Say No to the Flow
Over the past few years I have regularly had questions about the Flow Hive. I have recently been asked AGAIN on my opinion so I re-wrote this article from 2015 to give my own consideration on the use of this hive design.
When it first came out we all watched the indigogo campaign (which had already been pre-funded to an extent) go from a $50k request to a whopping funding total of $13,284,489. The goal was to produce this product on a mass scale and it certainly appears that the #1 highest grossing Indegogo campaign has met it’s goal.
It’s marketing campaign attracted the attention of millions obviously as not only did it exceed it’s fundraising goals, it did so by appealing to the ethos of natural and even spiritual beekeeping. As I have discovered from many of my natural beekeeping friends, most of us have seen that very new or non-beekeepers were the most excited about it, thinking (wrongly) that this was an advancement in technology and would not hurt the bees.
In the early stages of the campaign the FlowHive people asked me to be a part of it. I wrote back that if they gave 25% of their grand earnings for habitat restoration and truly green pollinator activism I would love to participate. I did not receive any word back.
After thinking and musing and many levels of considerations I have some serious questions that I feel should be put into the concept and culture around such a design.
First I must say this: the marketing campaign itself fits my ethos to a “T”. This is an intergenerational looking project with an ultra-natural vibe. From first glance, these are my people! Sad to say, once I started delving into their campaign I saw little notice made of a few issues that I feel are key when bee-keeping and honey-robbing.
Some of my questions about the design were answered in the indigogo campaign. I gather that the honey is squeezed through the center of the plastic double-walled comb construction. Apparently no wax is harmed in the pressing of this honey, because no wax is involved other than the bee created cappings. The bees fill the cells with nectar and cap per usual.
The Flow Hiver can then turn a crank, break the cells and honey will passively flow through channels into a tube and into your sunshiny jar. (Unless you have non-flowing honey such as heather honey, then what?) The bees will then go back into the re-set comb and clean it out.
The added window apparently allows for you to see if the comb is capped and mature without looking within the colony. This aspect can be done in any old hive by the way, by just adding a plexiglass window to a honey super but also only really shows you the outermost layer of the honeycomb. You are still not able to see the center of the combs which are generally capped last and must be capped before the frame is harvested to ensure honey and not unripe nectar goes into your jar.
The best part about it is watching their little tongues dipping into the cell, but that is probably where my interest in this product ends.
I was once a plastic foundation user and learned quite quickly that plastic foundation, though effective and easy for the beekeeper, has questionable effect on bee colonies. Bee made wax foundation provides a whole host of subtle qualities of the hive: it can be warmed, chewed through so the colony may move in-hive without breaking the cluster and also provides a sensitive dance-floor to communicate waggle dance, scent and vibration within the hive. As a truly natural bee-keeper I am always trying to view the hive from a bee-centric perspective. Once I understood that plastic was a non-breathable wall I can easily compare this to humans living and sleeping in train-cars; imagine the sound, ventilation, fumes etc. Add the potential factors of hormone disrupting plastic off-gassing and suffice it to say, I have a stack of hard plastic foundation mildewing in my bee shed.
Apparently these beekeepers have not gotten the memo about in-hive bee-centric wellness and although our sweet teachers the bees are adaptable (bless their zillion hearts) I doubt a single one of them would vote for this method over self-created comb.
Honey-Robbing, in my perspective is something that should always be undertaken with great care. I, and many of my friends, do not rob honey until the new spring flow is underway. When I see the nectar coming in I simply pull frames that are from the previous season, marked by old wax cappings. True, we don’t get the fresh spring flavors, but we do know that the honey is truly hive surplus and
therefore not taking anything away from needed honey stores.
In addition, when I remove honey combs individually, I can be assured that the honey is ripened and fully capped and can also see if the foundation is fully ripened end to end and most importantly that there are enough stores available to the population who may need it in these climatically challenged times. Put this machine in the hands of greedy or uninformed beekeepers and we will see many populations of bees succumbing to starvation or in need of additional over-winter sugar feeds which studies are showing may unnecessarily disrupt bee gut health and immunity.
The Flow Hive says less bess are killed because of the stinging/bee death many bees exhibit in a honey-robbing situation.
Issues of stinging have never come up in my honey-robbing because I simply lift a few frames, brush bees off with a feather and lay it in a basket covered with a towel. Few bees are ever killed and I am honestly rarely stung during this endeavor. I also use a wax cloth which is a dishcloth dipped in beeswax that allows for a flexible temporary lid that covers the frames you are not yet working and keeps bees from spilling out onto the lip of the hive therefore creating a situation where bees can be squashed.
I have an answer to bee-stings during honey rob: move slowly, use a wax cloth, use a feather to move bees and work in tandem with friends. Cost: nothing
3. No More Back Breaking Labor
The Flow Hive says that you don’t even have to open your box! No more back-breaking beekeeping! Really? I ALWAYS check on the health and size of the colony before a honey rob. This is an important part of beekeeping: know your colony! Since I only enter hives around three times/year (spring, right before our drought season/nectar death and late fall, and I always do so with friends and students, my back seems to be in great shape. In addition, working with bees is one of the greatest joys of my life. I don’t see the drawback in actually working with the bees. The Flow Hive design is not made for a commercial beekeeper, rather it is made for the hobbiest with few hives. It is a gizmo, a pet rock, and something to show your friends.
I have 2 better answer than the Flow Hive for strenuous labor:
Top Bar Hive. Cost: free scrap wood or pallets and nails.
Friends to help: Cost Nothing, benefits immesurable
4. Bee Behavior and honey-robbing
Open honey caps in the field creates apis chaos. Most beekeeper do not honey-harvest in the field as the scent of broken comb incites robbing choosing rather to take frames to the honey house. Although the Flow Hive video shows honey pouring out of the tap, no bees were around showing me that the video was possibly done with a green screen and therefore showing the Flow Hive in a sterile or laboratory situation and not active in the field. Just one layer of false-advertising and mis-representation in their sales video.
I usually bring the ripe comb to my kitchen with closed windows and strain the honey by hand. The Flow Hive Indigogo page talks about having a lid on the harvesting container (prevents bees drowning) but this will not in any way fool the bees. They will smell that honey and undoubtedly set to robbing weak hives. Not just the hive with the honey extraction, any weaker or small colonies, nucleus hives and feral colonies. Beekeepers who are really in the “flow” with their bees can observe this which is why beekeepers throughout the ages have not harvested honey in their apiary. Ok, I know, not quite as romantic as “honey on tap” but a sensual, satisfying pursuit nonetheless.
5. Saving Money
The folks working this market angle say this product will save money since we don’t have to get a honey spinner. HAHAHA $700US/Starter Hive is saving money? Not in my book.
(Note: a Flow Super Hybrid cederhoney super 1 box (8frame) costs $340 and 8 plastic Flow frames $260, you will still need your entire 8 frame Langstroth set up AND bees)
Sometimes a Bee-club will buy a honey spinner and will hold a harvest day. This is great fun, and an absolutely celebratory community bonding event. Not every beekeeper needs a honey spinner.
Let’s also consider hidden costs: plastic, manufacturing plant, gas to go to work and ship, shipping materials and this: beekeepers with multiple hives will need multiple of these plastic machines. A Starter kit costs $629US + shipping (nearly triple the price of a standard Langstroth starter kit) If they never break, never fail and never harm a bee and are never the catalyst of a honey-rob volume miscalculation, then you STILL have the equivalent price of a honey spinner that will most likely, if well-made ACTUALLY last a life time (because they are not plastic). It can also be used by many people, many times! Cut the honey caps off with a knife, spin and you have leftover premade honeycomb for the colony to re-fill, perfectly made by the bees themselves! This helps bees! Less work, reusing as nature intended!
In addition, people who actually need help with large quantities of honey harvesting, like commercial beekeepers, are also commonly not in a place to invest a minimum of $700 per colony, especially if one adds costs of potential failures within the system. I doubt that this will become a go-to product for commercial beekeepers.
For the hobby beekeeper, Crush and Strain is the cheapest way to go. Cost: muslin fabric, spatula and big multi-use enamel pot.
My Ultimate Waggle Dance about the Flow Hive
I wanted to be diplomatic for this family operation, I really did! They captured the cultural vibe that has made its way into my bee-ish heart. We love our bees! These people and their marketing team seem absolutely lovely! By the looks of things, they will get a fair run of business (over 35k ordered at time of this posting). Our beekeepers with extra cash love their gadgets! However...
Overall I feel that the campaign honey-robbed the ethos of bee-centricity and green beekeeping that I work so hard to promote. They further did not plan or allow for a green product for an unnecessary gadget. And once again, another corporation has been developed to make money of of a product that is essentially a production cyborg with all the finesse of bloated milking machines. Only in this case the animal has to live with the milk machine attached to their body and our human people can just go out to the barn and turn on a switch for a once/season milking. How efficient, ethical or green is it afterall?
Convince me and I proselytize, its how I roll! But I intuitively feel the chances are pretty slim that I will get out my pompoms or pulpit any time soon. In fact their leading line is something along the lines of "Harvesting honey used to be a labor of love." Well, Flow Hivers, for some of us it still is.
To me, this is a gadget that is promising harmony with bees, but delivering another level of separation and risk instead.
From the Flow Hive people:
A critique of the Flow Hive from the Natural Beekeeping Trust: