

The Flow hive certainly drives people to excess—both in dollars $$$ and exclamations!!! You might want to save some of each for later. Sure, I have some thoughts on getting started that may help, as long as you understand I have never touched a Flow hive.

What is a Flow hive?

First, a Flow hive is like any other Langstroth hive except it has a special kind of honey super that holds the Flow frames. A honey super is a place where bees store honey. The box below it, called a brood box, is where the queen bee makes her nest and lays her eggs. It is the place where the adult bees care for the young. It also contains honey and pollen.

If the bees store extra honey in a hive—more than they need for winter—the beekeeper can harvest the surplus. You say in your e-mail you want to help save the bees. If so, you must be careful not to take too much honey from them.

When can you take the honey?

When you first start your new colony, you should leave the honey super, Flow frames, and mason jars in storage; you won’t need them anytime soon.

I don’t mean to sound discouraging, but a package of bees started on brand new woodenware in Idaho is not likely to yield surplus honey the first year. Now listen up: I didn’t say impossible, just unlikely. You may not be able to crank your Flow until the summer of 2017.

I’m not making this up. The harvest you saw in the video came from an established thriving hive. The Flow frames that were tested in both the US and Canada were placed on established thriving hives. According to Kim Flottum in his book The Backyard Beekeeper (p. 94), “Your first-year colony probably won’t have a harvestable amount of honey before late summer, if then.” Dewey Caron in Honey Bee Biology and Beekeeping (p. 166) writes, “Package bee colonies seldom produce a honey surplus the first season.”

How can that be? First of all, packages of bees are usually shipped to the northern areas in April, so they’ve already missed part of the nectar season. Your bees in a box will include a mated queen and perhaps 10,000 other bees. When you put these bees into your new hive, they won’t feel at home right away. There is no furniture nor any pictures on the wall. No cradles in the nursery nor shelves in the pantry. It’s just another wooden box, only bigger than the one they just left.

First they build a home

At first, the worker bees will start to build combs so the queen has a place to lay her eggs. They work fast, and if they have plenty to eat, the bees may have some small combs by the next day. As soon as space is available, the queen will begin to lay.

A queen can lay 2000 eggs per day, but not until she has a place to put them. She may have room for only 50 or 100 eggs on the first couple of days, more as time goes on. Assuming all goes well, these eggs will hatch into adult bees three weeks later. In the meantime, your colony is getting smaller because some of the original bees will die while doing their chores or collecting nectar. Remember, your average worker bee lives a mere four to six weeks during spring and summer.

I know this is hard to picture, but it takes a while for a package of bees to get started. Besides building the nursery area, they also have to build the storage combs and tend to the young. All this takes tremendous amounts of food, food which they have to collect.

Remember your bees arrived late in the spring, took a week or so to settle, and then waited three weeks for the first batch of new bees to hatch. Now it’s mid-May or later and your colony may still be decreasing in total numbers of bees even though the nectar flow is in full swing.

Also, even if your bees fill the entire brood box with brood, honey, and pollen, you may want to add a second brood box so your bees have enough room for winter stores. This decision is partly based on local conditions. I highly recommend you talk to beekeepers in your area to learn what works best. In Idaho, I suspect that most beekeepers use a double deep for overwintering. Ask around.

Nectar flows

Being new to this, you probably don’t know when nectar is readily available in your area. Most areas in North America have a lot of nectar in spring, a period of little or no nectar in the heat of the summer, and then another, although lesser, flow in autumn.

If the population of your hive isn’t large by the end of spring, the colony will be lucky to collect what it needs for the following winter, let alone provide any excess. Because of this, many beekeepers feed sugar syrup to their packages to get them going. Some feed packages straight through the first summer. But be warned: If you put the Flow frames on while feeding your bees, syrup—not honey—will fill the mason jars. Remember, bees cannot change syrup into honey.

Speeding up the process

If you are really eager to turn the Flow crank, you could speed up the process by buying a nuc instead of a package. A nuc is a small colony on drawn combs with a laying queen and brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae that are in the process of growing). Nucs (nucleus colonies) are often available locally from other beekeepers and they give you a head start. A nuc is more expensive than a package, but compared to the price of a complete Flow, it is trivial. You simply take the frames from the nuc and put them directly into your brood box.

You might also be able to buy an entire overwintered colony. If you join a beekeeping club, you can ask around and see if someone is willing to sell a complete hive.

Starting with a nuc or complete colony will give you a much better chance of getting honey your first year. Moving to a southern state or Hawaii may help as well. Still, with bees, there are no guarantees. Your local climate and weather, the health of your bees, swarms, diseases, and your own management decisions will all affect the outcome.

Business as usual

I’m going to stop here because this is a lot for a newbee to absorb. The point, though, is that starting a new colony in a Flow hive is no different than starting a new colony in any other hive. Sometimes we get lucky and can super a new hive and get honey the first year. Most times it doesn’t work that way, and if we harvest more than we should, our bees suffer.

Since you are eager to begin, why not start a colony this year? Buy a nuc, if you can, and a standard Langstroth hive. No you can’t use your Flow frames this year because you don’t have them yet, but with your current plan, you probably won’t be able to use them next year either.

Beekeeping is not a walk in the park: it is life changing. If you learn how to keep bees before your Flow frames arrive, the benefit to you and your bees will be enormous.


Related Posts:

Should you go with the Flow?

Final thoughts on Flow

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  • Bravo, Rusty! A well-reasoned response to the Flow.

    While the Flow is certainly a step forward for honey harvesting, it’s incredibly important for purchasers to know they’re dealing with a hive of live bees, not just a honey production box. They need to join the rest of us as bee-keepers, not bee-havers, which requires education and effort (and happiness and frustration….).

    Personally, I think the Flow’s expense will keep it from being mainstream beekeeping equipment. And losing the joy of seeing the girls bustling about on regular examinations and feeling the weight of a fully capped frame just wouldn’t be worth it to me.

    (Talk to me in a few years when the arthritis gets bad enough not to be able to pull frames and I may sing a different song!)

    • Handling a fully capped frame of honey – that is probably one of the best reasons I have heard not to get a flow hive. There is a very raw level of satisfaction and well being (for me and the bees) that comes from seeing a capped frame of honey. The flow hive would just take all the fun out of beekeeping. Kind of like taking caffeine and sugar out of cola – those are precisely the reasons I drink it!

      Well written post Rusty, as usual.

  • Trusty Rusty…are you sure that “Sadie” wasn’t having a little fun at your expense? I mean…everything about that post reeked of tongue-in-cheek and seemed designed to push your specific buttons. It’s like all the things you warned might happen when the “average” person heard about the FLOW hive. “My bees will come in a little box with a screen…” Come on. Even the name “Sadie” has to be bogus. It has to be joke because if it’s not…the bees are in bigger trouble than we thought. Yikes. Mary P.

    • Mary,

      There’s always that possibility. But I wanted to answer, just in case. I did ask for permission to use her letter in a post, so I know the e-mail address was good.

  • I will pass this on to our local Association as I overheard a new member discussing it with a senior member.

  • I asked our local beekeeping guru about the Flow, and he did a very detailed cost comparison showing you could buy professional extracting equipment instead of Flow hives with as few as 2-3 hives.

    The only thing I like about the Flow is that it is getting people talking about bees who normally wouldn’t.

  • Marian, I like that, “not just a honey production box”.

    Sigh…this is exactly what I, and many others, expected: people believing they are “saving the bees” by using a Flow hive. Honey harvesting is not the problem. Keeping the bees alive is the problem. We’ll see if she learns this.

  • To Marian,

    You keep bees for a while and make sure you get enough stings and you may not get Arther to bother you!! It’s all in the stings!!

    I am almost 82 and can hardly wait to get into my hives, but it is still a little cool here in Southern Alberta.

    Have a good one!

    Cor Van Pelt.

  • Hi Rusty,

    You are full of wisdom and your response was very professional. I have just began beekeeping after retiring last November and have studied hours about bees, attended classes and read, read, read everything I can get my hands on. I still don’t feel experienced until I can actually get my bees which are coming this weekend.

    I have purchased traditional equipment. I looked at the flow hive and decided that I want the “all-encompassing” joy and frustrations of beekeeping. I want the goo, the wax, the inspections, beetle and mite battles and all of the record keeping. I want to experience the bees!

    I mainly don’t like the flow hives because I fear people are just thinking they are getting honey and nothing else is involved. I have a feeling a lot of bees are going to die and this makes me sad. I am going to hope for the best, though, that the inventors of the “flow” pack in some very good beekeeping instructions and not just honey production instructions.

    I just want you to know that I am joining the local bee association here in sourthern Illinois tomorrow and they have your web site link available. I have really enjoyed reading everything on your site! Thank you!

    Oh, do you have any idea where I can get one of those oxalic acid tricklers shown on the video? I found a supplier, but they are over in Ireland and don’t ship to the U.S. Thanks, again.

    • Bonnie,

      If you go back and read the comments on that post, someone found a place that will ship here. I think she said she ordered five for $18 and that included the postage.

  • Well said Rusty! Well said!

    I have taken a few questions about using the Flow. One from a person that is having trouble keeping bees period and wanted to know if the Flow would be the fix! I knew this contraption was going to generate this type of flow from the unknowing. -Bill

    • Bill,

      I agree. Many people seem to think the Flow will address all kinds of bee management problems when, in fact, it address something that really isn’t a problem in the first place.

  • Great response, I’m fairly new to bee keeping (going into the third year) and haven’t harvested any honey. Don’t quite know how I feel about the FLOW hive but interesting idea.

  • Great explanation.

    I’m amused by “I can save the bees (they need us!!!)” – all these people getting honey bees, apparently to save a species which is not even endangered, never mind in danger of going extinct.

    Meanwhile plenty of bee species which are in serious danger of dying out go unnoticed and uncared for. Getting honey bees is not going to help them, if anything it’ll mean there’s less nectar to go around. Sometimes I feel guilty about being a beekeeper because I worry about all the bumble bees and solitary bees having to share flowers with my honey bees. If you really want to save bees, plant more bee friendly flowers if you can is a better idea I think.

    • Emily,

      So true. I just read last week that even here in the states, the number of honey bee colonies was up last year, not down. But some of the wild bees are going extinct and nobody seems to care. To me, that is both sad and scarey. It says so much about our environment. I appreciate that you care about the wild ones, Emily. They need all the voices they can get.

    • Emily,

      Plant flowers native to your area if you can and encourage others to do so as well. Often the native bees specialize in a type of plant or flower structure. As an example, I’m in So California and have planted California Buckwheat in my yard. I find a few honey bees and a LOT of local bees on it. I now have more native plants and see more native bees.

      Also, contact a local entomologist (university, state Ag. dept.) who can tell you how the local bees nest. For instance, here many of the native bees need bare soil to nest. Since most of us mulch for water retention, the bare soil is tougher to find. So I leave them some bare areas and try to limit the mulch.

      It takes a little research, planning and thought, but finding those (often tiny) natives makes it worthwhile.

  • Dear Sadie,

    Just a couple of extra thoughts to follow up Rustie’s sage advice.

    It’s well worth undertaking some form of bee management training ahead of going live, plus enlisting the support of a local (to you) beekeeper to act as “uncle” – those girls sometimes dont play by the book!

    Best of luck


  • Yes, Rusty, Very nice information.

    I became a beekeeper last year. I Live just south of Idaho and started late. Probably much later than I should have. I bought an established hive in early June that only had one box but it was quite full of brood and bees. First thing I did was place a second box on. Took almost all summer for the bees to build out the comb in that second box. Then in September when I noticed that there wasn’t much honey, I started feeding them syrup.
    All was going well until early November when we had a sudden bitter cold snap, and I lost the whole colony. Sure there was plenty of honey by then, but it wasn’t in the center of the hive where the bees clustered.
    Anyway getting a new package for the hive this year. I’m hopeful that this will do better.

  • We keep wondering what will happen if there is some drone larvae in the flow frames….ewwwww!

    Great post, Rusty! I am putting it up on my FB page.


  • I can’t help observing that there seems to be rather more Sadie doesn’t know than when she can get honey.

    1) You couldn’t save the bees unless you could harvest honey? They don’t actually need people to eat their honey, you know.

    2) You won’t have to open the hive to get honey, sure, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to open the hive ever. I mean, I guess you don’t have to open it, but I’m not sure how you’re going to keep a hive alive, healthy, and productive without doing anything but steal their honey.

    3) The bees don’t actually stay in that wooden box with the screen, you know. They aren’t inside bees, they’re outside bees. If your fear of stings was the reason you couldn’t save the bees, then you might find it a bit unsettling when you go to turn on the tap on your Flow Hive (TM) and find yourself walking through a cloud of foraging bees.

    You know, at first I thought the Flow Hive was a really neat idea. Now, though, I’m starting to think it will just encourage people to think it’s the bee version of an ant farm. I think a lot of people are going to get bees, steal every drop of honey they make in the first year, and watch them starve that winter.

  • Not knowing quite all the details, I just explained to my husband that with the Flow™ hive all you have to do to harvest is push a button or switch a lever maybe, to get the honey to flow through a filter and come out separated from the wax and the bees. His reply was, “So it’s like a self-cleaning litter box.”

    But seriously… having become allergic to bee stings there is a certain allure to the idea. However, aside from the fact that the frames are not compatible with either my Top Bar or Warré, the cost is just mind-boggling. One can buy a complete pre-assembled hive for the price of just 3 Flow™ frames. I’d opt for a whole ‘nother colony in a TBH for the money.

    • HB,

      “So it’s like a self-cleaning litter box.”

      I feel like a literary amateur next all you eloquent beekeepers. It seems that besides $$$ and !!! the Flow also stimulates metaphor.

    • The company’s FAQs mentioned adaptability to fit a Warré hive so I asked for details and they replied, “The length of the frame is adjustable. We will be posting them out at the standard Langstroth frame length of 480mm. You can however change their length in increments of 12mm by removing some of the frame parts. This means you can adapt the length of the frames to many different sized hives.” Pretty neat!

  • I agree with Mary P.

    From the IndieGoGo Flow site:

    This depends on your location. In our area it is normal to inspect the brood nest of each hive twice a year for disease. In some areas beekeepers check more frequently. If the hive is weak it should also be inspected. Our invention changes the honey harvesting component of beekeeping. All the rest of the normal beekeeping care for the hive still applies. Beetles, mites, swarm control etc. The flow hive clear end frame observation does assist with allowing you to look into the hive and gauge the strength and health of the colony.

    If new beekeepers do nothing but the inspections outlined in the above paragraph I feel they would be a more positive contribution than the “natural” beekeepers that throw bees in a box and say “if you are strong enough you will live” and do nothing more.

  • Had a discussion over coffee with my husband about the Flow hive.

    We’re told (not sure if the science supports this) that plastic foundation is accepted more readily if a thin layer of beeswax is smeared over it. Why do the bees accept the plastic of the Flow so readily?

    If the Flow hive, with its plastic comb, works so well, why isn’t there a market for fully formed plastic foundation rather than just pressed panels? If they accept it, that would decrease the startup cost of a new frame (for the bees).

    • Mariana,

      1. Yes, a spray of beeswax seems to help.
      2. I don’t know if the flow is sprayed. I suspect not.
      3. You can buy plastic foundation, with the cells started.

      • I was actually thinking of almost fully formed, ready-to-cap cells–as the Flow seems to have. Even with the cells started, there’s a lot of waxwork to take that to ready-to-fill comb. Does anyone sell more than low-relief foundation?

  • Another question: What’s the weight of the Flow? How about when partly or fully filled? Can a reasonable person lift it?

    This is directly related to the concerns of all who question whether this type of hive will be good for the bees. The ability of the beekeeper to inspect on a regular basis and deal with all the issues that come with bees may be severely impaired if said beekeeper can’t get to the bees.

    • Mariana,

      I don’t know, but a deep honey super can easily weigh 90 pounds, and since this is a deep, if it were full or nearly so I expect it could weight about that. Certainly not anything that I could lift.

  • I’ve been thinking about the Flow hive too…

    I am wondering how a beekeeper could be certain that the honey frames were actually mostly capped? The window to the hive allows one to observe only the ends of each of the frames. What about the majority of the frame?

    Do you think it’s therefore possible for the honey to be harvested prematurely, and with too high of a water content, leading to fermented honey?

    I’m sure the designers have sorted this conundrum out, but I just can’t wrap my head around it!

    • Adrienne,

      This question comes up frequently, and I don’t know how you could be certain, short of opening the hive for a peek. It seems you have limited visibility through the window and it seems you could very easily get a false read. However, I suppose if you are holding your pancakes under the tap, it wouldn’t matter as you are going to eat it before it ferments. Eh?

    • Usually the end frames are capped last Adrienne, because the central frames are warmest, making it easier for bees to produce wax. But if you were worried it takes only a minute to pull each frame out and check it’s capped.

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