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How does the flow hive fit into natural beekeeping? Is it small cell?

Also - unless one is using a queen excluder, how do you ensure no brood makes it into those cells?

With the repeated need of the bees to repair the wax (after cracking the cells to drain honey) - don't the cells eventually thicken (I wouldn't see the bees being able to keep the walls as thin as a first drawing would be - they do not appear to do so elsewhere)?
 

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Here's my experience report. I have two flow supers but otherwise no flow hives.

I started with nuc colonies in spring of last year ('18). All three colonies built into two standard 10-frame deep brood chambers. By summer, two of the three built up enough to need a super. First I tried a shallow Hogg comb honey super, which they refused to use, and I gave up on it. Then I tried the Flow supers. At first they were reluctant to use them, but once I rubbed some wax on them and sprayed a little honey/lemongrass/water mix into the cells, they started working them. I don't know if this rain dance helped or if it just took more time and a good flow, but anyway, the cells started filling.

In the fall it was a little awkward because all the flow frames had some capped and some uncapped honey. I extracted the best frames and the honey was a little moist, like 20% water. But ok, I'm not trying to sell it, and so far it hasn't fermented. The extraction process itself was pretty much as advertised, so kudos on that. Some bees drowned in the jar, some honey spilled into the hive, and generally the process was a little messy, but still easier than dealing with an extractor, in my opinion. If I had 50 hives, sure, an extractor would be way easier, but with just 3, the flow supers were pretty ideal.

Overwintering was a bit awkward, too. I wanted to leave them enough honey, but much of it was in the flow frames, and I didn't want the queen to lay in those frames. I couldn't just leave the super on above an excluder because the bees might move up and leave the queen below. So, I removed the flow supers. If the hives get light before the spring flow I guess I'll extract and feed. But it's annoying that even though I'm using all deep hive bodies, my frames still aren't totally interchangeable because I'd like to avoid larvae in the flow frames. I probably wouldn't worry about that with "normal" frames.

Maybe this is too obvious to mention, but the claims that flow supers allow you to avoid disturbing the bees are something between irrelevant and utter nonsense. Most of the disturbance is checking that the colony is queenright, applying varroa treatments, and stuff like that. Sure, one disturbance per year is stealing the honey, but even with the flow supers you need to pull out the frame and check that it's mostly capped before extracting. So if you go into it thinking this is a real advantage, you have no idea what beekeeping is about.

But ok, whatever. As long as you go into it knowing that a flow super is nothing more than a slightly easier way to extract for backyard beekeepers, with some slight downsides with respect to interchangeability of frames, I think you'll get what you expect. The product does basically work as advertised, in my experience.
 

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I put the Flowhive on again this year. I installed it on top of a 3-box 8 frame medium hive. At first, the bees didn't seem to be taking to it, so I swapped it with box 3 of the brood chamber. From the bottom, the boxes were brood, brood, FLOW, brood. The bees proceeded to fill up the Flow frames.

Upon inspection, I found that the queen had been in the top box laying it up. The bees left room for brood in the center two frames of the Flowhive. Over the last couple days, the bees have started to backfill the "brood chamber".

Flowframe with 'brood chamber'.JPG
 

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Local feral survivors in eight frame medium boxes.
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How does the flow hive fit into natural beekeeping? Is it small cell?
It is too big for worker comb and too deep for drone comb. I have never had any brood raised in it.

Also - unless one is using a queen excluder, how do you ensure no brood makes it into those cells?
See above. I do not use an excluder.

With the repeated need of the bees to repair the wax (after cracking the cells to drain honey) - don't the cells eventually thicken (I wouldn't see the bees being able to keep the walls as thin as a first drawing would be - they do not appear to do so elsewhere)?
I have not observed any of that. The bees fix the walls and fill them with honey. Like any super they only really work when there is a flow, but on a flow they fill them like any other fully drawn plastic comb...
 
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