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Harvesting Flow frame tips

Hi all, I thought that it was pertinent to add a thread that outlines this forum members Flow frame harvesting tips which mitigate the often discussed flooding issue as a reference for future.
Some of these tips are not endorsed by Flow however are proven to work by forum members.
If you have other harvesting tips to share feel free to add.

The below tips were posted on another thread by @Dawn_SD
Thanks Dawn.

           **HARVESTING FLOW FRAME TIPS**
  1. Before you ever put the frames on the hive, make sure that the wires are tight. If they aren’t, the frame can flex and leak before or during a harvest
  2. Inspect the Flow frames before harvesting to make sure they are fully capped. That means lifting them out so that you can see the whole frame face. Inspecting though the windows is not enough. Bees love to leave an arc of uncapped cells in the center frames, and these will leak if you you harvest them
  3. When you open a frame, consider using 2 Flow keys (you can buy an extra for $15). If you use them together, the frame flexes much less, reducing the risk of breaking the cappings and causing a flood
  4. Open the frame in 20-25% increments (you can mark the key with a Sharpie to help know how far 20% is), waiting for at least 5-10 minutes before you go on to the next 20%. You must avoid developing an airlock in the Flow tube, or pressure will force honey out of the frame into the hive
  5. On any harvest day, only open one or two frames at a time. That way, if you get a spill, the hive will not get overwhelmed
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  1. Periodically check wire tension when inspecting for capped honey.
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Is there some way to quantify how tight the wires should be?

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About this tight:

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I’ve had only once had a spill into the hive and that was when I thought that because the view through the window showed it fully capped and the rear door showed fully capped. The two centre frames gave me less honey than normally and the next day the bottom slide was covered in honey.

The bees had obviously not filled/capped some cells in those frames and the honey from the upper cells ran out the uncapped lower cells instead of flowing into the bottom channel. I use 1.5 kilo buckets and get two buckets per frame. In this case the second bucket got less than half full. That told me where the gaps were.

Since then I’ve checked the frames for full capping before harvesting. At my last harvest there were crescents of uncapped cells in the frames 3, 4, 5 so I only harvested frames 1, 2, 6.

I’ve also marked the flow key so I can open the frames in quarters and let the honey flow slow down before the next turn. Two turns to each bucket and it almost stops so I can change buckets easily.

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Does leaving the key in at its 90° position (arm down) increase rigidity and decrease frame flex and leaking?

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I assume you mean leaving it in this position while you harvest the honey. It won’t increase rigidity, nor will it decrease leaking.

The frame rigidity is dependent on the tightness of the wires top and bottom. If they are too loose the frame might leak some honey into the hive during harvesting, but probably not. The frame cells are covered in wax and the bees build that wax out further than the plastic frame. When the frame is unlocked all that extra wax stays in place and the capping remains until the bees remove it.

If the cells are all capped there should be no leaking. If there are uncapped cells in the lower portion of the frame, as there sometimes are above the main brood frames, there can be leaking as the honey from the upper cells flows out of those lower uncapped cells.

In some videos, Cedar suggests leaving the key in position for a while, but that is after you’ve locked the frames again. The reason is that if there is a slow-to-return portion of the frame because of wax build-up, leaving the key in the slot keeps the pressure on the sliders to get them into locked position.

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Sometime ago a Flowhive forum member posted this excellent video… this issue has been discussed extensively and I hope will continue to be open to new experiences and debate.

In my mind and experience, this video casts doubt on these two points:

  1. Flowframes need to be capped to prevent leakage
  2. Using 1/4 increments with the keying tool is an effective way to prevent leakage

Not all circumstances are identical in beekeeping…so your results may vary.

The important point with Flowhive is that their honey extraction technology has enabled a lot of novice beekeepers to enter the field…it breathed vitality into the industry and gave many a first hand experience with nature. That is quite a remarkable and commendable accomplishment…even with the glitches any new technology has.

As an experienced beekeeper, I love to have my bees filling flowsupers and I will continue to work on solutions to improve their effectiveness in my apiaries.

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Hear, hear to that well-spoken sentiment about Flow’s impact, Doug :clap:

Skegs, great topic - thanks for getting it going. I would add that less-than-gentle handling during pre-harvest frame inspection could well be a factor in harvesting leaks. It’s important to look at each frame face but this can be done without lifting each one out.

I don’t know if the frame in the video was inside the super when it began to leak, or if the beekeeper had removed it first to harvest. I seem to recall that the latter practice was noted as increasing the risk of leaks, for the same reason that too much flexing or jostling would.

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As a somewhat new beekeeper, I gave a question about the use of 2 keys. We have 2 Flows, 1 each on our 2 hives. I’m not sure what you mean by using 2 keys at once. Can you elaborate or provide a picture?

Hi Doug I tried all suggested ideas above and still noticed honey flowing on the outside of the frames from the side windows like your video . I now only harvest by taking the flow super inside because sometimes a lot of honey ends in the brood nest. When that happens hundreds of bees cluster on the outside of the hive for several days and they seem to perish at night, the cluster hets smaller and find dead bees in the ground. Do you have ideas how to avoid it apart from taking super off to be safe?

Here is a video of us using 2 keys at once:

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Perfect! Thank you! My husband is the keeper of the keys so I showed this video to him.

I strongly DO NOT recommend harvesting by inserting the key in increments. It can actually make it worse as was my experience, and there is a good reason why Flow themselves do not officially endorse this. There is also a good reason why Flow do not recommend taking individual frames out to harvest off the hive… and not very keen on taking the Flow frames out at all. The system is designed to work when the Flow frames are packed tight together to keep their structural integrity.

This leaking issue has been bothering me for a number of years, so much so that I am now selling my Flow hives. This weekend I took my supers off the hives to harvest whats left, and did so with the lid off and I could see exactly what is happening when the key is turned.

Cracking open the frames is a relatively violent action on the frame structure. Opening up a brand new unused frame is very different from opening up a fully capped frame with 3kg of honey. The frame will twist to some degree within the super even if all the frames are in there. There are several factors that will have an effect on this and that is why some report problems while others don’t. How much wax or propolis is used by the bees, temperature, type of honey and viscosity, how much of the frame is full and where… etc. This sideways twisting of frames also varies depending on how much bridge comb is between the frames - the more the better because it will make the frames more sturdy and will twist less resulting in less broken cappings. When the key is only partially inserted and turned, it puts even more stress on the frame and it will twist more increasing the chance that frame will bow sideways, risking more broken caps and leaks. The key will give the frames structural integrity only when it is fully inserted to the other end. Very easy to see this when you harvest with the lid off. If leaks are small they will not be noticed, and are not too detrimental for the hive as the bees lap it up off each other and are not overwhelmed. If the leaks are more of a flood and is overwhelming the brood then it is a problem you want to avoid.

I’m lucky that I don’t have SHB here, so I cannot comment on that, however I came across posts saying that if your hive is weak and prone to a SHB infestation you really do not want to distract your bees with a big cleaning job, taking them away from defending the hive.

If you inspect the frames often, or just before harvesting to check the honey is fully capped, as you probably should to make sure the honey is ripe, then there is more chance that you break off any bridge comb at the top and bottom, and any wax sealing gaps between the frame blades as @Eva suggested and she is right. Excess handling of Flow frames should be avoided. The tagline that “you do not disturb the bees” should be more like “do not disturb the frames”. You MUST disturb the bees and inspect the hive regularly anyway.

Owners of Flow hives with bottom trays like FH2, are less likely to notice leaks because the honey ends up the tray and won’t spill out from the bottom.

My opinion and advice is there is no magic bullet and your best bet is to only stick with the manufacturer’s instructions. You need to make sure to find a way to know whether the honey is ripe for harvest with the least possible disturbance for the frames. If you are in doubt and for any reason think you want to harvest off the hive, then take off the entire super, not just a few frames. Keep in mind that harvesting honey that is not ripe will ferment and I didn’t find the windows to be a very reliable way to know the progress of your honey but you have to learn to make a judgment. A refractometer is probably an essential tool for Flow hive owners as is learning to make mead.

The system is not perfect but works best when all the ducks are lined up. Having strong unbroken cappings is paramount to harvesting without leaks. However with beekeeping there is a lot of variance and that explains why people have vastly different experiences with Flow hives.

Hope that helps.

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I think you are on the right track Sugarwater and I do this as well. And to do this during the summer, I use the abandonment method to get the bees to leave the supers…a very simple and inobtrusive method…it takes a couple of hours. Flow supers are just tipped on their side and the bees allowed to fly back to their hive (in my case, inside the beehouse). It can be done in the fall too but one needs to be aware of nearby colonies that could start a robbing frenzie. Those bees in the photo are just starting to “lift off”…no aggression as they are temporarily disoriented…any straggler bees are blown out with a leaf blower…supers are packed into the extracting room after.

This whole idea of removing Flow supers off the brood area before honey removal still has merit as an expensive extracting room and stainless extractor etc. isn’t necessary…no uncapping frames, loading, and unloading the extractor…but those Flow supers are heavy when full as you already know. You still can separate honey by floral variety (if that is what you desire) by viewing the honey color variations through the observation end windows…so don’t view “leakage” as the end of the world…it’s not.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m experimenting with Flow frame spacing within the individual Flow supers with the hope this will allow me to leave the supers on the brood boxes while removing the honey. The thought of giving the bees more space between the frames is to have the bees build and cap the cells further from the plastic cell ends to prevent “wet cappings”. Will report back with the results hopefully next season.

Good luck and keep us posted.

There are several videos where Cedar speaks of opening the frame in increments. This one is from 10 days ago, go to the 6:50 point.

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Hi Kim, when it is too hard to open the frame in one go, then obviously you have to open in increments as second option otherwise you might break the plastic. Still, I think your best bet to avoid leaks is to stick with the “Official” manufacturer’s instructions. There is no one strict rule you HAVE to obey.

Next time you harvest take off the lid and try to turn the key/s when half way through and watch the frame twist. Then insert all the way and see the difference and how more rigid the frame stays while turning the key. Twisting of the frame will increase likelihood of broken cappings, which will result in leaks.

However my more important point I tried to make that may have been lost in my waffle was that it is the brace comb between the frames that made most difference on how rigid the frames stayed, with less twisting, while turning the key. The brace comb adds rigidity to the whole thing which helps in reducing leaks. That is why Flow do not encourage much frame removals and prefer if you just check ripeness through the windows as in my link above.

The issue I have with relying on the windows is that in my experience, it is simply not reliable. Often, the bees fill honey in an arc, leaving space for their imaginary brood, so from the rear window it looks like the frame is full, when in reality it is not. I also often found that honey looked capped from the side window, but it is not on inner frames, especially if random frames are harvested. The only sure way to know the honey is ready is to take out the frames.