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Editor’s Note: “Burning Questions” takes an in-depth look at the hot-button issues facing today’s farmers. The ideas expressed here are not the opinions of Hobby Farms, but of individual farmers and food advocates rooted in the local-food movement. If you have thoughts or opinions about what is expressed here, please contribute them in the comments below. We want to hear from you, too!
As is the case with every other beekeeper in the nation, my friends have bombarded me with videos and Facebook posts about the Flow Hive. As a biodynamic beekeeper on my farm Mockingbird Meadows, I generally viewed the posts negatively, but when I began to write this opinion piece, I decided search for a more balanced perspective. I’m not sure my opinion about the Flow Hive has changed, but I’d like to share some of the positives I see with it, along with the drawbacks.
Flow Hive Benefits
On the plus side, let’s start with the cost savings, which is actually a considerable increase over almost any other kind of bee equipment available. The Flow Hive saves the beekeeper from buying or renting potentially expensive harvesting equipment.
Another positive is the popularity and good marketing of the idea itself. The Flow Hive was the most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time, and there are a lot of eyes on bees and beekeeping as a result. The result may be more beekeepers and more habitat for bees in areas that would not otherwise have seen them.
Finally, in some areas of the country there are concerns about aggressive bees. It’s suggested that the Flow Hive’s reduced need for disturbing the colony may allow beekeepers to work with these bees more easily and safely.
With all that said, I still believe the negatives of the Flow Hive outweigh the positive.
Problem No. 1: The Hive Setup
The Flow Hive is a fixture that sits above a regular bee hive to collect honey. One of the big criticisms comes from conventional beekeepers, who find it important to open the brood chamber often to keep the bees in line. On our farm, we follow a more natural beekeeping method and don’t get into the brood chamber very often, if at all, so this isn’t a problem for me.
However, I do take issue with the setup of the Flow Hive, which only uses one deep for the brood chamber. In any situation where the bees are being raised sustainably, they will need either two deep boxes or three medium boxes for their brood chamber. This allows them sufficient room to maintain both the brood nest and winter stores. The creators of Flow Hive live in Australia—I’m unfamiliar with the beekeeping needs there, but here in the Midwest, one box doesn’t do it. I can only assume that this’s why they needed to add a queen excluder to their setup. In my opinion, if you’re using a queen excluder, you’ve done something wrong. The queen should naturally stay in the brood chamber if you haven’t disturbed it and she has enough room.
Problem No. 2: Constant Harvesting
The Flow Hive requires constant harvesting. On our farm, we don’t prevent swarming, but we also don’t allow the bees to run out of room for honey storage. If they run out of places to keep their spoils, they often decide they need to upgrade their digs, which is what causes them to swarm. When honey storage gets full in the Flow Hive, you’d have to harvest to keep the bees happy. Unfortunately, this contradicts one of our foundational beekeeping strategies here at Mockingbird Meadows. We don’t harvest until the end of the season because we believe the bees need time to fill their winter stores. We believe that they need access to everything they’ve harvested over the season to keep the nutrition varied over winter and prevent digestive disorders that can contribute to die-off.
Problem No. 3: Use Of Plastic
In biodynamic beekeeping, we don’t use anything unnatural in the hive. For us, the Flow Hive is out simply because it uses plastic foundation. In my experience, the bees will do almost anything in order to avoid this type of intrusion in their world. The makers of the hive have taken care to use BPA-free plastic, but I’m still not comfortable with an unnatural substance being in my hives in the heat of summer.
Forget The Flow Hive
In the end, I think the Flow Hive will lose popularity after it’s had its day. Most folks who think they will be keeping bees without any work will become quickly disenchanted. This hive setup will require all of the same beekeeping work that any other hive structure requires. The ease of harvest may even leave folks more open to predator attacks and robbings. I truly believe that the makers of the Flow hive are interested in bee welfare. Unfortunately, this set-up prioritizes ease for the human ahead of health and well-being of the bee.
I believe the bee has agreed to partner with beekeepers, but we have entered an age where we are no longer holding up our end of that bargain. We’ve already commercialized this relationship with current conventional beekeeping methods that include money saving ideas, like feeding sugar water to the bees rather than giving them their own honey. With this new hive, we’d be even more removed from interacting with the creatures working to make us a bit of liquid gold. I fear that their health will continue to suffer rather than be improved by this new innovation.