In the last month or two, I’d say a link to an article or video about the Flow Hive has been posted on my Facebook wall probably two dozen times. I’m not complaining. I love that I have a group of friends and families who send bee-related info my way. Several people have asked me my opinion and I generally give a generic “I have some initial concerns, but need to do more research.” I love to research – in general – and just about any random topic. I’m always hesitant to put an opinion into the social media world without doing some amount of reading first. The problem is that I have two small children and I work full time, so I don’t get to sift through interesting articles and videos the way I wish I could! So here I am, about two months after the first person said to me, “What do you think of this?”, finally giving my answer! First of all, if you haven’t watched the promotional video for Flow Hive, you should do so now:
As a beekeeper, I don’t like many things about this, but I also feel overwhelmed about where to begin. I’m frustrated that this initiative (which I do not believe “saves the bees”) has raised over $8 million, but real, scientific work with honeybees is struggling to stay afloat. I think this is marketing genius, however, because anything that’s pro-bees is IN right now. My first concern is that this video, and the Flow Hive concept in general, makes beekeeping look easy. They even advertise a system that allows you to extract honey without even opening the hive! In true infomercial-form, this video details the “back-breaking labor” that honey extraction entails. It is true that those boxes are heavy and it is true that you are usually doing it in the late summer / early fall and, therefore, sweating profusely; it’s also true that you will probably wear a bee suit (tho many I know, including my husband, only wear gloves), but isn’t this why you raise bees? In my opinion, a true beekeeper is someone who keeps bees for the bees. You need to inspect your hive to make sure the queen is laying, the mites are managed, there’s no sign of disease, or wax moths. Keeping a hive and never opening it is irresponsible beekeeping.
And while it is true that harvesting honey is a physical activity, why must we replace it with mechanized convenience? Working bees is soothing as you are required to move slowly and deliberately. When honey is harvested correctly and traditionally, only the caps are removed, the honey extracted, and then the comb can be placed back into the hive and re-used by the bees. (Commercial keepers don’t do it this way, don’t even get me started on those atrocities). Flow Hive is a synthetic (plastic, actually) comb that is “broken” by the keeper turning a crank every so often to release the honey. Even though these combs are “closed” again, the bees are left with the job of cleaning up an repairing. I know this video wants you to believe that that is less stressful on the bees, but I can’t see how it would be. Not to mention, bees don’t really like plastic in the hive and may simply reject it. Another problem I have is that honey is the bees’ food, necessary for winter survival. This video seems to suggest a keeper can just siphon out the honey whenever he or she desires. That is irresponsible beekeeping. You take too much honey and your bees starve out in the winter or spring. How is that helping to rebuild the honeybee population?
I don’t like that the video shows the hive as this unending tap of honey. In reality, beekeepers need to be very aware of how much honey they are taking and how much honey the colony will need to survive. The longer I keep bees, the less and less honey my family takes. We keep some for ourselves and we sell a little to help finance the hobby, but we save a majority of it for the bees because, after all, the reason we raise bees, is for bees. And I guess that’s an important distinction. If you are raising bees only for honey, then maybe Flow Hive is a good investment for you. Understand that you’ll be feeding your bees sugar water all winter or you’ll be buying packages of bees each spring, but that certainly is a choice you can make. My concern is people thinking this is going to “save the honeybee.” Unless this is used by experienced, cautious beekeepers, I can only think of ways this will harm honeybee colonies.
I spent some time reading the comments on Flow Hive’s Facebook page and there were many, many people who said that, thanks to this invention, they were now going to keep bees. Again, I’m all for any bee-awareness, but Flow Hive is expensive and bees are expensive and there really aren’t enough to go around currently. I’d rather not see the bees wasted on people who think they are just going to try out this new fad, then when their colony dies, pack it up and relegate “beekeeping” as a one-time-thing that they now reminisce about at cocktail parties. It’s serious business to me. I liken this to animal cruelty and I know that sounds extreme, but the reality is we’re much more accustomed to worrying about wasting the lives of animals we can pet and hug, but we seem to think insects are insignificant. In reality, this country would probably survive just fine without dogs and cats, but we’d be in some serious trouble without pollinators.
But I digress.
So there is a small piece about how I feel. There are other issues: the use of plastic as comb inside the hive, the longterm effect on the colony (it’s unknown), the stress (on the bees) of changing the comb size/shape and then switching it back again (bees are INCREDIBLY sensitive), the fact that sometimes bees mix honey and larvae in the same frame, my unanswered question about how you know when ALL the honey in that frame is actually capped (especially since you’ll never open the hive), the reality that if you had honey flowing from a tap into a jar, it would be COVERED with bees and wasps in seconds flat… but I don’t want to fill a novel here.
In the end, I guess my general belief about raising any living thing is to be informed and then to raise that creature in as natural and respectful environment as you can. This system feels like just the first step in the mechanization of beekeeping and I feel like we’ve already learned enough lessons about trying to over-simplify nature for our own convenience – from factory farming to the large-scale crop monocultures to driving our pollinators around the country to pollinate our food – when are we going to realize that the answer is not always “easier,” “faster,” or “more-convenient”?Maybe we should just slow down and do things the traditional, sustainable way and, at the very least, stop promoting Flow Hive and start planting wild flowers instead.
I’m not alone. A lot of seasoned beekeepers are speaking out against Flow Hive. Here are some more opinions about Flow Hive from some other beekeepers I respect: