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Flow hive yield dropping over time

I have 3 hive, all flow hives. One is 6 years, one 3 years and one 1 year old.

They all take the same time to fill with honey, but the older the flow frames, the less yield. The new frames yield three times the 5 year old frames, and twice the three year old frames.

I presume there is a build up in the cells.

Any advice will be welcome.

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I’m not at your level of experience with harvesting but a factor of 3 seems like a lot for just build up of wax and propolis. Are you sure that all the cells are lining up correctly to fill and are staggering correctly to empty?

I supposed that at some point a frame overhaul (disassembly, cleaning, inspection/repair reassembly) wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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Interesting observation. I wonder what would happen if you swapped flow frames around the different hives. Would you get the result? Or does it mean the newer colonies are stronger than the older ones…

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I believe the cells of the older hive have reduced in capacity. However, I do not know what is taking up the space, nor how to fix it.

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If you have never had brood in the Flow frames, it could only be wax, propolis or crystallized honey. Wax melts at about 62-64°C. Flow frames can tolerate hot water up to 70°C, so you could soak them in hot water and the wax should all melt off along with dissolving any crystallized honey. You would then be able to see if propolis has been left behind.

Maybe @Freebee2 or @KieranPI will offer some other ideas too. :wink:

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I think it’s a similar issue to natural comb. Over the years cells become smaller and norm is to cycle out the comb.

It’s a great observation by the author and something I’m sure we all might experience through time.

Propolis was a real problem for me this year but luckily only on the brood boxes. I see videos of beekeepers inspecting frames, lifting them out as if they were new whilst I’m fighting with my frames as if I was taking money from a lawyer :rofl:

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yep- we are observing the same now five years in. And it’s not at all easy to clean the frames. I am finding older frames are filling slowly.

Not so easy I am afraid. The candied honey can easily be removed but not the wax. It does melt but sticks and stays on the frame. Propolis is even more stubborn. The only real success we have had is disassembling the entire frame , soaking in hot water (in an electric pan with a thermostat) and scrubbing. Takes a LONG time to clean one frame and it is still not perfect. I wish there was a way to easily clean the frames.

For this reason I now never recommend leaving flow frames on over winter- or putting them on weak colonies. If they are on a hive for a long time without being used by the bees they tend to get more propolis all over. Over winter they get mold- and the bees do not clean it out. It is very hard to remove. Honey also candies and that honey can stay right through the spring- and make the frame not work well. I just had to swap out all the frames in my mums original hive after 4 seasons. Last season she was only getting 1kg or so of honey from a frame. We are int he process of cleaning them now… slow and painful process.

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@Bianca @Freebee2 @KieranPI @Stu_Anderson

Flow has no comments to contribute?

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A good option might be to leave the Flow Frames in the open position over a few days after harvesting, then remove these to inspect. Perhaps the bees have waxed over previous wax that was separated instead of repairing these. Usually leaving in the open position has the bees clean off all the wax, although left for to long would have them try and rebuild in the open Flow Frames which they are capable of.

Depending on what you find inspecting, they could do with a soaking in hot water (no hotter than 80ºC/160ºF)

Have you been inspecting these to see if the bees have full built them out? Harvesting in portions a quarter at a time, can help determine which area of the Flow Frame has the most honey and which is lacking.

It could be good to try a honey test, with a toothpick also, to see if there is some crystallisation occurring.

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@Nicholas_Stavropoulo over to you…
@KieranPI Thanks.

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@Nicholas_Stavropoulo it’s interesting to hear your feedback. Are you able to confirm this theory by confirming that you checked the Flow Frame closely before and after harvesting to ensure all of the cells were filled and completely drained?

If your hive is susceptible to mould in your climate, mould prevention is a good idea for the beekeeper and the bees to avoid having to worry about cleaning any stubborn mould off the frames.

A build-up of wax on the Flow Frame cells so much that it has reduced the honey capacity as much as 3 times is not something I’ve heard of. I’d love to know if you can confirm the above?

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we always inspect frames prior to harvesting, and we have removed frames and soaked in hot water, soaked in napi san, blasted them with a high pressure hose, put them in a black plastic bag in the sun, frozen them and worked the mechanism… all with limited success. Over time the amount of wax, mold and propolis builds up on a frame and makes them unattractive to the bees. I spent a lot of time cleaning one set of frames prior to this season and was able to clean them up to a degree- but this season the bees have been very slow to work those frames and only fill them in a patchy manner. Bees have started filling new frames put in much quicker.

The bees do indeed clean up the frames and repair the wax after a harvest but that’s not really the issue I am contending with. Once frames are old and dirty and have a covering of wax everwhere the mechanism does not operate as smoothly- and entire columns of cells will not drain when the mechanism is operated. The clear plastic ends tend to start to warp a little too.

As I said - the only luck we have had it to entirely disassemble the frame and hand clean each and every row- then re-assemble. We are not sure yet how well these frames will work after this is done- and the last few I put back together I found the wires were very tight even with only one or two twists. I imagine this is due to a very thin layer of wax on the plastic that over the entire length of the frame makes it a few mm longer. That wax is very stubborn and hard to remove - even using hot water at 80c. It does melt but then it forms a layer over everything.

My friend who runs an urban beekeeping shop in NSW has had multiple customers bring in flow frames they no longer want. They have all had similar issues to what we are experiencing. I tried to harvest some of them out of the hive and had the same issues of entire segments not draining even though we use two keys and move them multiple times in the slot.

I am coming to the opinion that 5 years or so might be about the life of a flow frame. Unless there is some kind of solvent that can be used to clean them. Also it may be that cleaning them in hot water by hand- and replacing the wires with new ones- and new end parts may bring them back into service- but it really is quite a lot of labor to do that.

It may also be that by removing the frames over winter, only using them on strong hives, and during a good flow- that they could be made to last longer and work well for longer too. But that does require the use of a standard ideal or super in conjunction with the flow frames.

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Thanks for the great responses. I will remove the frames and try the hot water method.

Very through response. I have come to the same conclusion regarding 5 year life span of a flow frame.

I have cleaned some pretty gunky Flow Frames, previously, ones with blackened wax that had been left in a super off the hive which had then been invaded by all sorts of creatures.

Bees clean up after a harvest, but more to the point you can get them to clean back the entire Flow Frame to the foundation leaving them in the open position for longer.

I ended up soaking these in the laundry sink as it is much deeper. I could fit the entire set inside and using hot tap water let them soak, to then open and close repeatedly. Letting them soak in more hot water. Then I removed them and using a plastic bristle dish brush cleaned the surface area, to then rinse out again. It doesn’t take long for the wax to go from being quite soft to hard again but it certainly got rid of enough wax for the mechanism to work once more (flushing out under a hot tap as I went about cleaning), for an entire set of Flow Frames it took a good few hours.

The wax now stuck to the laundry basin is the next step in cleaning that is for sure.

There was no damage to the cables using hot water.

Pictures would be a great help in this case, could you email them to info@honeyflow.com, or keep the discussion going here of course.

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I’m a bit confused by this- when you say open you mean with he cells split as in when they are harvested/? Because I didn’t think the bees could really get into the cells that easily in that position? I always reset the frames immediately after harvest. My own experience with he bees cleaning the cells out is they do it VERY fast when they are strong and on a flow- but can be VERY slow when they are not. I harvested one flow hive in spring this year and by the next morning the bees had entirely uncapped the frames and rebuilt the little bridges that connect each cell. Conversely i have harvested in autumn and it has taken over 6 weeks for the bees to remove the capping.

In the past I wondered if bees would ever clean away black mold- I came to the conclusion that they won’t/can’t. I have used standard frames that the bees have filled and then emptied in a dearth. They then get mold in the cells in winter, later the bees have refilled them but when I harvest the comb and cut into it I have found the mold is still there at the bases of the cells trapped under the honey.

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Yes precisely.

the bees can enter and exit open cells as they would closed, it is a tighter squeeze, but we have even see bees fully fill cells in the open position. Basically, they would realize that the comb is really out of place, and clean it back completely in an attempt to repair it. I would not leave them in the open position any longer than a week or 2 at most, as the bees could then be in the process of making use of the space. It sounds like it would be best to get them to carry this out in between the nectar flow harvests. I expect the time it takes for them to clean them back would be a lot quicker so maybe check after 2 or 3 days just to be safe.

The process could also help to really get rid of some of the darker wax, and perhaps give them more time to work on cleaning out mold, usually, they can clean this off the surface before refilling but not from within the wax itself. If it is really set in some intervention to help clean this out might be best, a cotton bud could help to scrape it out, albeit that sounds very tedious. So maybe just using this to loosen it up enough that the bees can discard of it themselves

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Here are some images of frames bought in by someone who had given up on them. We harvested off hive- used two keys with multiple turns but you can see how some entire columns did not drain:

You can see also mold and propolis. Also many rows not set correctly. This isn’t an issue of not working the key all the way in, etc. it’s an issue where some rows simply don’t move. With these particular set of frames I am not sure if they are very early ones before they were modified or not. These are not my frames so I don’t know how they were used but it looks as if they were left on hives over multiple winters.

You can see clearly how some columns did not drain even though the keys were inserted fully. You can also see how propolised sections have been ignored - and how the bees are only patchily filling the frames. I am currently seeing similar in two of my own.

On one of these frames you see how the bees ignored a large section of the comb - the section nearest the key hole- this proves that it wasn’t an issue of not inserting the key fully. The cells at the back set ok but not at the front. I have seen similar on may flow frames but not usually such a large section.

I see the same with old regular frames. Bees prefer fresh combs - old stickies get less and less honey and the bees fill fresh frames much quicker. New frames hold much more honey and are easier to uncap and spin.

Has flow ever considered a trade in idea for old frames? Either that or examined if there is a solvent that could be used to clean them? I wondered if acetone might work as it dissolves wax and propolis but I don’t know what it might do to the plastic. Also it’s not something people would want to do themselves. I think if there was a viable cleaning service for frames people would use it- as I think many early flow adopters are getting to that 5 year mark where their frames look a bit like those above.

I also think two keys are much better than one for setting frames. It helps to ensure the mechanism moves fully. It also stops the frames from flexing laterally. However it doesn’t entirely solve the issue of some rows not moving. I always use two- placing them carefully at each side of the slot. Also in the center- and multiple turns to try and get every column correctly set.

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So, were frames in the images salvageable?

Has anyone tried soaking in hot water and finishing with a steam gun?