Now that I've had a couple of months to think this over in anticipation of the arrival of our FlowHive equipment, I have a great deal of confidence that my small investment will pay huge dividends even in the first year.
Here's what I see: Harvesting and extracting honey will be completed at the same time, same location, and in one simple step--that is HUGE! When we are able to bottle our product in the field (here in the US), it makes the regulatory process so much easier. There are fewer inspection stations and lower fees for certifications. That's a savings in itself.
I can see myself using a system that allows me to harvest many frames at once. I anticipate about 30 minutes drain time for each frame, so it would make sense for me to turn on a bunch at the same time. What I'm thinking I will do is modify a lid to one of my honey buckets so it will have holes for the tubes to enter, then I'll place a bucket at the back of each hive and let it flow. I can see myself setting up a hive with a bucket and tubes, opening the valves, then going on to the next. I may have to invest in longer tubing so I can position my bucket to the side of the hive for those that have a back-to-back set up. I generally have the hives on a stack of 3 pallets, four to a pallet. They are most often back to back.
When we started this operation back in 2004, we had a family of six with lots of momentum, manpower, and motivation. Now we're down to our last two daughters as the others have flown the hive. It's been the most wonderful way to raise our children to see the value of work and have such rewarding work. They knew they were doing something special for the bees as we got every one of our 100+ hives from feral bee removals. We were saving the bees even before it became a popular thing to do. We were also able to produce a honey that has been labeled the best honey in the world from our customers all over the world. That's a blessing we hadn't counted on. Our single varietal kiawe honey come out clear, and crystallizes rapidly into a white semi-solid smooth textured delicacy.
That brings me to a concern with this set up. Right now when the honey isn't extracted within three weeks of the bees capping it, it will crystallize right in the hive. We then cut it out and sell it to local chefs as comb honey. It's a labor intensive job. With these Flow Frames, we won't be able to cut it out. I'm planning to open the valves every three weeks just to make sure no honey is crystallizing in the frame. If I want to take a break from harvesting or go on vacation, I'll have to remove the Flow Frames, I'm guessing.
Another benefit I'm expecting is that there won't be any place for small hive beetles to hide. I'm hoping we can still fit our BeetleBlasters between two of the frames to keep the population down. If not, we will have to reposition them. Occasionally we will have pollen or bee bread in the honey supers, so I'm not sure what will happen with that. I'm guessing it would block the channel for the honey flow when the valve is opened.
Right now we use queen excluders above our brood boxes, so I'm assuming that would be the norm with FlowHive as well.
My biggest concern is the crystallizing of our honey. If we can work around that by opening the valves regularly, then I am hoping to replace all my honey supers with FlowBoxes. That will be a huge outlay of funds, but it should pay off in a short time with the saving of time. I'm guessing I'll just need one per hive since it will be easy to just empty it when it gets full rather than put another super on top. I'm not sure if that will be the same since there are usually enough bees to fill up the added supers. I can see this will be a trial and error just like the rest of beekeeping.
If anyone has been able to figure out answers to any of my questions, I would appreciate hearing about them. I am set to receive my first FlowBox in December. I only ordered one box to see how it will work with my honey. If anyone gets theirs first, I'd love to hear your experiences of doing this on a larger scale.