Flow Hive: No Thank You

flow no

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:

http://www.milkwood.net/2015/02/26/going-flow-flow-hive-actually-good-idea/

http://www.honeybeesuite.com/should-you-go-with-the-flow/

https://naturalbeekeepingtrust.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/the-culmination-of-callousness-updated/

http://thewinnebagodiaries.blogspot.com/2015/02/fair-share-honeys-perspective-on-flow.html?hc_location=ufi

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17 thoughts on “Flow Hive: No Thank You

  1. I’m not against Flow hives if they are used by people who care for their bees properly, but have decided they’re not for me. The price is $300 USD for six frames compared to around £11 for a super full of wax foundation frames. It doesn’t make financial sense if you’re keeping multiple hives, especially as local beekeeping associations often lend out extractors for free.

    Like you say, planting wildflowers is the best way to help bees of all species.

    • I agree with you on all counts. If used responsibly, this system would be fine, but it’s out of my price range as well! Plus, I like the process of extracting the old-fashioned way! 🙂

  2. I agree that this video creates the impression that beekeeping is all about honey extraction. But it can’t be denied that there is a lot of disturbance of hives by even the most amateur of beekeepers that is focused on honey production. I rarely come across beekeepers who have bees purely for the sake of having them…

  3. Same here. My husband and I are interested in the hobby more for the bees than for the honey, but you’re right, even my non-beekeeping friends ask all the time about honey.

  4. Ah, now I understand to whom they’re selling this useless piece of junk – they’re not – they’re raising money for themselves. That’s one way to do a con. All your points are absolutely correct. I would also add 1) if honey flowed that easily we would not need centrifuge extractors (or crush and strain), 2) if you really poured honey in a bee yard (even with one extra hive there) bees would gather, eat, get stuck and rob and kill the draining hive. The item is useless and damaging to bees. I just wish I had the company’s marketing know how….

  5. Have you used a Flow Hive? Actually seen one physically in front of you and operated it yourself?

    No. I didn’t think so.

    I also note that none of the beekeepers in the links you have posted have either. Funny, that.

    You, along with so many others, are more concerned about the monetary aspect than the revolutionary avenues a hive like this offers to beekeeping while pretending that “real” beekeepers such as yourself keep bees as loved pets.

    Get a Flow Hive, operate it and THEN write a real article based on fact rather than jealousy and speculation.

    • Wow, what an incredibly accusatory tone from someone who knows nothing about me. I don’t think I took a terribly negative tone in my post and you’ll see in the comments, that I am open to learning more. I am a backyard beekeeper and typically have between 3-5 hives, so your accusation of me caring only about the monetary component of beekeeping is ridiculous. I actually lose money each year and I don’t sell honey. The Flow Hive is not readily available for purchase, so most people have not tried and it. Honestly, even if it was as amazing as they claim, I can’t afford one anyway. If it is used responsibly, I have no problem with it. I don’t think it’s a good fit for me and my lifestyle. Do I care if other people use it? Absolutely not. I’m all about grassroots, small business, and local farmers, so if this works for someone – great. I don’t like that many people think this will make beekeeping so quick and easy and I don’t like that people are interested only in honey and not in bee welfare, but that’s not The Flow’s fault that dumb people comment on their FB page. There are a million ways to keep bees and not one is better than the next. In the future, please take a minute to get to know me before you come to MY blog and start throwing around rude accusations.

    • Hardly anyone has used a Flow hive yet Grace. And many of us will be unable to afford one anyway.

      Please don’t mock people by saying they’re only pretending to love their bees. I have seen friends in tears after losing hives. There’s no pretending involved. And they’re not crying over lost money – like Andrea says, many of us make a loss and any profits made by non-commercial Beekeepers tend to be just pocket money.

  6. Grace – it doesn’t take a WordPress wizard to figure out that you’re commenting from Australia, which just so happens to be *gasp* where The Flow was created and is being sold. So if writing nasty responses to your critics is part of your advertising plan, you should probably take a marketing class or two.

  7. We have a flow hive.

    We are new to beekeeping and it is something both my partner and I have wanted to do.

    We see both the potential and hazards of this and indeed any hive.

    Our intention is NOT to harvest any honey this year but let the bees do their stuff and hopefully settle into the hive, which they appear to have done.

    We are also planting (as we always have) more flowers which we know bees like and even have our own “meadow” of wild flowers to attract bees.

    We are learning fast about looking after bees, have had robbers and recently found the bees bearding on the hive and are learning from experienced keepers, (some also with flow hives) how to best look after and deal with any issues.

    I see MORE keepers that are pro the flow hive than are anti. It is new, there is a risk of the things you mention. But used sensibly and with consideration to the bees and not over harvesting, I.e only one frame at a any time then this should not be to much of an issue. But under harvesting is also an issue.

    I am sure it will develop and improve over time and as better material become available. Just like things such as Solar Panels which were slated by electric companies when they first came out.

    There are many, many, many differing views on ALL aspects of beekeeping. Including the following…..

    Smoking.
    Opening the hive,
    Extracting honey.
    Height of the hive,
    Type of hive.
    Getting too involved with the bees.

    The list goes on and on. If everyone interested in getting into Beekeeping read all this then like I was for many years, many would be put off!

    This is something new, no one knows exactly how it’s going to pan out, but the designers have spent a great many years researching, experimenting, trailing the hive and are keen bee keepers themselves!

    Just because you disagree with this does not mean it is nessacarily bad. Instead of slating the flowhive maybe try a simple attitude of I am not sure about it and perhaps guide those of us that are new to this and want to combine the best of both traditional beekeeping and the flowhive together to get the most out of the bees to give them fulfilled little lives and keep a strong healthy colony.

    Surely it would be better to have more hives out there, encouraged by beekeepers than the likes of you simply dismissing the hive and leaving newbies to struggle and give up, only for you to say “I told you so”. Be positive, encourage people that have bought this and embrace the fact it is encouraging beekeeping!

    P.s sorry for my spelling!

    • Hi Toby,
      Thanks for reading and responding. I wrote this review over a year ago when Flow hives weren’t even available for purchase yet. Friends and family kept asking my opinion, and so, I wrote it. Flow Hive or not, I’m first and foremost supportive of beekeepers. My concern was the Flow made beekeeping look easy. In fact, many of the comments on my page were “Maybe I should get into beekeeping!” It sounds like you are not this type of newbie! Absolutely beekeeping is full of different opinions and I’d say we each have to stick with what works. I’m happy to hear that you’ve discovered this wonderfully addicting hobby and agree that the world needs more keepers. This post is simply my initial thoughts about a new product. Certainly as it enters the marketplace and we begin to hear real reviews, my thoughts may change.

      • Hi Andrea,

        I found this by mistake looking up on what caused a handful of bees to “beard” this morning, hopefully I have solved that problem.

        One thing we do want is to get involved with the bees to ensure they are happy and healthy. They are mesmerising to watch. I still fear we have occasional robbers as it is a new hive and there is a shortage of pollen at the moment. Our neighbours told me they believe they have seen our bees and add now putting in bee plants to help them.

        I think it is a wonderful idea. The only issue that I have is that there are reports of people spraying their flow frames with sugar water to get the bees up into the top quickly to produce honey. I feel this is animal abuse.

        If I am correct the bees will fill the brood frames with honey and eggs, then move when they have fille the brood box they will move up top where the queen cannot lay eggs, but only when they have filled the lower frames. By encouraging them to the flow frames before they have filled the blood box, surely this is not productive to the bees who are getting a survival store ready for the winter and building the colony?

        Hence we are leaving the honey this year, it is all for the bees. Then as I am the only one that eats honey in the house we will have a few harvests next year, one for myself the others to sell for pocket money, BUT only when the bees need more cells to fill. I would hope yo see a surplus next year, but doubt it. We will put feed in during the winter as well.

        This way all being well we should work well with the bees and cause them minimal stress.

        That’s the plan at least 😀

  8. Hello,

    I am a beekeeper from Australia and I do agree with the majority of what you said. Beeswax “vibrates” at a frequency identical to the bees, it is used to store hormones and release them. In its own way, it is ‘living’, so replacing it with plastic is just plain wrong.

    • Though this is true (I am new to beekeeping in the UK) the flow frames are only in the super box. The brood box still uses regular frames, and there’s nothing to stop you adding a regular super as well if you wished.

      I am hearing nothing but rave reviews from flow frame users the only people condemning it seem to be those whom have not used a flow hive, therefore condemnation before trail.

      • Thank you both for reading and commenting! I will say, in the almost-year since I wrote this, I have had the opportunity to follow some respected beekeeper’s experience with the flow. I personally do not like plastic in my hive, but many use plasticell frames (I happen not to). Additionally, I think I’ve concluded that irresponsible beekeepers have existed since before the Flow and will exist after and this device will not change that. In the hands of an experienced beekeeper, I’ve found positive reviews and outcomes and, if nothing else, keepers thought it was a fun experiment. I think I’ve decided that it was the marketing that offend me. The video sold this idea of “honey on tap” and we all know, as beekeepers, that this hobby is much more complex and involved than just turning a spicket. I now view the Flow as just an expensive honey super. I think my original reaction was really a result of that marketing video! I should write an update to this post! 🙂

      • We now have both flow and traditional hives. We did not get honey from the flow last season and did not intend to as we wanted to get the bees settled and a good reserve for the start of the year.

        Tragically we had a early start to spring followed by a very sudden cold snap and as the queen had started to lay new brood we lost the colony 😦

        We have ordered more bees and have our names down for a swarm, (the plan is the new colony will go into the flow and the swarm into the WBC) so the chances of using the flow for honey this year is unlikely, but they will have a full set of drawn frames in the brood box unlike last year so you never know, but we will NOT do what others have done a put sugar water on the flow frames to lure them up that’s cruel and wrong let them settle and fill up the brood box as, they’ll go up when ready. They had started to finish the flow cones with wax and a few had a bit of honey, sealed we have left all this for the new colony when it arrives in June.

        So really not a good first winter, they had plenty of honey, there was brood we saw them out and about “cleaning and preparing the hive” after winter so we were devastated none of the starved, there was no mite but small clusters of dead bees and single ones 😦

        We are trying a new location for the hives as well and looking to get winter jackets and heaters to try and avoid a repeat of this tradegy.

        Fingers crossed, if this works we have a third traditional hive we can assemble for next year 😀

      • Toby, I was just looking back at your previous comments and see you have a Flow. I’d love to hear your experience with it and how everything worked out!

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