For the first time in history honey can be extracted directly from a beehive without opening the hive and with minimal disturbance of the bees using a radical new honeycomb frame design.
A father/son inventing team, Stuart and Cedar Anderson from Northern NSW have developed the innovative "Flow™” hive and have been successfully field testing it for three years. They have given prototypes out to a number of amateur and professional beekeepers in Australia and overseas who have also proved that the system works.
This is the first major change to beekeeping equipment since Langstroth’s inventions in 1852 and could prove a game-changer. Commercial honey production requires substantial capital input for large scale honey processing equipment and nevertheless is still labour intensive. The labour component is even higher for the hobbyist who often ends up with a sticky laundry or kitchen after the much-prized honey has been finally put in jars. The Flow™ hive saves almost all the labour involved in extraction of honey.
John Gates, a Canadian beekeeper who worked with the BC Ministry of Agriculture for twenty six years as an Apiculture specialist said: “I decided to try my first harvest from the Flow™ frames. Everything went without a hitch. I must say it was quite exciting to see the first bit of honey appear at the outlet, then make its way down the tube into the jar, mesmerizing.”
Michael Bush, Author of Beekeeping Naturally and well known US beekeeper, said; “It's not very often something is so revolutionary as to blow my mind...Saving 20% of the labour of harvesting is not trivial, 40% is amazing, 60% is revolutionary. But 95%, that’s Mind Boggling!”
The “Flow™” frames hang in the hive in the same way as conventional frames and are accessible from the back of the hive. The Flow™ frames have clear ends. When placed side by side in a super these ends form a viewing window in the back wall of the box. A beekeeper can observe the bees working and see when each comb is filled and capped. This unique end-frame view also gives the beekeeper a good idea of the health of the hive.
A simple lever is inserted into the top of the frames and turned to open the cells in the comb allowing honey to flow down to pipes carrying it out of the hive and directly into containers. The capping on the honeycomb shows some stress but generally remains intact and the bees on its surface seem undisturbed. Flow™ supers remain on the hives in the field or backyard. Operating the mechanism splits the hexagonal cells vertically creating a zig-zag channel down which honey readily flows to a sealed trough at the base of the frame. The bees appear to be quite undisturbed by the process and will scurry around as usual over the top of the capped comb while the honey is being drained out ‘beneath their feet’.
The bulk of honey drains directly from the Flow™ frames in as little as twenty minutes, but may take an hour or longer with viscous honey and/or cold weather. However the beekeeper does not need to attend to the hive, he or she can simply turn the lever and leave the honey to flow out by itself. Stuart and Cedar were surprised to find that the Flow™ frames empty of honey to almost the same extent as if they were spun in an extractor. After harvesting the honey the beekeeper uses the lever to reset the Flow™ frames and the bees remove the capping, re-seal the cells and begin filling them with honey again.
Some apiarists consider that a significant element in Colony Collapse Disorder is the chilling and/or disturbing of the bees when a hive is dismantled. The Flow™ hive does not need to be opened therefore the bees are less stressed during honey harvesting. As well as this, there is no potential mixing of hive parts when stickies are returned to hive therefore minimising disease spread.
The honey flows from the trough directly to the beekeeper's tanks through standard, food-grade, plastic pipe and bees cannot get into this sealed system. There are no wax or bee-bits in the honey, making filtering unnecessary for home beekeepers, and there is minimum exposure of honey to the air. All a hobbyist needs is a jar or small tank for the honey and the lever with which to operate the internal mechanism. The Flow™ design includes provision for remotely activated and/or automatic extraction to a large honey tanks using compressed air to actuate the Flow™ frames. Weight sensors could be used to trigger the extraction on autopilot.
The Flow™ frames are designed to fit Langstroth eight and ten frame full depth boxes. They are wider than conventional frames and therefore fewer Flow™ frames fit in each super. This means that each Flow™ frame holds more and that the comb itself is deep which encourages bees to deposit honey rather than pollen or eggs in them. Nevertheless a queen excluder is recommended. A beekeeper can expect to gain up to 2.2 litres (3kg) of honey from each Flow™ frame.
Since the honey is not spun out in a centrifugal extractor there is minimum exposure to the air in the Flow™ extraction process. Several beekeepers have noted surprisingly aromatic flavours when tasting the Flow honey. Further research will determine whether this minimising of oxidation enhances the aromatic and possibly health-giving qualities of ‘Flow™' honey.
There are many opportunities for further experimentation in the use and operation of Flow™ hives. For example the brood box can be placed on top of the hive making brood inspection easier. Bee research will be facilitated by not having to transport supers or dismantle hives for honey removal. Specific honeys, chosen frame by frame can be sampled easily, as often as a researcher wants with little disturbance of the bees and little risk to the researcher.
To launch this new invention at a commercial level, Stuart and Cedar are using the popular crowd-funding site 'Kickstarter'. Crowd-funding involves people supporting the development of innovative products by 'pledging' to buy or support the innovation. A target is set and if enough people pledge during the six week promotion period, the target is reached and only then will money be exchanged and the product be manufactured and delivered. The ‘kick start’ for the Flow™ frame is expected to open at the beginning of March.
Cedar and Stuart are looking forward to receiving feedback and further ideas for the use of Flow™ hives from beekeepers in diverse locations and conditions. In the meantime more information and a video can be found at www.honeyflow.com
Details of the kickstarter will also be found at this site and will also be advertised on The ABK website www.theabk.com.au when available.
Author: Des Cannon