How to harvest honey from a Flow Hive

Today is all about honey, as Cedar goes through the process of how to harvest honey from a Flow Hive. He also answers your questions on harvesting and other beekeeping topics.  



Video Transcription


Good morning. Thank you for joining us. Today, we're going to discuss how to harvest honey from your Flow Hive. Now it's a common question. People have got their Flow Hive and they just want to know how to do it and refresh themselves. So we're going to run over that this morning and look at these bees go they're here on this beautiful day, flying in and out of their hive and doing their amazing thing, producing their honey. Isn't it a magical thing to be able to watch your bees produce the honey from your surrounding area and bring it back into your hive? One of the first things we're going to do is have a look, not only in the side windows for the capped honey, but also in the end windows. So let's just take a look at the hive first and get a little bit of a feel for what's going on inside.

So if you see here, we've got a whole bunch of frames and this cross-sectional view of the bees filling the cells with honey. Now you can see here this checkered pattern where it's full, then empty, full and then empty. There's a little bit of a lull in the nectar flow. So they're experiencing a bit less honey coming in now, and they're starting to retract it away from the ends. So that can happen. Now, if we were to choose a frame, we'd choose a nice full one, like this one where you can see that most of the cells are full. And if I even look in, I can see that the capping is right on the frames. So that's the wax cap that the bees put right over the top of the cell when it's ready. Now, because I'm seeing a bit of honey that's being eaten away, I'm going to look in the side windows as well, just to check that there's plenty of honey in the hive. I can see glistening white capping beneath their feet. So this hive is actually quite full. We did harvest one of the frames last week, which they're busy filling back up again. So without further ado, I'll show you how to set up your jar shelf. So there are these little brackets, the best way to put them on is facing up like that. Keyhole goes over the screw, depending on what height you want to set, and then you twist it into position. If it's a bit loose, adjust that screw. If it's a bit tight and you can't turn it around into position, then you'll need to loosen it off. Once you've got it set, it should stay good for next time. The other side as well, we're just putting the shelf bracket on the actual cover that came from the front of the hive, goes right on there.

And that's a common question we get, "where's my shelf?" Well, we've double used the window cover for a shelf. That works quite nicely, you can put your jar on there like that. We're going to take out some of these little caps. I'm going to choose this frame here because it looks nice and full. We're going to use this little tag here to lever this out. You can use your fingers too, but just in case it's a bit tight. It's a handy little tool to get that out. Next, I'm going to insert that tube with the little tongue right into the bottom here. It's important that the logo is up, the tongue is cleaning out that little point there. So we've got our jar underneath, we are ready to roll. So that's how easy it is to get yourself set up.

Then it's a case of just getting your key, putting it in, just go in a little way at first and then turn it to 90 degrees. And what that does is move the insides of our Flow Frame parts from this shape to this shape, allowing honey to drain down into the trough at the bottom and out. If you want to harvest just a little bit, you can just go ahead and insert the key a little way, and you will get a small amount of honey from the end of the frame, just a jar or so. You can see that honey coming down already. I'm going to go ahead and put that key back to a 90 again, like this in and turn again. That just makes it easier to turn. So I've got about half the frame harvesting. Some people like to stage it because you can get into a situation where there's so much honey coming out that the trough gets so full that you might get some spills inside the hive.

So some people will stage that. I'm going to go ahead and just put the key all the way in there and turn it. And the honey should flow out. We missed a couple of steps in the beginning. And that was just to check you're on the right angle. Good thing to do before you start. In the Flow Hive 2 and 2+, we've got a level bubble in the side. You just want it squarely in the middle. And that gets your perfect three-degree backward slope harvesting angle. There's another one in the back here that we use mainly for drawing natural comb, but nice if that's in the middle as well. Away you go, honey pouring out.

It's an exciting time to harvest here in the Southern hemisphere because it brings all of these lighter coloured honeys that are often quite floral. And there are so many different flavours from around the area and you'll get different flavours from different frames, which is one of the joys of a Flow Hive. So I would recommend just harvesting straight into a jar. Some people will put all of the frames into a bucket, but then you're mixing what could a really enjoyable experience of tasting the different flavours all into one flavour. Still good honey. But to me, not quite as good as being able to isolate those flavours. The honey's pouring out and it's looking beautiful. There is no more further processing that is needed. The honey is ready for the table. It rarely has anything in it. And if it does, little flecks of wax might just float to the top. But you can see there, it's just perfect. Only gravity is used to get the honey out of the hive. It's just ready to go. Any questions?


Harvesting Questions

Before harvesting should you check that all the frames are fully capped?

You can if you want to, but the way it works is if you start noticing what's going on in your frames here and in the side windows, you'll get an idea of how full a hive is. Commercial beekeepers usually will harvest honey if it's 70% capped. So using this, I find it's a pretty good gauge. And it's only on the very rare occasion that you might have some honey that is a bit too liquid with the moisture content down below that 20% range. So the danger is you could harvest too early before they've capped it in some frames. At worst that honey will have a moisture content that's too high and it might ferment more easily and you might need to keep it in the fridge or consume that or make some mead with it. So if you notice that it's very liquid, when the honey cools down, it should look like honey. It's a bit warm now because it comes straight out of the hive.

So you can see it's moving a bit more liquid than honey usually moves. But as it cools, it should look like honey does with that moisture content down around the 18% range. If you're concerned about that, you can get a refractometer to test your honey and make sure it's going to keep in the jars on the shelf. So as you say, you can get in there and inspect the frames. But to me, it's not needed each time you harvest. And the idea is you build up your knowledge from looking at the observations of what's going on and know when it's time to harvest.


When you're harvesting like you're doing now, is it best to do one or can you do them all at the same time if they're full?

What I find is it's best to checker it. So do one, then skip one, then harvest one, then skip one. So you might harvest say three or four of these frames at once, and that makes it a bit more efficient for the bees, a bit less disruptive for the bees. And they can use the remaining bit, cause there'll be 5% or more of honey left in the frame when we finally turn the key. And they can use that to replenish any cells in the neighbouring frames, to keep them topped up. So it's a bit more efficient to do it that way, but you can go ahead and harvest all your frames also. Just bear in mind, harvest a few first, check that you're not getting big honey spills. Check your setup is right before you go ahead and harvest all of them at once.


After you've harvested do you need to go in and remove the capping so the bees will refill them?

No, you don't. It was a bit of a wild card. So it was a long journey, a decade of inventing the Flow Hive with my father. And we had all sorts of contraptions in there, using like different surfaces, silicones and all sorts of things. Thinking we'd have to have a piece with the capping on it that moves away in order to harvest. Because it is hard to get honey out of hexagon cells when the capping is on them. And so we thought you'd have to move that away and somehow disrupt it so the bees can then start again. But lucky for us, the bees are so clever that they notice when the honey is drained out from beneath their feet. So I imagine it's like the bees are walking on a drum skin. It no longer feels and sounds like it did when it was full of honey. And they're quick to start investigating and chewing away that capping, coating the cells in wax, joining all of the partly-formed cells together and away they go again. You'll notice if you harvest a side window that you'll see them even carrying around flecks of wax moments after you're harvesting. And they're already starting the process of tearing the capping off and rebuilding those cells.


I have a question about different flavours of honey in different frames. Is it possible to know if the same groups of bees work on the same frames?

So the way it works with bees is that one forager bee collects a very small amount of honey in its lifetime, probably only a quarter of a teaspoon to add to the hive. But there's up to 50,000 of them in a hive. So it all adds up to incredible amounts of beautiful honey. So that one forager bee will probably only go to one type of flower in its life unless the nectar runs out. If there's a big flowering, those bees that are going to find that flowering after they've got the information from the dance in the hive will continue until that nectar source is exhausted. And if those bees are coming back, what they actually do is then regurgitate the honey from their honey stomach to another bee who then places it in the cell. So you can't necessarily know whether the bees are going to some monofloral source to fill that frame completely with that one type of honey. But what you usually get is the bees start from the centre of the hive and move towards the extremities when they're filling. So that means they were filling up these two first when the ironbark was flowering in the springtime. And then perhaps another flower comes on and you get another type of flower source, which colours the honey, which changes the taste in the next one. And then the wild quince might flower and it's got a really light floral burst. And then you might get the Melaleuca flowering, which comes in kind of yellow, but then turns to chocolate brown in the end. So you've got all of these different flavours that you'll find in the different frames simply because of the timing of when they're filling and that the bees will tend to go to one nectar source until that nectar source has run out.


When I'm setting the Flow Frames to the cell-closed position, the parts don't completely join. Is this how it's supposed to be or is something wrong?

Very nice observations there. So the reason why the parts don't meet together is for the bee's knees. And basically out of a decade of testing, we wanted to of course make it not harm bees. And when we found, when the parts were meeting like that, you could harvest fine but if there were bees down the cells if there was an area that didn't have capping on. Then the bees would be down there when you open the cells and potentially when you close it again. They could poke a leg or a wing through that area and get stuck. So we put a V-shape down the cell lines and the bees bridge that with their wax. So when it opens or closes you still have that V-shape and they can't get a leg or a wing stuck.


Can I put a Flow super on top of a regular hive?

You can. You can simply get this box and put it on top of a regular hive. We've sized it so it fits most sizes well enough. The Flow 6 super fits an 8 frame Langstroth and the Flow 7 super fits a 10 frame Langstroth.


Here we go. We're getting a really good harvest this morning. These are 300ml jars and we've got seven jars of honey so far. So we're almost up to two litres from this frame already.


If you add a Flow super to a regular hive, do you need to add a slope in or does it come with the super?

Typically beekeepers will tend to run a standard Langstroth hive sloping the other way so water doesn't go in the entrance. You can either keep it that way and you'll need to change the slope when it's time to harvest, which is a bit annoying. You've got to lift the front up and get it all prepared. And also it messes up this little process called the leak-back point in here where you can see this little gap. Depending on how the bees join the parts of the frames together, sometimes you get a bit of dripping of honey into that area. Now it can fill up over time. If it's sloping forward, it can't return into the hive through that little slot.

And when you rock it back, you might suddenly get a bunch of honey that's been at the other end of a while and it could be fermented. I would recommend sloping it backwards towards the harvesting. Alternatively could run the box the other way around, but then you're harvesting right in front of the entrance, which isn't going to be nearly as nice an experience. There's going to be bees everywhere, getting in the honey and getting on you and so on. So harvesting at the other side from the entrance is better and maintaining a permanent slope is better because you don't have to do it before you harvest and this leak-back works nicely. But you need to control the water. We've got a screen bottom board so any water can go right through that and not stay inside the hive where the Bees are. And we've also sloped the landing board away so the bulk of the water goes out. So there are some considerations there in deciding how to set it up. I would recommend you if you work out how you can set it up with a permanent three-degree slope backwards if you're using a Flow super on a regular Langstroth hive.

Do you need to clean the Flow Frames after harvesting the honey?

So if you leave your Flow Frames in the hive, the bees will actually look after them in there. It's only when you start taking the frames off and leaving them around that vermin gets in, the mould gets in and so on. This trough area here could get a bit gunky sometimes, especially if you haven't looked at it for a while and the bees have blocked up that little leak-back point. That one's nice and clean, but you could get into a situation where there's a lot of buildup in there. Putting one of those thin dishcloths rapid around this key with some nice wet cloth, you can just poke it in there and give that a cleanout. If you've taken your frames off the hive, and they're grubby and grungy, and you've left honey in them and that's gone fermented and so on, get a hot hose from your laundry, give it a good wash out. It'll be hard to remove all the wax. Then just dry them out and put them back in the hive and leave the rest of the work for the bees to do.


Could you clean the frames in a dishwasher?

I think you might get some grumpy words from your other half as all the wax clogs up your dishwasher. Probably not a good idea.


Do you need to adjust the slope on the hive when you're not harvesting honey?

You don't need to, no. So over time, your garden will sink. And if you look over here, I've actually put a brick just to stop the feet sinking into the soft earth of the garden. If you do that, then it shouldn't change too quickly. But still, just check from time to time that the level is right and the hive is on the right slope before you go to harvest.


Can you get honeycomb from a Flow Hive?

You can. So there are a few ways to get honeycomb. One is, if you're doing your brood inspection, there's often a lot of honey on the edges. You might choose to cut out some of that comb. You can, if you're using naturally drawn comb, you can just cut a beautiful shape out, drop it straight into a plate, add your cheese and blueberries and things and away you go. Or you can take the whole lot and put it back. The bees will replenish that quite quickly. So that's one way to get comb. Another way is under the roof in this area here, you can take out the plug in the inner cover. So there's a little round hole, and that will allow bees up into this roof cavity. Now they will build comb up there once they filled up this box and they'll build it like crazy in all sorts of random patterns. And that's fun and exciting, but also quite messy. So after a while, you'll wish that you didn't let the plug out and let them into the roof cavity. But what you can do is contain that by using perhaps a glass Pyrex baking dish or something like that, put it over the top and you can watch them build their comb in a confined area, which is something cool to experiment with.


How do the bees know that the honey is gone? Is there a pressure change or a scent?

So, I don't know, but somehow underneath the capping, they notice that the honey has drained out from beneath their feet. It must be like walking on a drum skin where it was full of honey. And it has a completely different sound to when the honey was gone. That's all I can think because they're so tuned in with what's going on, they can tell when the honey is gone. And if you think about it from a natural perspective, if the hive was in a tree, the tree fell over and some of the honey ruptured and slowly leaked away, then they might notice behind the capping that the honey's gone and rebuild that area as well. So I can only guess that they were tuned into that from a long time ago.


I've heard that some flowers cause the honey to crystallise, for example, canola, is this true?

It is. So canola crystallises quite early, all honey will crystallise eventually. And it depends on the ratios of sugars in the honey as to how quick. Temperature affects it as well. So with canola honey, one of the things you can do with a Flow Hive is harvest a little bit early. And what that means is you will have warm honey in those frames that you're harvesting from that hasn't gotten cold enough yet to go crystallised. If you know you're in a canola area or rapeseed, then harvest early, as soon as the frames are almost full and that way you won't get that crystallisation issue. Typically it happens to commercial beekeepers. They take the box off, it was nice and runny. They take it to the shed. It's there for a few days and it gets cold overnight, it turns candied and they cannot extract it out of the frames. So a little advantage there with the Flow Hive in terms of being able to harvest early easily. Jamie Oliver recently with his Flow Hives explained the canola issue and he was harvesting early for that very reason. So you could have a look at that one.

How many times do you think that the super will fill up?

So stone holding the camera has been harvesting 20 kilogrammes per week lately. So you can get on these amazing flows if you've got a strong colony and there are lots of flowers around. You harvest it, they fill it up, you harvest it, they fill it up, you harvest it, they fill it up. And he's had that multiple times. Once when he was living down the coast here, another time when he was living out in the hills. But then he had a few years where it was a bit slower, so it really depends on the season. And when you get on a good flow like that, it's exciting. You can store a whole lot of honey on the shelf with a Flow Hive. It's a bit different to conventional beekeeping. You're storing honey in jars like this instead of storing it in boxes on your hive. So there's a bit less equipment you need to do that. And you can go ahead and keep harvesting when your frames are full. But please don't get too dismayed if you don't even get honey in a whole season, that's what beekeeping's about. It's a good idea to have more than one hive, that colony could be weak. You might not have had flowers. They could have been a drought. They could have been fires. All these things can affect your honey harvest.


Beekeeping Questions

Trace

Amazing Cedar, we've got people tuning in this morning from Nepal and Norway.


Cedar

Ah, Nepal - rhododendron honey! I did some great paragliding up that way, flying tandem with my other half, long before we had our kids. A spectacular area with all those rhododendrons. You must get some nice honey up there.

It gets really cold where I live. Is it too cold to have a Flow Hive? (Norway)

It's not. You know, there's this kind of myth that our Flow Hives won't work in colder regions. That started from the very beginning before anyone had even tried. And you still get that, mainly from Europe, this kind of notion that no, it won't work, but it's not true. We've got lots of people in Europe with Flow Hives enjoying harvesting. Jamie Oliver's recently been putting lots of great videos out of harvesting. And people right up as far as Norway and also right up into Canada as well. So there are lots of people harvesting Flow Hives in colder regions. When it's time to harvest, it's usually the warmer time anyway. So, so it, it still flows out quite nicely. If it is colder, it'll just flow a bit slower. Here we are, it's been almost half an hour and we've just about completed this harvest. It could take an hour or longer if it is colder when you're harvesting.


Do you recommend insulating the roof for winter?

So that seems like a good idea if you've got that long, cold snow ahead of you. We don't have that in this area. So there's no need for us here. But putting some insulation in the top, perhaps you could break up some old styrofoam boxes or something like that and put it in the top of your hive could be a great idea if you're expecting snowy times ahead.


I caught a couple of swarms this season and need to move them into the garden. Can I move them a few feet without upsetting them?

Yes, you can move them. When you first catch us warm, there's an opportune moment to move them straight away. But if you haven't done that, you can move them a short way or a long way. There's a couple of ways you can do that.


How do you close up the hive when you're moving it?

There are a few ways to do that. One is to use an entrance reducer. And we have that entrance reducer and entrance closure that you can put right on the front of your hive. One way up is an entrance reducer to limit the entrance. And that's a useful thing to do in those areas where you need to reduce the entrance down and give your bees a bit of protection from robbing by other bees and wasps and so on. And also from mice as well. Now it's said that the most common mice in North America don't get into the Flow Hive anyway, because it's got a thin entrance, but let us know how you go and whether this helps. Spinning it up this way, it becomes a closure with ventilation. So you can see that there, the little holes running through, and once you put your wing screws in the front, all our new hives come out with marks on them, you can just close the entrance. It's a case of just choosing a moment like this early in the morning, and you can then close it over and turn that L-screw and that'll hold it in place. That will only work if you have your boxes in line. If they're too much out of line, then there'll be a gap for the bees to get out. The best way to straighten them up is one of those woodworking clamps. You can put it on here and just clamp it up and the box will pull into line.

You could also use a piece of wood, or you could use steel wool, probably one of the easiest ways. Steel wool is nice and malleable, not the dish-scrubber type, but the really fine steel wool you can get from the hardware store. You just rip off a piece and poke it in the entrance, job done.


Are mice a problem in Australia?

I haven't found any mice problems, no. But it seems to be a common complaint from North America with mice in the wintertime. Perhaps the southern part of Australia has mice issues, I'm not sure. What happens is, the bee ball moves up through the hive, leaving a vacant, nice warm area. And if your entrance is big enough, the mice will come right in, make a mess of those brood combs and make a nice cosy home in the bottom box while your bees are still up the top consuming honey in the upper areas.


Our problem here is that badgers take the honey (Africa).

Oh, tell us about that. I'd love to hear about badgers. We have cane toads here, which are an introduced toad that don’t take the honey, but they take the bees. And that's why we like to get them up off the ground on a bit of a stand like this. The cane toads will sit there and knock on the hive at night and the bees come out to investigate. They'll lick them up. I don't know how they don't get stung in their mouth. But the badgers eating honey, that's a new one.


Does the Flow Hive work with the African bees or are they just too aggressive?

They do work with the African bees. I've got no experience of keeping African bees. And I've heard they have really aggressive traits, so careful. But apparently the Flow Hive works quite nicely with the African bees. We've also tested it with the Cape honeybee from South Africa. We've also tested with Apis japonica, from Japan, with a few modifications of hive size. You can get the Flow Frames to work with them as well. And that's an Asian honeybee.


Do you think it's too late to start a hive? (Northwest Victoria, Australia)

No, it's still springtime here and you could probably start a hive. Always ask local beekeepers and the best time to start a hive is probably when you can get hold of bees. So ask around to see who's got bees, but this time of year, all over Australia is pretty good time to get started in beekeeping. And you could keep starting your hives all the way through summer. Depending on how you start and also your location, you could even start in the autumn. So it's a perfect time of year to get started.


I've had my Flow Frames for about four years. How long will they last for?

It's new technology to the world, I guess, and we're hoping they'll last for a very long time. And if you do have any trouble with your Flow Frames, get in contact. We want them to be a very long-lasting product and we will look after you. We've been going for six years and we've still got frames at home that were around before launch and are still going, so a long time now. But I guess we're still in the early stages of this invention being in the world. So thank you for being one of the early adopters and helping get our technology and our invention to the world.


We really want to get a hive, but the parents aren't on board, because they're really worried that the kids are going to get stung. Any tips on getting the family onboard? Because we all love honey. (Ontario, Canada)

If they love honey, that's a really good start, but I would just speak to the dangers of stings. Now, some people have what's called anaphylaxis. Same thing as when some kids eat peanuts and they can end up in hospital. So it's a very serious thing. So something to keep mindful of, to know your first aid. Epi-pens are a good idea, but I'm no first aid expert, so do your research. Most people get localised swelling from stings, I do. Have a look at what we're doing here as well. For your first hive, it's a good idea to buy some bees off a bee breeder and ask for very gentle ones. It's like chalk and cheese, a gentle hive to an aggressive hive, to work with a gentle hive. It shows very little aggression to you and an aggressive hive that they might start chasing you across the yard. So start with a nice gentle one, get used to beekeeping, and that would be my advice. But it's always a personal choice when deciding to have bees around. It does increase the risk of stings. Of course, there are bees around everywhere as well. You can step on the clover and get stung anytime. So it's unfortunate, but bees do have stingers. It's also a good idea to find someone local with a Flow Hive. Jump on Facebook, find the groups and maybe go and get a bit of an introduction and see what the hive is like and see whether it's for you.


We had a problem with wax moths in the hive. It seems to be okay now, the bees are cleaning up the super. Is there anything we need to do?

If you've taken the Flow super off, then that's a time when what's called a wax moth can come in and eat the wax. They cannot damage the Flow Frames. All you need to do is brush off their little webs and stuff before you put it back in and the bees will deal with it. If you've had moths inside the hive while the bees are in there, then you've got a bigger problem because bees won't allow that if they're healthy and the numbers are good. So if that's been happening, then you need to do an inspection and check that the queen is laying. Check you don't have any pests and disease issues that are really slowing down your hive. And once your bees are happy and healthy, they will keep the moths away from out here. They will get under in the tray area and things outside the hive, but not actually inside the hive, unless your hive has a problem.


Finish Harvest

I'll just run over it once more, how to finish up your harvest. So we've harvested all of these beautiful jars of honey from this one frame. And we've got over three kilogrammes of honey there, which is a nice harvest from a frame. Put your key right in the top slot, put it in and turn it. We already did this before, but I'm showing you again, leave it there for a minute, just to put the cell parts back into the cell-formed position.

If you just give it a quick bounce like that and move on, they might bounce back up and not be aligned and you'll get problems down the track. So once you've done that, you can then turn it back to a 90 and take that out. Then find your little cap. We do include spares with the hive. They are easy to lose. Now, when you put this cap in, it should push all the way to be flush like these other ones. If you're forgotten, it'll sit out like that. If you've forgotten to return the frame, we've put a little reminder tag, which will make the cap not go in properly. So in it goes, then you find the little bottom cap here. And it's a case of just the hot-swap, trying not to spill honey. And that goes in like that. Then you can either enjoy those spoils or leave it on the edge of the jar like this for the remaining honey to flow into the jar. 

Make sure you take all exposed honey away from the hive. You don't want to leave exposed honey around for bees to start robbing. As you can see here, when the bees are going about their business, they generally don't come for the honey. But sometimes when they're really hungry or you've got a robbing mentality, then they can really go for the honey. And it's a case of just closing these covers like this and that's it, your harvest is complete. 

Thank you very much for tuning in again. Let us know what you'd like us to cover next week. And we'll have something interesting to show you.


Want more? Watch past videos, and get notified of livestreams as they stream on Facebook here

Sign up for our Livestream Reminder Email

For in-depth training, check out our online beekeeping course at TheBeekeeper.org.