Okay, I wasn’t going to post on this, but I have now had at least ten people approach me to ask my thoughts, and I know many other beekeepers are being approached with similar questions. You may have heard about the Flow Beehive (see here for more details). To describe it briefly, it’s a system that allows you to harvest honey from a hive without opening the hive. It’s admittedly pretty cool, but cool doesn’t mean great.
My very first thought is that this is a tool of bee “havers,” not bee “keepers.” Beehavers are people who simply have bees and don’t put in the energy or effort to manage their hives. It’s the rough equivalent of someone who farms by scattering seed (not sowing) and then coming back in August to get whatever came up. Sure, they might get a harvest, but there’s no relationship or familiarity with it, and no real effort. A true farmer spends time in the field caring for the plants and nurturing. They water carefully, fertilize and weed patiently, and eagerly await the harvest.
I know of no beekeeper who is eager to try this product. Many have said they’d investigate it, which isn’t surprising considering the pragmatic and inquisitive nature of most beekeepers, but I will be surprised if many seriously engaged beekeepers adopt this as their primary hive style.
Second, many are claiming this is a revolution in hive technology. No it isn’t. It’s a simple change to the frame design. It still uses standard Langstroth (or National) hive boxes. It still relies on our current understanding of bee space and comb size.
Third, claims of being non-disruptive are bogus. Every beekeeper has experienced brood in the honey. Would you really just turn that spigot and hope that what came out was honey and not brood juices from destroyed brood cells? I sure wouldn’t. And if I’m opening the hive up to check for brood, I’m being disruptive. And if I open the hive to check, why not just finish the job and harvest the honey?
Fourth, reuse of comb is, in my opinion, dangerous. Wax is where the bees naturally store the poisons their bodies gather through nectar and pollen storage. Wax should, as a rule, be replaced every few years even in natural, organic hives. This system encourages reuse over long periods of time, which I consider somewhat dangerous.
Fifth, this is not a revolution in beekeeping. This is, at most, a revolution in honey harvesting. Anyone who believes this removes any need to check and care for your bees is fooling themselves. Managing beehives requires management. You have to get in there at least a few times a year. The spacing between visits is up for debate, but I would certainly never recommend less than once a month, and I try for every other week usually, especially during a nectar flow. And no…. that little side window (if you use a box with a window) is not an adequate substitute. And let’s be clear, honey harvesting is maybe… 5% of the workload a year in a small operation, less in a big one. This is hardly a revolution.
Sixth, I have concerns about the depth of the frames. As far as I can tell, the Flow frames are quite deep compared to standard frames. Not sure how that impacts things, but I suspect it changes it.
Seventh, I think this style encourages harvesting too much honey. You really have no idea how much you are taking without opening the hives, and if you are opening the hives anyway….
Eight, I’ve heard lots of people complain about robbing, and if you are pouring into open containers, it’s a valid complaint. The site does say you could set it up to have an enclosed harvesting system, but let’s be honest: the people who are eager for this are people who don’t want to do the work in the first place and they are going to design and build their own enclosed system? Right….
Conclusion: It’s a gimmick. Plain and simple. It’s like the beehaus of yesteryear. Pretty cool idea, but really not that different than what we already have. It isn’t the miracle cure or the next great leap.
I will say this, though, it’s disruptive in a way that I haven’t seen before, and conversation is very good. And to be clear, I don’t mean disruptive as in breaking new ground, I mean disruptive in that everyone is aware of it and talking about it. It’s bringing attention to beekeeping, which is always a good thing. Maybe it’ll bring in more people who will then try other ideas as they grow more experienced. If it does that, I guess I really can’t complain too much. Just don’t expect to see it on my hives.