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Visually Inspecting Flow Frames before harvesting - is it necessary?


I have my first flow hive, and I have a question about knowing when to harvest. I have a hive with three flow frames, and the frames surrounding them are traditional, with foundation. Those frames are completely capped. I checked the flow frames and they are not completely capped…about 70% done. I watched a video yesterday that showed a harvest, and the presenter looked at the frames though the portal in the back, and determined that it was okay to harvest based on the presence of capped cells within view. So I am confused. Should I have to take the flow frames out to inspect them, or is it okay to harvest when I see the capped cells in the window?


Welcome to the Flow forum!

As far as harvesting goes, you should treat Flow frames like your traditional frames. When they are 90% capped or more, you can harvest and be pretty sure that you have ripe honey.

I like to pull my Flow frames out of the hive to inspect before harvesting, because my bees tend to do sneaky things like leaving an arc of empty cells at the bottom of the middle frames. :angry: You can’t see that from the end window. There is much more risk of a leak into the hive if those cells are not capped. If you have a hybrid super, you may find it easiest to lift out just the middle Flow frame for inspection, then just slide the others sideways so that you can look down at the other frame faces from the top of the hive.

When you come to harvest, I strongly recommend that you open each frame in about 20% sections, waiting for 5 minutes or so before opening the next section. If you don’t do that, there is a risk of an airlock forming in the Flow tube, which can quickly flood your hive with honey. Give yourself plenty of time too, perhaps start late morning and be prepared to let the frames drain for 2 to 4 hours. The last honey that comes out is the thickest, and that is the good stuff, so it is worth being patient! :wink: You will need a container with up to 3 quarts capacity per frame, unless you are prepared to switch the containers. I used 64oz mason jars, and each frame filled 1 and 1/2 jars.

When is the best time of day to extract honey?

@Dawn_SD has covered your question really well, all I can add is you should ignore the video’s and use common sense. Visually check each frame is well capped % wise before you extract, as Dawn says, 90%, that way you will know you are extracting quality honey and not what will become mead in a few weeks if the water content of the honey is too high.
Welcome to the forum, lots of nice folk and helpful advise.


@thebeesknees What do the Flow frames look like when you look at them through the back window at the moment? Do you have a photo?


I am adding a link to this old topic and have also copied a post in from the same topic.

Nov '16
I have and able to harvest twice this past season. Both times I only had 15 or 20% of the cells capped. Yet after harvesting it was all under 18% moisture. I did purchase a refractometer to test.

My mentor suggested taking the frames out and shaking them in if no honey came out that it was likely at the correct percentage. I did that about a week before I harvested, and in fact no honey or moisture came out of the cells. Therefore I felt comfortable harvesting. And after harvesting I did test each of the frames for its overall moisture content.

In fact my 2nd harvest set uncapped for a good month prior to me harvesting because we were about to go into winter I decided to harvest. And it was closer to 16.5 to 17% moisture.


Very helpful reminder. I would like to add that I had to admonish my wonderful (and smart) husband this weekend for holding a frame horizontally (open cells in line with ground) as hundreds of little drips were falling out of the frame. :blush: I am shorter than him, so I could see the little drops of gold falling out. :hushed: We need to be attentive when inspecting frames with uncapped honey.


ZOk, sorry if everyone else is clear on this except me… I always thought it was critical for the flow frames to be almost fully capped due to the risk of honey leaking out the face of the frames and down into the brood nest. Marty says in the link that you posted, Dan, that he harvested frames that were not even close to being fully capped and it was fine. Am I mistaken about this? As long as the honey proves to be ripe by testing with a refractor meter or the shake method, is there no longer a big risk of leakage?


Hi Cathie,
In relation to concerns about leakage in particular, it probably depends on the person harvesting as to what worries them and why it does. I don’t mind about the leakage issue. There is no problem for me from leakage of frames on harvesting. Others are concerned about it for a variety of reasons so they will make up their own mind I guess from their own research and experience over time.
I probably have a slightly different view from others on the Forum as to the capping and ripeness issue but am happy with that too. I appreciate that beginners in particular need to be careful. Sometime I just think it might be a bit like waiting for Godot. I don’t have a refractometer but understand you only need a quantity of honey the size of a match head for the test? That could be gathered from an individual honey cell I would have thought.


Based on the comments, my takeaways are as follows:

  • Inspect the frames, as you would “traditional” frames, and only harvest when 90% (more or less) of the frames are capped. Having a hydrometer handy would be wise.

  • Be careful when extracting, so as not to create leakeage. This was VERY helpful, as I might not have even been aware that this might occur.

I will be checking the frames tomorrow, and will have to make a decision, as I must get Apivar strips in the brood box ASAP. If I cannot extract, the honey super will have to come off and I’ll just defer extracting.

Thank you for all of the feedback. If there is something else you think might be helpful, please contribute. I love my Flow hive, and this forum is a big plus.




I prefer a refractometer. I bought this one from Amazon, pretty cheap and works really well:

I wouldn’t leave the super off the hive without extracting. Depending on the honey, it can crystallize within a month or two, unless you freeze the frames (freezing delays crystallization almost indefinitely). That would really mess up the Flow frame mechanism! :blush:

There is another option. Harvest the frames even if they are not fully capped, then test once you have the refractometer. If they are not nicely capped, I would harvest them in the kitchen over a large baking tray to catch drips. If the water content is less than 18%, you have ripe honey. If it is higher than that, you can always feed it back to the bees once the Apivar is done.

A further option would be to use Oxalic Acid Vapor rather than Apivar. You can take the super off for the 20 minutes or so that is needed for treatment, then replace it once the vapor has settled.

Another possibility is Mite Away Quick Strips. I imagine that you may be a bit warm for MAQS to be a good option, but I believe that you can use those with honey super in place. http://nodglobal.com/faq-maqs/

When is the best time of day to extract honey?

Thanks, Dawn. I got my nomenclature wrong…I actually have that very refractometer.

I’ll have to look into Oxalic Acid…I’m not familiar with it. But for now, I will take your advice and harvest, fully capped or not. They have been working hard, and I am hoping that they’ve capped the areas that were uncapped last week.

Thanks…you are very helpful!


Hi Matt,
My understanding is you will need more care with ripeness in a humid environment. More care if the honey is from ground flora. If it is hot and dry and the bees are getting gum tree honey it is considered generally to be drier etc. and capping is somewhat less important. I even read something yesterday to suggest in very humid environments some capped honey may be too high in moisture, which really surprised me.

Does anyone have an opinion on testing individual cells for ripeness with the refractometer…say from parts of the comb that are uncapped?

What I would generally advise, as a start, is to extract from the most fully filled and capped frame as viewed from the end window. Consider just doing one frame and see how it goes. Test that honey. You have had the frames out recently to inspect them so you will have an idea as to percentage of capping I guess on the frame you choose.
Can you post a photo showing what they look like from the end window? Cedar showed some harvesting from a frame recently in a live chat on Flow Facebook, and you can see what the frame looks like from the end window when he considers it to be ready to harvest.


Hi Dan. I’ll post some pictures tomorrow or Saturday. Cedar’s video is what got me thinking about this whole thing, because he didn’t seem to think it was necessary to check the frames if the ends were capped, which seemed odd to me. I think I’ll pull them out, take a look and test them with the hydrometer. I’ve only lived in Florida for three years, and started keeping bees again, after many years doing it right near Washington, DC. The humidity down here right now is much higher than in northern states. In DC, I would have waited until autumn to do the harvest, with no fear of ambient moisture. Here, it’s a little different.

Thanks, Dan!


You can certainly do that, and my refractometer came with disposable pipettes which could be used to test a single cell. I don’t do it though, as it probably wouldn’t change what I was going to do.

Let’s say the uncapped cells are unripe, around 20% water, what do I do? If I can’t delay the harvest for some reason, I am going to drain the frame anyway. I am certainly not going to spin the frame to extract the uncapped, then operate the frame to extract the rest. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

If they are ripe, I am still going to drain the frame anyway, and then re-test the pooled drained honey before storing.

I see that the question is interesting, but it just wouldn’t change what I am going to do, and it just prolongs the time that I have to be inside the hive. :blush:


I would love to hear how it all goes. It is really good to have you on the forum, and to get feedback from what you post. :heart_eyes:


Hi Dawn,

I understand. I was considering the issue from perhaps a slightly different perspective. I was thinking it would be useful for an individual to build upon their knowledge as to what a ripe frame of Flow honey looks like in their own climate and with their forage plants, by getting information about the water content of the honey as it relates to the percentage of capping etc. They could then use that knowledge in following seasons and harvest. Further, if they were to share there results here (:smiley:) others visiting the Forum who felt they were in a similar situation (climate, forage etc.) could use those findings to help build their knowledge.

p.s. you could do a quick test when you are removing the frame to remove the super to inspect the brood.


I’ve never tested a frame with a refractometer: If a frame is only 80% capped and I really want to take it, I use the “shake test” I shake it over a clean, solid colored surface like a hive top, and if any liquid droplets appear on the surface, I don’t take it.
I’ve never had any honey spoil but that could be because I’m mixing it with honey from dozens and dozens of fully capped frames.


Hi Dan, I have an opinion on testing individual cells for ripeness, “say from parts of the comb that are uncapped?”.

My view is that an area that is uncapped could have a higher moisture % that the rest of the frame that has a low %.

If you harvest the whole frame, the high % honey blends with the low % honey giving you an overall reasonable low % of moisture honey.

This is why it would be recommended to wait till a frame is around 90% capped.


Hi Jeff, yes that is a good theory. It is also possible that the uncapped honey is actually more ripe than the capped honey. I’m not sure if you have looked at the link I posted above from a previous topic but it refers to that. I could be convinced that it could sometimes be the case because uncapped honey that is ripe and that the bees are slow to cap, (we don’t seem to know why) is continually drying in the hive. The capped honey alongside it on the other hand can’t lose any more moisture once capped.

I was more thinking along the lines that you could test an individual uncapped cell (or why not several cells) by dipping a matchstick in it and then putting it (the honey) on the refractometer. That arc of uncapped cells in super frames often seen above the centre of brood (the arc being partially filled) would be a great place to try that I would have thought. You might otherwise be waiting needlessly if you keep that frame in the hive hoping they will cap it if the uncapped cells are already ripe. They perhaps are kept uncapped by the bees to be ready for the queen to lay in them, rather than because the honey is not dry enough. If you were to test those cells it could give you a guide (and others) for next time.


I have a few tips about inspecting the frames:

you don’t necessarily need to remove them all to check. You have three so I would pull out the central one and then look down at the two exposed faces of the adjacent frames to see how they look. Lifting out the frames can be awkward- putting them back in straight even more so. It is important that before you put a frame back in you make sure the adjacent ones are pushed away as far as possible- sometimes when you remove a frame the ones beside it ‘relax’ a little towards that frame - and when you go to replace it it can get snagged halfway down. If you ever have an issue like that: you can remove the large door at the rear to see the panes on the back of the frames and make sure they are all aligned correctly forming a wall.

When you say your frames are 70% done: do they have that half moon shape at the bottom of the frames that is uncapped? This seems to happen mostly in spring when the bees leave room there for the queen to lay (which she cant because of the QX). Sometimes they cells are 100% empty- in which case you may be able to harvest as the others are all capped and ripe. Once nectar starts appearing in those moon areas- the bees soon cap them too assuming there is a decent flow on.

don’t rely on the view at the end of the frames: it can be quite deceptive. It can be half empty- when in fact 98% of the frame is capped. During the big flows though it is a good indicator- and when they are full the frame likely is too.