Flow Hive, The Autoflow Beehive (An In-Depth Review)
Since time immemorial, humans have been perfecting honey harvesting – searching for new, less sticky ways to capture the liquid ambrosia.
And now we are told that the impossible has been achieved; Beekeepers can now harvest honey on tap without disrupting the colony, using a honey extractor, and where they don’t leave looking like a bear who kicked over a hive.
But is it true or, better yet, is this autoflow beehive worth the hype? Keep reading our Flow hive review to find out if this hive is worth the hype or is just going to leave you with another sticky situation.
SUMMARY: The Flow Hive
- Innovative honey harvesting with Flow Frames
- Can integrate with existing Langstroth equipment
- Suitable for beginner or advanced beekeepers
I love that it came with a full starter kit and with foundationless frames. My bees already built comb in the first five frames within 3 weeks of getting them, they love their new home!– Joy A
- The Flow Hive Review
- Which FlowHive Model Is Right For You?
- Do NOT Buy a Flow Hive If…
- Final Thoughts
The Flow Hive Review
Ever since Stuart Anderson and his son Cedar Anderson introduced the Flow Hive in 2015, the “honey on tap” hive has been making a lot of buzz in the beekeeping community. Even beginner beekeepers want to get their hands on the invention that promises easier honey extraction!
But does Flow Hives genuinely ease difficulties in harvesting, or is it just another expensive fad you should stay away from? Many Flow Hive reviews say it’s worth buying.
So, we’ve reviewed Flow Hives and compared them with regular hives based on design, materials, ease of use, and of course, the all-important Flow frames.
Flow Frames – 5/5
At first glance, the Flow Hive looks like just any order Langsworth hive. But once you take it apart, you’ll notice one key difference – the frames. So what is so special about the flow frame?
The Flow Frames allow you to extract honey directly from the hive without using an expensive extractor. You don’t even have to take the frames out and disrupt the colony. You simply turn a key, and the honey pours out (1)
“When you insert the Flow Key and split the honey cells, gravity does the rest of the work, and the honey simply flows into the trough, through the tube and into your jar.”
There is nothing groundbreaking on the frames’ material, though. Like regular plastic frames, Flow Frames are BPA-free. Where Flow Frames shines is in the design department.
It has partially formed honeycomb cells which the bees will naturally fill with wax and honey. The clear panels give you a front-row seat of the action. When the frames are full and capped, you are ready to harvest.
At each frame, you’ll find a key access cap at the front top section. Don’t confuse it as an entrance or exit for your bees. That small gap is for the Flow Key. To give you a better idea or picture, think of it like a doorknob.
When you insert the Flow Key and turn it 90 degrees, the cells in the honeycomb will “open.” This action will then create a channel for the honey to flow. So, where will the honey pour out to?
At the front bottom section of the frame, you’ll find the honey trough cap blocking the flow. Remove that and insert the honey tube, and you’re ready to get “honey on tap.”
The entire honey harvesting method may make you uneasy, but your bees are 100% safe. They won’t get trapped or squashed. There is enough space for them to cling to the outside of the frames whenever you’re harvesting honey.
Check out this video to see how easy harvesting honey can be
What makes the Flow Frames extra special is they will work with other Langstroth hive brands. However, they are wider. For example, if you have a ten-frame Langstroth hive, you can either fit it with 4 or 7 Flow Frames.
While the rest of the Flow Hive is well made, the Flow Frames separate the Flow Hive from all the other hives on the market.
Design – 4.5/5
Instead of the typical boxy hive design with a flat roof, a Flow Hive has an integrated and elevated four bottom feet and a distinct gabled roof on top. But, in general, Flow Hive adopts a similar Langstroth design.
Since having a Flow Hive minimizes invasive honey harvesting, the super, aptly called “Flow Supers,” has two large viewing panels (one on each side) and a rear window. All of which come with a removable cover. The flow super houses the flow frames.
Wedge in between the super and the brood box or brood chamber is a queen excluder. For pest management, a screened bottom board and a corflute slider are available as well.
Since there are four Flow Hives, expect design variations from each other, but they have the same function: easing honey extraction. The differences are not significant but rather boil down to convenience, durability, and what you need.
Let’s make a quick comparison.
The OG Flow Hive uses wooden handles. With the Flow Hive 2, you’ll get brass fixtures. Instead of regular screws for the roof, the Flow Hive 2 also opts for brass wing screws for more secure placement.
Plus, Flow Hive 2 has better ventilation control, so your colony doesn’t get too hot or too cold.
Another new design element in the Flow Hive 2 is the optional Hive Stand. This stand allows you to control the height of your hive perfectly. It works great with those handy spirit levels. Each foot is adjustable so that you can set your hive on any ground easily.
The latest iteration, the Flow Hive 2+, now has an entrance reducer, ant guard, and improved stand and multi-purpose poly tray.
Assembly – 4/5
Despite the hefty price, one would expect that the Flow Hive is ready out of the box. However, that’s not the case. You will have to assemble it regardless of what Flow Hive model you choose.
You can expect it to take you a couple of hours to assemble all the components of your hive.
While not terribly complicated, there are a lot of parts that you need to put together. A detailed instruction manual is included in the packaging to mitigate or ease assembly problems. In case you get stuck, there’s always YouTube.
In addition to the honey super and the brood box, you need to assemble 8-10 brood frames. Don’t confuse these with the Flow Hives’ Flow Frames; these frames are for your brood. Now, if you have frames already, you can use the ones you have. You also must assemble the roof structure.
The Flow Hive 2 is more straightforward to assemble than the Classic because the individual parts are labeled. You simply need to match the piece marked 1 with the other parts labeled 1. The Flow Hive 2 also comes with the tools you need to screw it together if you want to do it by hand. But it will be much quicker if you use a cordless drill.
Once you have fully assembled your hive, it is time to personalize it, as the hive does come unfinished. You will want to weather-seal your hive either with wax or oil-based paint to protect the wood in the rain.
If you chose the Flow Hive 2+ in cedar, you could leave your hive unfinished, as cedar is naturally weather resistant.
Materials – 5/5
The folks at Flow Hive are serious about protecting the environment, so you can be confident that all the materials in your Flow Hive, from frames to packaging, have been sustainably sourced.
The Flow Frames are made out of the highest quality food-safe plastics and are BPA-free (2).
The hives themselves are constructed from sustainably sourced lumber. You can choose from either Western Red Cedar or Araucaria.
If you aren’t from Australia, you are probably unfamiliar with Araucaria. Araucaria is often referred to as a tropical pine and grows in the Southern Hemisphere. It is not really a pine at all. But it does have similar properties to the pines we are familiar with (3). You will want to seal it in some fashion, just like any pine that will be exposed to the weather.
Your other option, Western Red Cedar, is more weather resistant (4).
“Cedar is a beautiful wood, and it smells divine. The natural oils make it less prone to warping, less susceptible to bug infiltration, and less likely to rot than other woods.”
Regardless of which wood you chose, you will find all the parts have been laser cut to ensure they slide together easily.
The hardware for the knobs is different between the Classic and the Flow Hive 2 and 2+. The Classic has wooden hardware, while the Flow Hive 2 and 2+ have brass hardware. The brass hardware is an improvement over the earlier model.
Overall, you will find the Flow Hive is built out of premium, environmentally sustainable, bee-safe materials. What more can you ask for from your beehive?
Ease of Use – 5/5
Easier honey harvesting. That’s what the Flow Hive is all about, and they’ve nailed it! As we discussed, the Flow Frames eliminate all the sticky work that comes with extracting honey.
It’s like magic!
With Flow Hive, there’s no more uncapping, spinning, and filtering your honey. You can enjoy your honey the day that you harvest it rather than waiting days while you slowly filter out the beeswax (not to mention bee parts- YUCK!)
And you don’t have to buy an expensive extractor. You have honey on tap. What’s easier than that?
While beekeeping is not without work, the Flow Hive removes the tedium, allowing you more time to be free to enjoy communing with your bees.
There are all sorts of small features to help make inspecting your hives easier as well, like the fact that the brackets for the harvesting shelf double as a place to hang your brood frame when you are checking the hive.
Honey Output – 4/5
Honey output from the Flow Hive will be less than you would get from a comparable-sized regular Langstroth honey super. The Flow Hive is equivalent to a standard Langstroth deep super. With a standard deep honey super, you get a bit more honey (4).
“A full-depth box will typically yield between 60 and 70 pounds, or 5 to 6 gallons.”
The real difference has to do with how many frames are in your super. Flow Frames are larger than standard frames, so you can only fit 7 Flow frames in a standard-sized ten-frame deep super. Fewer frames are going to yield slightly less honey.
However, for us, the convenience of harvesting the honey quickly, without any mess, is worth a little bit less yield from a super. The question now is – is it for you?
Which FlowHive Model Is Right For You?
The built-in levels, upgraded handles, and hardware may seem like pretty minor changes. But add them all together, and it makes working with the Flow Hive 2 a breeze, whether you are inspecting your hive or harvesting your honey.
Your bees will be more comfortable with the improved ventilation system. Adding a plug for the top board also helps keep your bees warmer in those cold months.
Plus, the roof is now secured with brass knobs to make sure it doesn’t fly away in the wind.
With adjustable legs, you can put your hive anywhere, even on uneven ground!
That stand, combined with the spirit levels we mentioned, will really help when it comes to ensuring your hive is at the optimum inclination for honey flow during the harvest.
If you are looking for a Flow Hive and don’t want to spend too much money, the Classic is the way to go. Like both the Flow Hive 2 and 2+, you can get this model with either six or seven frames. These correspond to the eight or ten-frame Langstroth hives.
The Classic is built from sustainably harvested Araucaria and will need to be sealed or finished to protect it from the weather, unlike the cedar in the Flow Hive 2+. But use this as an opportunity to let your inner artist out and personalize your bee box.
If you want a top-of-the-line product with all the latest upgrades, The Flow Hive 2+ is the model for you. With each new release, the Flow Hive gets better and better. So if cost isn’t an option, why not get all the upgrade features to make your life easier and the bees happier.
The FlowHive 2+ is made from beautiful and weather-resistant Australian Western Red Cedar. It has all the same design fundamentals as the Flow Hive 2, but with more improvements. The optional hive stand is redesigned, and the tray is new too. The FlowHive 2+ is the first-ever model to have an entrance reducer.
This premium model is available with either six or seven frames. It corresponds to a standard eight or ten-frame Langstroth hive. If you have existing equipment, you will probably want to continue with the size you are currently using.
However, if you are just getting started, you may find the six-frame option is easier to handle.
You fill half of your Flow Hive super with the Flow Frames and the other half with standard frames.
With Flow Frames, you can harvest from the tap by using the Flow Key. For regular frames, on the other hand, you will need a honey extractor so that you can get the beeswax. You cannot otherwise harvest beeswax with a Flow Hive.
The Hybrid is an excellent option for professional beekeepers who are looking for a showcase piece. The viewing window allows you to watch the bees as they fill the comb. And with the Flow Frames, your visitors can sample honey straight from the hive.
Do NOT Buy a Flow Hive If…
While we love the Flow Hive, it’s not for everyone. Do NOT buy one if:
You think the Flow Hive will make beekeeping “easy”
Many people think with a Flow Hive, you don’t have to do anything but turn a tap, and honey will pour out. But there is much more to beekeeping than simply harvesting honey. Harvesting honey is only a small part of beekeeping.
Even with a Flow Hive, you will still need to regularly inspect your hives to ensure they are healthy and well-fed. The Flow Hive does not take away the work involved in maintaining your hive.
One of the biggest complaints veteran beekeepers have about the Flow Hive is that they say the Flow Hive misrepresents beekeeping. They feel it “commodifies” the bees, turning bees into nothing more than honey producers, ignoring the more spiritual aspect of stewardship that comes with beekeeping (6).
They complain that the Flow hive will create a new type of beekeeper. One has no clue about how to split a beehive and prevent swarming and other necessary beekeeping skills.
So, if you aren’t prepared for the work necessary to maintain your colony properly, don’t buy a Flow Hive or don’t get any beehives at all.
You’re looking for an inexpensive hive
If you are looking for an inexpensive hive, the Flow Hive is not the best choice. There are lots of flow hive alternatives on the market that are less expensive.
That being said, beware of low-cost Chinese-made automatic beehives. There are no guarantees that these auto flow beehives will be anywhere near the quality hive you would get from an original Flow Hive. If you want an auto flow beehive, spend the money and get a Flow Hive.
There are, however, other types of beehives. A traditional Langstroth hive is a great alternative if you are just getting started in beekeeping and don’t want to make a significant investment (7). You can always purchase a Flow Hive after you are sure you enjoy working with bees. And all your Langstroth equipment will be able to integrate seamlessly.
With other types of hives, you will need to invest in an extractor for your honey. That is an expense you can omit when purchasing the Flow Hive.
You don’t want to use plastic
There are many reasons not to use plastic. Just Google reasons not to use plastic, and the list goes on and on. If you are hoping to lead a plastic-free life, then the Flow Hive is not for you.
The Flow Frames are made of plastic and incorporate a plastic foundation that the bees will fill with beeswax.
However, plastic frames and foundations are not new to the beekeeping world. Neither is the debate over which is better- plastic frames vs. wood, plastic foundation vs. wax.
Many beekeepers use plastic frames and plastic foundations because they are stronger than wire or wax foundations. They are even allowed to be used in honey that is certified USDA organic (8).
And the plastic used in the Flow Hive is only in the Flow frames themselves. The Flow Hive comes with wooden foundationless frames for the brood box. Foundationless frames allow the bees to build their brood comb however they like.
But if plastic is a make it or break it factor for you, then the Flow Hive isn’t for you.
It’s the Flow frames that really make the Flow Hive stand head and shoulders above other hives regarding ease of use and design. While honey harvesting is not the main focus of beekeeping, it is the messiest. And to us, it makes sense to do it the easy way when you can.
You can imagine that the first users of the Langstroth Hives had the same debates back then. Some people are always going to object to the new.
But if you ask me, the Flow Hive is definitely worth the investment. Not only do you get delicious honey, but you can get hours of enjoyment just watching the bees.
No, the Flow Hive will not kill bees. When you “open” the cells or harvest honey, bees have enough space to escape. As a precautionary measure, only collect honey when the frame is fully capped. By doing so, you won’t have a bee or two stuck in between the cells.
A Flow Beehive costs from $499 to $869. Shipping is not included. The latest Flow Hive generation, the Flow Hive 2+, is the most expensive because it has better features than older iterations. The $499 is for the Flow Hybrid, which can only accommodate three frames.
Yes, a Flow Hive is worth the money because you get two beekeeping equipment in one – a hive and honey extractor. Plus, it offers effortless honey harvesting. If you’re new to bee keeping, make a breakdown of the total costs of owning a hive and getting an extractor.
A 10-frame beehive from Hoover Hives is available at $199.00. A Vivo Honey Extractor is $399.99. That’s almost $600 without accounting for the smoker and other tools. For $50 more, you can already grab the original Flow Hive.
- How Flow Works. Retrieved from: https://www.honeyflow.com/pages/how-flow-works
- Are the Flow Frames made from BPA free plastic? Flow Hive. Retrieved from: https://support.honeyflow.com/are-the-flow-frames-made-from-bpa-free-plastic
- Araucaria (Tropical Pine) genus. Retrieved from: https://www.wood-database.com/softwoods/araucariaceae/araucaria/
- How to Choose Lumber for Your Beehives. Retrieved From:https://www.dummies.com/home-garden/hobby-farming/beekeeping/how-to-choose-lumber-for-your-beehive/
- Honey Harvesting Notes. Retrieved from- https://www.njbeekeepers.org/nwba/documents/Harvesting%20Honey%20Notes.pdf
- Three Reasons to Go Against the Flow Hive. Retrieved from: https://www.honeycolony.com/article/against-flow-hive/
- Beekeeping Tips for Beginners. Retrieved from:https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/g7600
- Formal Recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to the National Organic Program (NOP). https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOP%20Livestock%20Final%20Rec%20Apiculture.pdf
Rachael and her husband arrived on Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua in 2011. There they founded El Jardin de la Vida, a tropical micro food forest, focusing on Sustainable Living Education. She teaches others to build with natural materials, live off-grid, and appreciate slow food.