Going Against The Flow: Is The Flow Hive a Good Idea?

| Beekeeping, Gardening, Natural Beekeeping | 139 comments | Author :

flow hive response 055

It’s fab, it’s new, and the honey flows straight into the jar. It’s so easy. But then, powdered instant potato is easy, too. Does that make it a good idea?

Despite my mission to focus on positivistic messages of change, at Milkwood we’ve got a charter of calling it like we see it.

And to call yet another plastic beehive addition which does not benefit the bees but only the beekeeper… what it is.

We’ve seen a lot (like, a LOT) of media about the Flow Hive ™ in this last week and after a few hundred questions about what we think of it, we thought we’d spell it out.

The basic innards of the Flow Hive™ system seem to be sets of plastic half-built comb, which face each other, and which the bees then finish off and connect up, fill with honey, and cap.

Then, when the beekeeper is ready, they turn a key, the two plastic hive foundations crack apart, the honey flows out down a channel and out a spout, into the jars provided below.

Is it good for the backyard beekeeper looking for a trophy moment? Heck yeah. The effect of the honey drizzling out looks great, and has caught imaginations world-wide.

SAVE THE BEES. Because anything (like, anything) that has to do with bees, or that uses bees, is good for the bees. Right?

Actually, no. Not so much.

Bees want to build their own wax comb. It’s part of the bee superoganism. The wax is literally built from their bodies.

The comb is the bee’s home, their communication system (which doesn’t work nearly as well if it’s made from plastic rather than bee-drawn wax, as discussed in Tautz), and functions as a central organ.

The comb is the bee’s womb – it’s where they raise their brood.

And given a choice, bees do not want a pre-built plastic womb, home or larder, any more than we would.

It’s the birthright of bees to build comb.

flow hive response 056

Natural wax comb, 100% bee-built, in a warré hive – the bees set their own cell size according to the season and the colony’s particular needs.

But that’s not all.

The other concern we have with this device is that it encourages + celebrates beekeeper-centric beekeeping, and infers that bee stewardship is totally easy. It’s all about the punchline.

Is it good for the bees? Who cares. We’ve got flowing honey.

Actually, this conversation is not just about the Flow Hive.

What we’re really talking about here is the wider, industrialised profit-driven approach to beekeeping (as exemplified by the langstroth hive design), which places production above ethics + long-term bee health.

The best analogy I can think of to demonstrate this point is battery egg production vs pastured egg production.

We now understand that just the laying of an egg is not actually an indicator of a chicken’s happiness, health or ethical treatment, nor is it an indication of the quality of the egg.

We just know that, unless they’re dead, hens tend to lay eggs.

They may not be healthy eggs, or healthy chickens, but we’ve got our eggs. So we’re all good, right?

Despite the fact  that these eggs are produced in a deeply unsanitary, un-ethical production line where the animals in question can barely stay alive, to the point where they need regular chemical treatments to ensure they don’t turn up their toes completely.

On the other hand, in a happy pastured chicken setup, the chickens have what they need – light, air, worms, grass, company – a warm bed, and room to explore. Both the chickens, and the nutritional density of the eggs, are the better for it.

We all understand this difference, and the fact that healthy chickens means healthy egg eaters, and healthy farms and ecosystems.

Now take that analogy across to bees.

Do bees want plastic foundations, plastic organs, queen excluders, their combs cracked open down the middle, regularly, while still in the hive, and all the rest? No, no they very most likely don’t.

Bees prefer natural wax comb that they draw themselves and renew when they see fit; to have the queen roam the hive and lay as that colony requires for long-term resilience; and for their hive to be sited in a permanent, sheltered setting.

Hmm.

The main push-back against natural beekeeping is the idea that anything that is bee-focussed is not as productive for the beekeeper, honey-wise.

flow hive response 057

Natural bee-built wax comb in a warré frame

With those goddarn happy bees spending all that time and energy building their own wax comb and doing things their preferred way, they’re not spending as much time foraging + filling those cells with nectar for the beekeeper.

Hey, guess what? It’s the same with chickens! If you put a chicken in a small cage and do not let it move so that all it does is eat and lay…. you get more eggs.

We seem to be deciding as a society, however, that for chickens, ethics may come before profits.

That we’d rather have eggs that cost more (partly due to production being less-per-chicken), are more nutrient dense and are produced by happier chickens.

So, despite that a purely profit-driven model of egg production would put all hens in battery farms, we’ve learned, as consumers, that there’s more to egg production than just producing eggs.

Everything is connected.

With bees and honey, however, we don’t yet apply that ethical lens.

They’re producing honey, aren’t they? The bees must be happy then. Output equals happiness.

Except that world-wide, honeybee populations say no.

No, actually, they’re not happy.

For a bunch of cumulative reasons, including profit-driven destructive beekeeping practices, we’re losing the bees.

You would think  that this species would be at the top of our entire species list in terms of ensuring ethical and bee-centric stewardship + design.

You would think that we would be putting the bees health before, WAY before, what works best for us in terms of ultimate honey production.

Or what looks cool. Or something that allows us to draw honey directly from the hive via plastic foundation + spouts.

I’m sorry to be so blunt. really. I know that so many folks out there just want to help the bees, and that is awesome.

But the truth of it is – without bee-centric thinking, action, design + beekeeping, we may not be able to save the bees.

And if we continue to view bees and beekeeping as a gimmick or a system where honey harvest is paramount and the health + needs of this incredibly important species are secondary, we will deserve to lose them.

flow hive response 058

What you can do

Don’t take our word for it, go read up on bees as a species and a superorganism. Learn how amazing and essential they are to humans.

And get inspired to either steward bees naturally, or support folks who do.

Reference texts:

Other Natural Beekeeping articles about the Flow Hive:

Further articles to read:

Addition: I can see from the comments below that there’s a fundamental mis-understanding about the nature of the honeybee superorganism in its natural state, as opposed to in a langstroth hive which was designed to be the ultimate hive design for industrial honey production, so let me spell it out:

In a natural hive, there are no supers, no queen excluders, and no artificial comb. The bees draw the comb from the top of the available cavity (tree hollow, warre box hive, etc) downwards, and the queen lays wherever she wants, which is usually in a  tight pattern that moves down the hive with successive generations of brood.

In a langstroth hive, the queen and brood are confined to the very bottom of the hive, and the worker bees frantically fill the added empty boxes on top (supers) to try and replenish their much needed stores of honey (bees use honey as both a ‘thermal dome’ and also a fuel to keep warm during the cooler months).

The flow frames are designed to be added as supers to a langstroth hive. I am not saying that brood would go through the flow frames, as you can see the langstroth system doesn’t work like that.

What I am saying is that this new type of frame, by both it’s artificial nature, it’s promotion of ‘it’s so easy’ beekeeping, and it’s general promotion of langstroth beekeeping, is therefore encouraging a type of beekeeping that we, and many other natural beekeepers across the world, would put to you as not being best for the bees. At all.

And there is many other types of beekeeping, suitable for absolute beginners upwards, that achieve a low-intervention approach – while being infinitely more bee-centric than using flow frames (or any artificial comb frames). Ok. I hope that’s clearer now.

flow hive response 060

Photos 1+2+5 by the marvellous Cathy X

Just a last note that I do not think that it is the fault or the responsibility of the builders of the Flow Hive™ to entirely fix this societal issue that we face, in terms of how we value bees.

But I do think it’s up to all of us to advocate for and prioritise honeybee health above easy, plastic-driven honey harvests, flow hive or otherwise. Ok. Rant out.

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  • Helen Jolly

    Thank you for this article now I know plastic is involved I feel you are right it is only going to benefit humans not the bees ,keep up the good work of awareness

  • J

    Kind of weird that you assume bees prefer that you crack open their hive and rip out comb, agitating and likely crushing and killing some bees in the process, rather than harvest the honey without any disturbance to them at all. It’s my understanding the making comb takes a lot of energy for the bees which is why they reuse it given the opportunity. Giving them pre made comb saves them energy up front, and saves them having to rebuild what you harvest. I would absolutely move into a free, pre made plastic home given the chance. Horses for courses; your way isn’t morally superior it’s just different.

    • Kirsten Bradley

      allowing the bees to build their own natural comb, and renew it whenever they see fit, is essential to hive health, and honey can be harvested with minimal (like, very minimal) intervention by many other ways, without plastics.

      this flow hive system does not mean you won’t have to open the hive – you still will, for all sorts of reasons. one of those being that it’s impossible to fully check for disease via a window – though windows are great for peeking at your bees.

      • R Hoffman

        This is an interesting opinion, but in no way, as far as I can tell, supported by fact. The Flow hive may be better or worse for bees than traditional hives. Time will tell, and what is needed is the combination of concern and objective information. Thank you for bringing up the concern, I think that perspective is important. The only sustainable relationship, however, is one that benefits both bees, and humans, and it remains to be seen whether the Flow hive fulfills that promise, or not.

        • um, which facts don’t you find supported? The argument is borne out by contents of the books at the bottom of the article – please feel free to read them – they are all by preeminent bee researchers.

          • CG

            All the references you provide – the books and articles – are all opinion pieces advocating a particular view. You need some hard science references that demonstrate what you say is true. That’s why people complain that your assertions aren’t supported. Maybe the books contain hard science references, but your article does not.

          • the top three book references are books on bee health + behaviour by bee scientists, not opinion pieces. and this is a blogpost, not a scientific paper. if you want references, I invite you to read the literature provided.

          • JDP

            I wonder how cg got “all opinion pieces advocating a particular view” from the five books listed at the bottom of the article. The first is about bee biology and, being printed by the academic published Springer, seems unlikely to be advocacy.

            The others seem to be about the nuts and bolts of beekeeping, and the only readily apparent advocacy might be in Toward Saving The Honeybee, which advocates… well, saving the honeybee. Of course, that’s written by Gunther Hauk, who has decades in apiary experience.

      • M

        I think the flow hive system strikes a good balance. The plastic is only in the top (‘overflow’) super which still allows the bees to build comb in the bottom supers. Reducing the need to open the hive at the expense of having plastic in the top super is a good balance and less bees get killed which is surely a factor in the ethics of beekeeping?

        • you will still need to open the hive, it doesn’t remove that aspect.

          • AJ

            …unlike a conventional hive? If weakest worried about bee happiness why do we make them live i prefabricated boxes? Why not let them build a hover a hollow tree trunk and leave them alone?

          • Yep fair call, and plenty of folks do that – there’s obviously a balance between keeping/not keeping bees at all. However, there’s some basic parameters we can adhere to when keeping bees that garner a honey harvest while still pertaining to the bees’ basic needs. which are stated above.

        • Steve Williams

          I’m only a noob beekeeper (3 years and counting), and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, but really, if you’re killing more than a couple of bees when you open a hive, you’re doing something wrong and you’re going to have cranky, defensive bees.

          The people here who are talking about “ripping out comb” and “crushing bees” are either ignorant of beekeeping or disingenuous.

          … and that, really, is my beef with this product. They’re making extravagant claims about how much work it’s going to save.

  • Marney

    Thank You Kirsten, very much for this article ….I got a bit trigger happy and posted about this new “Flow Hive”.before full consideration..I intuited that would be less bee centric and ignored my gut instinct to pass it over. Course corrected..Sticking with the Warre

  • bonni

    i’m more concerned to learn about queen excluders etc., than i am with the plastic half-hive (willing to sacrifice purity for the good and having seen bees nest in all kinds of non-biodegradable places, by choice — but not without a queen). And i had the same question as “j” above as to what difference it makes to the bee how the honey gets harvested … both seem bee-disruptive to me. But i’m glad to read an article that brings up the issues raised here. And thanks for it. Good food for thought.

  • Kim

    I considered this also. It seems at first a great idea ,but I think sometimes when we fiddle with an aspect of nature , so we affect the product itself due to some weird unknown thing that we are yet to learn about. We really don’t know if the bee made wax may have a quality about it that changes the honey slightly , makes it easy to digest , creates those magical antibacterial qualities. I also wouldn’t like to be a happy little bee inside there when the handle is turned.

    • max

      A FLOW hive is not a “natural”environment for bees but then beekeeping is not natural either.
      Extracting honey by spinning frames is to a level interfering with the bees
      I have seen ( in Japan) where the bees where killed before the honey was taken.
      I have seen ( in Slovenia) where combs where crushed leaving bees to fix the mess.
      Beekeeping – other then wild harvest ( and having seen it in Cambodia I question this method too) is simply not “natural”
      I have not seen ( other then videos) a FLOW hive. I have questions, I have concerns – but soon we will see how the actually work or not. Patients, my friends, patients.

  • ronnie

    oooo what a thought provoking post! I like critical thinking (as opposed to what I call ‘ra-ra’, cheerleader, pollyanna-esque rhetoric) — I have been interested in the ‘flow hive’ idea — I’m not a bee expert (or even a beekeeper — I’m intensely allergic to bee stings sooooooooo no bees for me!) — I like the point you make about having plastic in the hive…. mmmmmmm interesting.

    I’m not convinced however by the ‘is it good for the bee or just for me?’ argument as I suspect that this would naturally lead to a conclusion that there are no real ways of harvesting honey that don’t somehow interfere with the natural order of bees….. and likewise that there are no real ways of keeping animals in a domestic setting (ducks, chooks, pigs, sheep, cows, donkeys, dogs, cats, goldfish…) that don’t interfere with the natural order of things….. sooooooooo that leaves us in something of a philosophical, ethical and moral quandary don’t you think?

    I’m just thinking hypothetically here — but how can we make a judgement call on whether it’s better to ‘break’ a hive or smoke a hive to take the honey – we’re still taking the honey…. so on that wave of thinking — is it morally ok to capture a wild swarm for our personal gain? is it ok to ride a horse? sheer a sheep? eat a pig? (we could go down the wormhole of animal rights etc etc here — but I think we can avoid that by saying once we raise the issue of the natural order of things, we open a big fat can of worms…. yes?)

    thanks again for getting us all to exercise the grey matter and THINK CRITICALLY.

    go well xxxxx

    • i think you can see it as a slippery slope, or a question of ethical animal stewardship – most of us understand that there’s ethical ways to steward + farm certain animals. So why not have that conversation about bees?

  • Kostas

    The point of looking nature from a commodity perspective is indeed valid. Nevertheless, the process of buidling man-made hives to get honey is of the same perspective one could say. Having designed something that could improve the efficiency of harvesting without disturbing the bees, does not make it more “commodifying” than normal hives I think.
    According to their tests with beekeepers (3 years) they have not observed any problems. In their FAQ they state:
    Do the bees willingly fill the Flow comb compared to the traditional wax comb?
    In many years of testing we have found the bees readily wax up and fill the Flow frames. We have done quite a few experiments putting Flow frames in the middle of a standard supers with wax foundation frames either side. The bees have shown no preference either way and readily start building on, and filling the Flow frames at the same time as the traditional ones.

    You state: “The comb is the bee’s home, their communication system (which doesn’t work nearly as well if it’s made from plastic rather than wax, studies have shown), and functions as a central organ.”
    Can you please site the studies? I’m interested on having a look on them. Thanks.

    • Hi Kostas – for starters, I’d refer you to Tautz’ ‘Buzz about Bees’ book – there are whole chapters about the complexity of beeswax and how it is integral to the communication of the superorganism.

      eg Tautz said that bees create a resonant frequency inside the hive to communicate – he calls is ‘the comb-wide-web’. Plastic combs interfere with that, as do wax foundation in a wooden frame. Bees can chew away the wax to create holes, allowing resonant frequencies in a 4 sided frame. They can’t chew through plastic, therefore it affects communication.

      • max

        Was Tautz not referring to brood comb?

        • Steve Williams

          Why would you think that, Max?

          Tautz’ research over many years at the University of Würzburg covers all aspects of honeybee comb and its functions within the colony. I am unaware of any distinction between brood comb and honey comb in his work which supports your reading.

          In a natural colony (and in a Warré hive), brood comb becomes honey comb in due course as the brood hatches; the cells are reused for nectar and pollen storage; the bees extend the colony downwards and the queen lays into the virgin comb. Then in winter the bees work upwards as they consume their stores (honey). This is well known from a vast body of research over more than 100 years.

          The bees range freely across all of the comb, (although the queen tends to stay in the brood area because her function is to keep laying eggs into it). In a natural colony, the comb would be all of a piece, from top to bottom. It follows from this that the introduction of plastic comb is highly unnatural.

          The object of “natural” beekeeping is to achieve a balance between the needs of the bees and the needs of the beekeeper. (Otherwise, there is no point in keeping bees.) Every beekeeper will place slightly different emphasis, but the Flow Hive is way to the “unnatural” end of the spectrum.

  • Jonathan

    Great post. Natural comb is the primary defense system of the bee against pathogens. Somehow the cleverness of the flow hive has blindsided folks to what is actually good for the bee.

    It is bizzare that people can think that plastic is better for the bees. The energy required to build comb is unknown, but it is a primary function of a young bee to make comb and a long establish genetic ‘muscle’ that must be exercised.

  • Kade

    Great points Kirsten. Your sentiment reflects my own and on first hearing about the Flow Hive I was in two minds about it. My main concern is that it simplifies Bee Keeping for the masses …. which I feel is not a positive. When to steal honey and when to leave it, understanding your hives cycles and having a connection to you hive visually inspecting and monitoring its health is vital knowledge that I can only assume may be overlooked by people who’s only concern is obtaining a bounty without being stung.

  • Katherine

    I saw these Flow Hives in an article a couple weeks ago and am keen on the idea as I have always wanted to keep some hives of my own mostly for pollination reasons; the liquid gold is a bonus. The idea of reducing the amount of stress and the invasive nature of traditional methods harvesting appeals to me though, which is why the Flow hives seem like a great idea.
    But I understand your point. I would rather see natural comb to plastic any day and making comb themselves is a part of what they have evolved to do. There are of course people who enjoy the texture and nutritional properties of comb as well.
    However could there be a median in all this? From what I understand from these new Flow hives is that there is an option to get new frames and have them along side traditional frames thus having a hybrid system whereby honey could be extracted without much interruption whilst still allowing the colony to naturally form their own hives in other areas of the box.
    I will still wait until there is more information about their studies; apparently the inventors have been monitoring colony progress with both new and old systems for about three years now.

    • Steve Williams

      Forgive my cynicism, but when the proprietors of an immensely lucrative new invention monitor its function over a number of years, the outcome is predetermined. There is no way they’re going to say “Sorry, guys: big mistake.”

      • Katherine

        I don’t think there is any predetermination about it; the colonies will judge for themselves if this new set up is viable long term. My purchase will be determined based on their health over time, not just some bandwagon fad.

  • foodnstuff

    Great post! It sounded like a good idea when I first read about it but no-one said anything about plastic. Just as well we have you to tell the full story.

  • p

    Milkwood this just comes across as snarky, anti-innovation,ex city slicker snobbishness. For a group that supports the innovation of Joel Salatin ( btw chicken tractors are not natural habitat for red jungle fowl either) aquaponics (trout prefer rivers than small tanks), and the many other innovations you rightly support, you have dropped the ball on this one.

    rather then see this as a threat to your “natural beekeeping” world view, embrace it as a new market opportunity, and bring a whole new generation of bee keepers through milkwood that have come to bee keeping through this innovation.

    • Kirsten Bradley

      P did you read the article at all? This isn’t about holding up or tearing down world views or new market opportunities. I’m not trying to be snarky. I am however trying to plainly state that we need to get over our capitalist, industrial ag approach to beekeeping (which flow hive ties into – go do some reading on the birth of the langstroth system and why it began), and look at the fact that it’s time to move torwards an api-centric approach. For the sake of world pollination and other trifles like that.

      It’s actually entirely in-line with Joel Salatin and all the other advocates that are helping us realise that bigger + output-focussed ag is not necessarily better, if it’s to the detriment of the ecosystems + the species involved.

  • Not only are they plastic combs, but bees produce comb with a variety of cell sizes, these plastic combs extend the one size fits all approach to bee keeping. That’s why we don’t use pre-printed wax foundation either or re-use ‘stickies’.

    All farming systems involve pushing organisms beyond their ‘natural’ state to gain a yield. The question becomes how far are you prepared to push the organism.

    We believe that bees have been pushed too far and that the flow hive is another example of this forcing of their function.

    from Mollison:
    Principle of Stress and Harmony
    Stress here may be defined as either prevention of
    natural function, or of forced function. Harmony may be
    defined as the integration of chosen and natural
    functions.

  • Turon

    Might I also recommend Jacqueline Freeman. She is the only biodynamic and permaculture beekeeper that I can find. She is a lovely lady and her book was just published.
    On a side note, I don’t like plastic either but maybe a compromise for those wishing to get into beekeeping and doing things simply. Maybe use ONE Flow Hive device instead of 5 per hive box. Then the bees still have many of their own made combs and the beekeeper can get one jar of honey. Integrate instead of segregate. I am greatful this family designed this device, but they are only selling this device and not more information. Do research before jumping on the bandwagon or dismissing them. Because for heavens sake, if you don’t plant plants that bees like, they have to go further to get nectar (waste of their time and energy), if you treat those plants with chemicals that can and will kill the bees, that is what I call murder (and a waste of everyones time as we are trying to help bees, not kill them) and if you buy a impregnated queen to start your hive, that is rape. So be aware of what you are buying into because you support with your purchases, so start supporting with your research, knowledge and education to choose wisely.

    • I think we’ve done a fair bit of research, and have been doing so for quite some years now, on api-centric beekeeping. the beekeeper doesn’t need to use any flow frames to get their jar of honey, if they practice responsible beekeeping. And who said anything about buying impreganted queens in an api-centric beekeeping system? Yikes. Let the bees raise their own queen and let her do her own thing, and bring the genetics she sees fit back to the hive…

  • Grant Bradly

    Thank you for your very sound rebuttal to the ‘flow hive’ information. Totally necessary for a balanced approach to keeping bees and keeping them healthy.
    Many people know of our interest in bees and have given us articles or wanted to talk to us about the ‘flow hive system’ – now we have succinct supporting material to offer back.

  • Jefferson

    I think the point about plastic has to be expanded. These are partial plastic combs on which the bees fill out with their own wax and then cap. The entire comb is not plastic. This is the same system MOST beekeepers use because it is a compromise between the beekeeper and the bee. I think focusing on the perfect at the expense of the excellent is short sighted.

    • I would argue that it’s a system that most beekeepers use because it is more profitable, and the bees usually seem to hang in there despite it.

      And what I think is short sighted is thinking that this norm is fine to uphold into the future.

    • Steve Williams

      Yes, beekeeping is always a compromise between the bees’ needs (primarily, be left alone in a clean environment with plenty of forage) and the beekeeper’s (crop pollination and or honey). Every beekeeper has to decide where to balance that compromise.

      For me, plastic foundation is way too big an interference in the life of the colony, and these things aren’t plastic foundation, they’re plastic comb which the bees just finish off. It’s another big step towards artificiality.

      I don’t think these Flow Frames should be banned or anything, I just think that anyone needs to think carefully and look at all angles before buying. What I’m finding though is that people with no beekeeping experience are buying them as an impulse buy (they’re obviously more cashed-up than me). That ain’t good.

  • Shayne Larratt

    Thanks Kirsten as usual you give us something to talk, think and do a bit of research about! I know this might sound silly or simple but if the bees didn’t k like the set up because of the cell size or because it interfered with communication wouldn’t they leave? I have never had anything to do with bees other than eating honey and being caught in a swarm but I was told that swarm was because the bees were moving to a new hive.

    • swarming is usually an optimistic act, and occurs when the colony is either very healthy and has out-grown it’s hive space, or when things are so dire the bees decide to abandon the hive.

      The entire industrial beekeeping industry is built on what can bees can just barely put up with without carking it or leaving the hive – plastic foundations, supers, regular moves, methyl bromide, etc etc etc. hence the egg analogy. just because the organism has not left or died does not mean it’s in an ideal + healthy environment.

  • michael

    Can you share your source that proves bees need to build a wax comb to be content? Seems like inference of what you want the bees to want imo.

    I’ve been dealing with bees since a child. I’ve seen hives die out and be replaced with comb intact and a thriving colony emerge. I also know that unhappy bees will not stay not will they thrive. Honestly, I don’t see much hard fact in your response. Mostly just seems you and a select few others are angry that a bit of mysticism might vanish and more folks will start keeping hives.

    • go check out the books at the bottom of the article for how natural comb benefits the bee superorganism.

  • Haakon

    I don’t think comparing a langstroth hive with battery hens holds water. Surely if a colony is thriving with a queen excluder, frames drawn from foundation or even a Flow super then the bees are “happy”. The evolutionary imperative of a bee colony, just like a chook is to pass on their DNA. Do you let your bees reproduce “naturally” via swarming or do you take a human-centric view and manage their reproduction to suit you?
    After all honey bees are feral on this continent. Their value is to pollinate human crops. Feral swarms are known to take up hollow log habitat that is needed by some native birds and mammals for breeding, not to mention upsetting upsetting natural pollination modes that evolved over millions of years.
    Even though I don’t necessarily agree with your views I really appreciate you thinking deeply about these things.

    • ml

      Good points.
      We used to have beehives in many of the hollow around us – most have died due to the Small Hive Beetle.
      One concern is that people with FLOW hives will not check their hives as regularly as they should and thus creating an EPI center for SHB.
      The same of course hold true for some of the “Natural” beekeepers too.

  • james creagh

    I think it is too early to draw conclusions about the honey flow frames. I too am not keen on the use of plastic but then again i love the low impact to the bees when harvesting honey from the hive. My one fear with the honey flow hive is that non beekeepers will get one of these hives and think it is that easy and not inspect the hive for disease etc especially american foul brood that can do much damage if not monitored. I have order some frames that i will try out and see how it goes. All the different hive have their advantages and disadvantages. For example with the warre hive harvesting of the honey means destroying the honey comb, a lot of work for the bees to rebuild. Will report back after use of the honey flow in the future.

    • yes, the renewal of comb takes work. That renewal process is also an important part of colony health. Should we devise a system where we insert plastic bones into a chicken so it can focus on meat production?

    • Caroline Minnear

      Hallelujah! Thank you for speaking up!
      Yes wax takes time and energy for bees to make. Replacing/ supplementing wax with plastic or reusing old honey comb does bees no favours.
      In so many common beekeeping practices we are encouraging bees to use those wax glands less and less…what impact is this having on the evolution of bees??…not hard to figure out i reckon.
      …And plastic? constantly kept at a balmy 35+ deg?? I wouldn’t drink water from it and i’d suggest its not doing any favours for your on tap honey either….can you still call it “organic”
      How bout we put bees before honey…the whole world would win then.
      Stay connected and in tune with those girls and you will reap more than liquid gold reward.

  • Bill Catherall

    Hi Kirsten,
    I’m the guy on The Bee Vlog video. 🙂 This is an excellent article, and thanks so much for the link! I’ve added your site to my feed reader so I can keep up to date on your articles. I look forward to reading more.

  • Stuart Jeffrey

    Thought provoking article. Just wanted to point out that in the letters section of the Flowhive website there’s a comment from Michael Bush, author of Practical Beekeeping, saying that the flow super’s cell size is deeper than “normal” and will therefore be undesirable for the queen to lay in,, meaning you won’t need a queen excluder. I don’t mention this to negate anything you’ve said, just for clarification. Again for clarification, it is also mentioned on the website that the super is usable on a Warre hive, with an adapter, this is not to say that it may be in opposition to Warre ideals to do so.

    And to be a bit of a Pollyanna (I like that the character looks for something good in any situation), I think it’s great that this conversion is happening. And if it’s because of a couple of blokes in Byron Bay inventing something they feel will help bees, as well as themselves, then cool! And yeah that they’re successful because if they’d only reached their initial $70,000 goal, and no more, hardly anyone would have heard of them and we wouldn’t be talking now. This is evolution in action, Yeehaa!

  • Derek Ewer

    If this system brings more bees to backyards, yey!
    But…
    If new owners of this great new techno glitzy hives would care to see what the bees think, put in some preped top bar frames into your new boxes next to the flow frames and give the bees a choice!
    It’ll be great to see what they choose.
    From my experience bees generally hate plastic foundation and only accept it after being pushed for a season or two!

  • Tino

    This is an erroneous argument, chickens and bees are somewhat different. Sure there is plastic… FlowHivev2 could be made of glass in the future. Regarding bee stress, Have you seen cornucopia that is under the Flow Hive box?, seen the first image posted on the official FlowHive Instagram? seems like you either A) Didn’t do your research B) Don’t use the Trivium method of critical thinking or C) have acute tall poppy syndrome.

    • Yes, chickens and bees are different – but taking a destructive industrial profit-driven attitude to their outputs is the point I am making – it benefits neither species.

      Yep, I’ve done my research, and I don’t need to use the trivium or otherwise method of thinking to come to the conclusion that introducing plastics to the internal part of a superorganism is not something to be heralded or held up as a truly revolutionary and great idea. Nor is inferring that beekeeping is so easy you don’t have to do anything at all.

      And speaking your mind on a subject + a species that you care about is called standing up, not being a tall poppy.

      I have no agenda against the flow hive crew, I’m just a concerned citizen that’s flagging that maybe this invention and others like it are not all roses.

  • Bernard

    My view …

    1. more bees and beeks is good
    2. believing you need expensive and unnecessary doodads (like the flow hive) is generally bad
    3. belief that keeping lovely bees can be ‘hands off’ or ‘no maintenance’ is bad
    4. believing that you don’t need to learn and build relationships with your colonies is always bad.

  • Jen

    Surely the bees would not make their home in a plastic hive if they did not like it there and were unable to function? Don’t bees move on pretty quickly if they are unhappy? From my observations animals, humans and plants all find the easiest route making sure they are still able to live and reproduce. If I opened up the doors to my house, the cat, dog,cow,horse and a million insects would all come flooding in to live in a man made environment where it’s comfortable. Your argument that compares cage chickens with bees is ridiculous because bees are free to chose their habitat. If the bees like it, how can it be wrong?

    • I’m not comparing caged chickens with bees, happy or otherwise. I’m comparing an industralised system of egg production with an industralised system of honey production – both value profit over ethics.

      I am trying to say maybe we should look at that fact, when it comes to bee stewardship, instead of what is fancy or new or makes the most honey.

    • Steve Williams

      Jen, moving to another site is immensely risky and energy-expensive for bees, they don’t just up and leave unless something is very, very wrong.

      The process of swarming requires the whole colony to prepare intensively for weeks, during the swarming itself they are extremely vulnerable, and the likelihood of survival of the new colony is quite low.

      Thomas Seeley had some stats on it, I think it’s something like 80% of new wild colonies don’t make it through their first winter.

  • Permaculture Online

    Interesting counterpoint on the Flow Hive. I’m sure most of us agree plastic is not ideal and we want all creatures big and small to be happy and productive. I believe part of the concept was about not disturbing the bees.. not just about production.

    I still think this is a great idea and would like to see some ideas to improve it. This article seems to mostly poo poo the product without producing any independently-developed research or unique ideas. Do you have anything constructive to add to the discussion, or do you believe this product to be unworthy of further consideration?

    • please refer to the book references at the bottom of the article for alternative api-centric approaches and independently developed research. there’s stacks of it there.

    • Christine Gartenbau

      I have been dismayed by the number of comments that call this article “unresearched”. But I am utterly stunned that a representative of any Permaculture organization would react to this article in such a way. Kerstin has obviously done her homework and has good instincts to boot. By the way, no reviewer of a product is required to offer primary source info (that would be extremely inefficient science and reporting!), if they have sources readily available. Above all, I cannot comprehend a supposedly educated permaculturist willing to condone the use plastics in contact with honey during production??? The toxins present in all forms of plastic are released slowly but surely over time, ESPECIALLY at elevated temperatures, make the presence of plastic in the hives not only the number one concern for human health (leachates in honey), but is of utmost concern in terms of the bees’ health!! We have been ignoring the detrimental effects of plastics for far too long and the rat’s tail is going to hit us really hard soon enough! Please visit Plastic Pollution Coalition for detailed research links.

  • james mills

    I sort of half agree with everything you said but at the same time don’t agree with a word of it. Sure, the flow hive isn’t the answer and may not be prefect for everyone but if it gets more people interested in beekeeping, i can’t see that as a bad thing. I would imagine most people interested in it are “city people” who will get introduced to beekeeping via the flow hive and then go on to keeping native hives etc.
    I really don’t understand your concern with queen separators or pre made combs. Bees can still produce healthy brood, including drones and future queens with a queen separator installed, it just means that surplus honey is kept above it, really not an issue. They also help limit the amount of brood which therefore limits swarming which therefore limits wild hives which therefore limits undetected diseases and ailments of these wild bees, again, certainly not an issue.
    I’ve seen you support warre hives which still utilize European honey bees, which naturally produce an excess of honey, it’s just what they do. I must say I’m quite surprised that you support keeping Europeans in any form, and furthermore, after a brief scan over some of your photos, they seem to contain (at least a vast majority) of golden Italians rather than any other variety of Europeans, i just don’t get that you’re all about genetic diversification and yet it seems that you support the practices of keeping the most in bred strain of bees, something about your article just doesn’t add up.
    I also don’t understand in the slightest when you say that being drones increases genetic diversity, not too sure how much experience you’ve had with bees or how much knowledge you hold about them but if a queen produces a drone and mates with him, genetic diversity is deceased rather than increased. I’m guessing by your “everything natural” approach (which i do support, don’t get me wrong), I’m guessing you don’t support re-queening,which is really the only way of increasing generic diversity of European honey bees.
    I’d also like to add that just because something has been invented, it doesn’t mean you have to buy it, you don’t have to support it, i do however think that it’s unhelpful to only point out the negative points that you can find in the product. I overall think that the flow hive is a great, progressive product that will potentially make beekeeping more attractive to more people which i would struggle to find how that’s negative, i do however find it hard to steer away from being terrified by the possibilities of disease outbreaks that this product may encourage due to an exponentially increasing number of completely inexperienced people taking up beekeeping.

    • there’s too much here for me to reply to tonight, but… feel free to browse the references at the bottom of the article re: queen excluders, set-size foundation + how that affects drone production + overall colony health. we allow our hives to re-queen themselves as needed, bringing in wild genetics from the surrounding area.

    • Caroline Minnear

      James, a Queen isn’t going to mate with one of her own drones, 🙂 firstly shes already mated on the wing and wont do it again in the hive. She/ they produce drones who leave the hive eventually and meet in a drone congregation area for other queens to mate with, so yes drones do increase genetic diversity…same as we need lots of blokes in this world.
      Pre-made combs and foundation dictate to a colony their needs rather than allowing them to determine their own needs as a colony/ super organism.

  • Hannah Moloney

    Thanks for your clear thinking and well shaped ‘rant’ Kirsten. 🙂

  • Ruben Davis

    Sound points Kirsten. It is clearly forcing the function. Why are some people so uncomfortable when the superorganism is spoken for?

  • Gautier

    Nice try Kirsten…to get people to perceive beyond the excitement of this product. To say what people don’t want to hear.

    Anyways…
    Of course the flow hive will work!

    But it is not the essence of apiculture. It is not the highest potential of human and bee co-creation and balance.
    Warre is out there on the list…and from all my research and studies on apicutlure, the work of Oscar Perone on what is called PermApiculture is what resonates the most with me. I highly suggest that people check it out.
    http://www.biobees.com%2Flibrary%2Fhive_perone%2FMaking-a-Perone-Hive.pdf&ei=OOXuVPbEPIX_UraDgLgG&usg=AFQjCNHW1Q7UrhUCPB30xlI2n5ULKmC1Ww&bvm=bv.86956481,d.d24

    It has been promoted a lot in Latin America and now in Europe…but still very little know in anglosaxon countries.
    Please let me know what you think.

  • Dave Jackson

    Reading all the social media stuff, none of it told me how the flow hive worked. I thought, This seems too good to be true.” Now I know it is. I will give up thoughts of switching to it and stick with my Warré and horizontal top bar hives.

  • Tony H

    Hear, hear. Great post.

    We have been brainwashed into universally accepting technological innovation as ‘progress’ and to stand in the way of the (human) progress is to be a Luddite.

    The features of new technologies are sold to us as ‘benefits’ without any any understanding of, or reference, to systemic impacts and unforseen consequences. Look at ANY technology and those impacts are there, the beneficial and the detrimental.

    Even where the detrimental impacts are seen to be limited to the natural world (and thus can be thought of, by some, as external to our immediate concern), they will eventually work their way back to us humans.

    To ‘save the bees’ we need to look upstream of the problems and fix them – mainly the societal, farming and wider environmental issues. In keeping bees, let’s keep them as simply and naturally as is possible and stop finding ways to intervene in their lives for our own convenience. Honey harvests are a privilage, not a right. Selling honey harvesting convenience as a ‘benefit to the bees’ is a typically modern distraction and an illusion.

    • Steve Williams

      I’m with you there, Tony.

      The picture that the inventors’ website paints of honey harvesting is pretty disingenuous. It’s not like we’re raiding our hives every couple of weeks. Once a year for a strong hive is more like it, and that can easily be incorporated with the normal inspection regime, which beekeepers are supposed to do anyway.

      And the actual harvesting ain’t that hard, and once you get the hang of it, not that disruptive to the colony either.

      I think with Flow Hives there would be a strong temptation on the part of novices to over-harvest.

  • Megan

    Give up honey. Let the bees pollinate.
    What would Honey Barbara think?

  • rosie mcdonell (Laguna Earth House)

    This is such a great forum and good debate to be having. We all might learn a bit more about the world from a bees standpoint.
    As a beekeeper of just one year’s experience with a top bar hive (No foundation, no queen excluder, crushed comb for honey extraction) I share many of the concerns that Kirsten has expressed about this Flow Hive. of course it is exciting to think that we can all have our own hive and just turn on a tap for honey. It is also exciting to think there is a way of supporting the suffering honey bees.
    But it isn’t that easy. No farming is. We can have no rights without some responsibilities. Each time I go into my hive to take some honey, I have a good look at the bees and their comb to check on the state of health of the colony. This seems the least I can do in return for “robbing” them of honey and interfering in their world. To just turn on a tap and avoid entering that world would seem to shortchange both myself and the bees.

  • Abbey

    I gotta say, regardless of weather I agree with the article or not, the tone it was written in was very repelling to me. It’s surely not necessary to be so snarkey to make your point.

    • After being swamped in marketing that it was the fabbest, newest, easiest, best thing ever, yep I feel a bit of ‘actually, maybe not’ was justified. In the same language. Especially as that’s my actual view on the situation.

  • Alex

    While I respect your concerns that it may be unnatural the end result this invention may have is MORE BEE KEEPERS! Which, in my opinion is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY RIGHT NOW. Let’s not forget the big picture. Whatever gets more bees in yards of the people, the better chance we will have to SAVE THEM. I’m in no way a troll for flow hive, I’m a small farmer who would like to keep more bees and see more bees in our world for as long as I live.

    • I totally agree – but it’s like any other animal stewardship. If you’re going to do it, for gods sake do it in a way that benefits the species, not goes against it.

    • Steve Williams

      I disagree. We don’t need more beekeepers at all in my view, we need more bee-friendly (and generally, pollinator-friendly) habitat.

      If people want to keep bees, that’s great. I do, and I love it. But they should do the hard yards, get informed, then make an informed choice.

  • Georg

    Hey thanks for the article! As a design engineer, a quick question that needs your expert knowledge: Would it solve many of these problems, to create a hive that was half plastic and half empty? And have twice as many hives? And allow space for the queen to roam that could be closed pre-pour while the transfer took place? From a point of no specialised knowledge, this seems to address most of the issues that were raised, but would love to know why not, to come up with a second iteration. Thank you!

    • So make a superorganism where only half the foundations of the internal organs have been replaced with plastic ones, instead? I would not say that’s a great idea.

  • Janine

    Oh, I’ve been searching and waiting for something that didn’t hail the Flow Hive as the best thing to happen for beekeeping, and you’ve articulated wonderfully what I could not – the plastic made me very uncomfortable about it, alongside the fear of ill-informed beekeeping.

    People are saying that it’s a great way to see people interested in bees and beekeeping, but it should come alongside encouraging and providing great amount of information on beekeeping and things like bee-friendly gardening for those that claim this is a marvellous way to encourage bee populations.

    It’s interesting to see some of these comments, where it’s pretty clear that the concept of natural beekeeping is not one of which they’re aware – here’s to hoping that people take these challenges as opportunities to learn and understand more rather than attack your beekeeping knowledge 🙂 (although it’s entirely possible that people don’t want to hear alternative views when they’ve perhaps already invested in the product)

    Anyway, great article, Kirsten! Lovely to engage in some critical thinking – there is a difference between bee-centric and honey-centric, and hopefully some people realise that.

  • Mike Morrison

    i think it’s a brilliant invention. Less stress on the bees. Less getting stung. Less beekeeping equipment to purchase. Less putting smoke in the hive. More ppl willing to have backyard hives. More hives to aid in pollination. Easier way to actually see honey being oriduced without upsetting the hive. Man made hives aren’t natural no matter what they’re made of. Hive location, food/water sources, not being exposed to city mosquito spraying trucks, etc are far more likely to effect the health of the bees than a plastic hive that requires less disturbance to the hive to get honey…honey, the thing most ppl want from bees. I think your reaction here to something that has raised so much money so quickly speaks volumes. Have you contacted the designers and asked them how their use of the product for the last three years has shown any negative outcomes for the hives? Tested the honey for any unhealthy affectation? Compared hive strength before and after using these new designs?

    I love this design. My grandfather kept a dozen hives and was stung so many times over 40 years he developed a dangerous allergy.

    I think your criticism is entirely too premature. .02

    • Yes, man made hives are not natural, no matter what they’re made of. but replacing parts of the superorganism’s organs with plastic is not the way forward, in our opinion. Decent bee stewardship will produce the same effect in terms of harvest etc.

  • Cheetah

    “Go read the references at the bottom” is not citing research. Moreover, without making proper citation, you assume people will read those books and not come away with something different. I realize this isn’t a scientific paper but a blog post. And yet people have responded en masse to your claims, eliciting only “go read”. Please note I’m not saying your claims aren’t valid, but they aren’t presented that way. Presenting the commission of you knowledge and feelings isn’t presenting research.

    I’d also like to echo that a few years of testing has been done on this so far.

    There is nothing natural about bee keeping, especially if you take their honey at any point. Who cares if you think you are being nice about it, you are no better unless you are simply taking care of them with no return, assuming the swarm came to you naturally too.

    • yep, this is a blogpost, so yes, i’m stating my opinion. the top three references at the bottom are 3 peer-reviewed + researched books on bees by bee scientists, if anyone wants to look into the needs of the honeybee superorganism further. some of the comments here indicate to me that knowledge of how the honeybee superorganism functions in its natural state are less than widespread. but that’s not the point of this piece, its me giving my opinion on why plastics in hives, and beekeeping that focusses on honey outputs only, need further consideration.

  • narf77

    You aren’t the only ones sending up alarm signals. When we attempt to opt out of the relationship that we need to forge in order to work “with” nature to make the process easier for us, we are negating a most vital thing, we learn from the process as much as we learn from the results. Apparently this hive crowd funder has raised a HUGE amount of money. It would seem like people are willing to throw a lot of moolah around when it comes to “saving the bees”. Methinks this hives creators are just doing a “Bill Gates” and taking advantage of public sentiment to direct a lot of money into their coffers. I liked this article about the flow hive as well…

    http://www.rootsimple.com/2015/02/the-flow-hive-a-solution-in-search-of-a-problem/

  • Phil Chandler

    Having campaigned against industrial beekeeping for 15 years and having practiced, taught and written extensively about ‘natural beekeeping’ for a good part of that time (although I notice that I don’t get any credits in this article) I can understand the attitude of the writer, but not her logic.

    The Flow Hive clearly reduces human interference with bees’ lives by eliminating the need for bee-blowers, extractors, etc and the act of removing whole boxes of honey from hives. The plastic combs it contains are never used by the bees for brood, so arguments about ‘the bees’ womb’, cell size or vibration-based communication – all of which only apply to brood combs – are irrelevant.

    I am quite sure that the inventors will have avoided using any material capable of causing chemical contamination of honey, and the idea that it “encourages + celebrates beekeeper-centric beekeeping” is an unwarranted assumption. There is nothing about this device that discourages or prevents the beekeeper from using due diligence in caring for their bees, as it is only put in place while honey is being collected. Remove the rhetoric from this article, and what remains is a little hollow.

    • Hi Phil! On your website, you state: “Here you can discover low-impact, low-cost, chemical-free, small-scale, ‘organic’, natural beekeeping, using simple equipment that can can make at home.” – do you see plastic flow comb and the requisite queen excluders fitting into that ethos? I am genuinely curious.

      • Paul

        Kirsten, well done for initiating an important and thought-provoking debate. I’d be interested to hear a fuller response from you on Phil’s points rather than a deflection. The question of how these fit in to Phil’s view of natural beekeeping is a good one, since this is the central to the debate I think. The flow frames will inevitably find a place in the beekeeping world, so some positive thinking on how to incorporate them in the most bee-friendly manner is needed.

        Could you please elaborate on the assertion that queen excluders are essential with the use of plastic flow frames? The principle as I understood was to use these frames on the top-most supers, where brood is very unlikely. Émile Warré followed the same principle, only harvesting those boxes that were entirely filled with honey. Surely it must be feasible for these frames to coexist with a free-roaming queen and minimal-to-no interaction with the brood?

        • firstly, saying that something will find it’s place in the system and we must therefore look kindly on it and necessarily include it doesn’t wash, for me – extrapolate that across to any type of animal husbandry, gene patenting, chemical agriculture. whatever you like – just because something is invented, or in common practice, does not make it a good idea.

          in a warre system (and a natural hive), the bees tend to start at the top of their available cavity and build downwards – so the comb they draw has first brood, then honeystores in it, as the comb draws down and the brood moves down (in successive generations) with it. with the warre design, the idea is that you harvest the honey from the top box once the brood has naturally moved down the cavity, leaving ample honey stores above it.

          this differs to the langstroth system where there is a ‘brood box’ at the bottom, and a queen excluder on top of that which prevents the queen from accessing the above boxes (supers) – the bees, who abhor empty space above their brood because it affects their ability to main core temperature, frantically store honey above the brood in comb that the queen cannot access. this has been shown to stress the colony. this method is done for ease + maximisation of harvest and to ensure the comb is lighter in color (not having had brood go through it), an aesthetic consideration common in western beekeeping, but not in eastern.

          in warre beekeeping, you add the empty boxes to the bottom of the colony, allowing the bees to continue to draw their comb down – not to the top, as in conventional beekeeping, which creates empty space above and has the potential to stress the bees.

          to add flow frames to the top (or bottom) of a warre colony would mean you’d be expecting the bees to cycle brood through the plastic, preset size flow frames (not ideal for bee health) and then you’d have to hope that by the time you cracked those frames to harvest them that they were clear of brood… all up, it does not strike me as a bee-centric system.

          • Paul

            Thanks for the quick reply Kirsten. The point I was making was that given the huge interest (and investment), plastic flow frames are not going to dissappear from the world of beekeeping anytime soon. I was not suggesting that natural beekeeping critics condone them on this basis (obviously that is very silly). However, there is an opportunity to positively influence their inevitable use by advocating a best-practice with a bee-centric focus. I think this is a more powerful weapon for change than outright condemnation.

            I don’t think anyone adopting the Warré principles would be silly enough to nadir with flow frames. That would be a ridiculous thing to do and clearly not what I was suggesting. As you say, brood moves down and honey is stored on top, so adding flow frames above the brood and preferably above at least one super should minimise the risk of brood coming into contact with the plastic. If brood were regularly raised in the top box, as you suggest, then there would never be a harvest under Warré principles, or at least not without sacrificing them since the practice is to harvest entire boxes!

            Take the scenario where a Warré system is in place, and a new box is supered rather than nadired during a nectar flow. This was not Warré’s preference, but during a nectar flow when there is already at least one super in place and the weather is warm (so chilled brood is not an issue), surely this does not significantly contravene natural beekeeping rules. If anything, this may remove the pressure on the colony to move the brood down to create more honey storage, and reduce the risk of swarming.
            So now rather than supering with empty frames (even empty frames are beekeeper-centric), the flow frames are used. There will be very little likelihood of the queen crossing several frames of honey to lay eggs so far from the nest. The use of flow frames in only the top box (supered) would be a good example of best-practice guidelines that adopters of this technology should be encouraged to adhere to in my opinion.

      • Phil Chandler

        That is my ethos. I don’t expect the rest of the world to conform to it. I note that you fail to answer any of my points.

        • I’m more than happy to answer your points, but i do feel the difference between your ethos and your statements seemed somewhat apart, and that your ethos itself summed up why this might not be a great idea.

          Secondly, i think the flow hive rhetoric is misleading – just because you don’t need to open a box to harvest a flow frame of honey doesn’t translate to no intervention beekeeping or not having to open the hive ever, at all. In a well-managed natural beekeeping system such as warre, as i’m sure you’re aware, it’s perfectly viable to keep the hive visits minimal throughout the year and still reap a harvest with minimal smoke or intervention – so why bring plastic do-hickery into the picture to replace the job of what anyone can learn – which is skillfull, thoughtful, low-intervention beekeeping?

          We are regularly finding out that BPA-free and bioplastics are not as safe as we thought – http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1003220/ – so why introduce a substance to the hive that’s potentially destructive for the sake of convenience?

          As for it not being bee-keeper centric, i would say phrases like ‘its a beekeepers dream’ sums it up pretty well – while I am sure they are well-intentioned beeks, the majority of people jumping on this bandwagon are doing it because they believe it will mean that it will make beekeeping virtually no-work.

          And as honeybees are a species in crisis, I would respectfully suggest that ethical stewardship must include understanding that organism and partnering with it, not promoting an approach where you have to do, and know, virtually nothing about the process to jump on board.

          I think this product entirely ties into the industrial beekeeping legacy, it’s just a shiny branch of it that sells itself as bee friendly and homestead-ready. For possibly well-meaning reasons, but I do not agree with it. What we need, in my opinion, is more thoughtful bee stewardship that replicates the superorganism as closely as possible. And i don’t see how plastics, or conventional beekeeping, can be a useful part of that, when all is said and done.

          • Phil Chandler

            1. ” just because you don’t need to open a box to harvest a flow frame of honey doesn’t translate to no intervention beekeeping or not having to open the hive ever, at all.” Nobody – neither the inventors nor me, said any such thing. This is a straw man argument.

            2. The Warre is a low-intervention system, but not one that works well everywhere, with all types of bees, and not one that is suitable for people with disabilities, due to the box-lifting involved. This is true of all vertical-stack bee hives.

            3. You say “And as honeybees are a species in crisis, I would respectfully suggest that ethical stewardship must include understanding that organism and partnering with it, not promoting an approach where you have to do, and know, virtually nothing about the process to jump on board.” Exactly the same criticism could be levelled against the Warre, the so-called ‘Sun’ hive, or any other non-intervention approach: it is not necessary, in those systems, to know what is going on inside the box.

            4. The Flow hive eliminates the need for several other pieces of equipment, such as extractors, decapping knives, settling tanks, and saves having to buy and store extra supers, frames, foundation, etc. Therefore it has a considerable net advantage in terms of storage space, energy and materials costs.

            5. I doubt this will be adopted by commercial beekeepers, due to the cost of conversion and the fact that they already have a large investment in equipment. It may well appeal to the urban beekeeper, however, who would like to keep bees but has nowhere to store all the junk that comes with standard, conventional hives, nor is prepared to build a 3-metre gantry to accommodate a Sun hive, nor can risk a huge, immovable colony of bad-tempered bees in a Warre.

            6. I would prefer that plastics were not used inside a hive, but given that it is confined to the honey area, has limited contact with either bees or honey, and that this is currently the only suitable material for this device (I suspect ceramics may well replace plastics in due course) I don’t see it as a big issue.

          • er, I don’t know a single warré beekeeper in Australia who thinks it’s ‘not neccessary to know what is going on inside the boxes’… nor do we consider it non-intervention beekeeping – but 2 swift hive checks a year are usually plenty to check on colony health and harvest as necessary (and maybe another harvest during a eucalypt honeyflow, if the season is great – but harvests are the least bee-disturbing task in beekeeping, I’ve found, if done well)>

            The flow hive only eliminates a bunch of conventional beekeeping equipment, as far as I can tell – the comparison in their marketing is to the alternative being everything from smokers to taking the entire hive apart to leaf blowers (!!) to spinners etc. Which is pretty hilariously irrelevant in a natural beekeeping system like warré anyways, which is simple, effective and yet doesn’t need to rely on artificial comb and mechanisms + taps to get a plentiful harvest.

          • Steve Williams

            As to your point 4, Phil: what Kirsten said. This talk of needing to buy a load of kit is just not true, frankly, if you’re not using full wired frames, and nobody in Warré beekeeping does.

            Perfectly adequate kit for a backyard honey straining operation: two food-grade plastic buckets (yeah, I know, but the honey isn’t stored in them), one stainless steel double sieve and one honey gate.

            The only other kit you need is a sharp knife. I’m guessing there’s one in your kitchen somewhere already.

            This straining method is enough to get over 90% of the honey out of your comb. The rest you get when you render the beeswax (another useful product) and use for cooking honey.

            OK, so I’m a novice beekeeper, not an internationally respected authority on natural beekeeping, but I know for a fact that this method works a treat and no further outlay for kit is necessary. Cost is less than $100 AUS.

    • Steve Williams

      Phil,

      What leads you to think that vibration based communication applies only to brood comb? After all, the physical separation of brood from honey comb is an artefact of modern beekeeping, not something that occurs in natural bee colonies.

      I’m interested to read your take on this because I have a great deal of respect for your work, but I disagree with you here. The Flow Frame *could* be used as part of an apicentric beekeeping approach I suppose, but what I am seeing in various sustainability forums that I subscribe to is an uncritical uptake of Flow Hives by people who have no knowledge of beekeeping and think this is a way to have honey on tap without the bother and stings of opening a hive. (They don’t seem to understand that they will have to open the hive anyway.) Several people have told me that they have bought one (or rather, made a generous donation to the crowdfund) and I’m pretty sure that none of them had plans to start beekeeping previously. Why do you think that is?

      • Phil Chandler

        You are making a number of unwarranted assumptions, seemingly based on your best guess as to other people’s reasons for backing this project.

        As to why I believe that vibration-based communication is restricted to brood combs, that is what the research shows. Also, once honey is stored and sealed in combs, bees show no further interest in it until it is time to eat it. Unless someone comes along and tries to take it, of course.

        • Steve Williams

          Cheers, Phil.

          I’m responding to observed behaviour. Admittedly, the sample is quite small (say 1000 or so people I’m in contact with through FB), but in the space of just a few days I’ve had several (let’s say 5–6, best guess), announce either that (a) they’ve bought a Flow Hive or (b) they’re going to. From other comments they’ve made (e.g. “I don’t know anything about beekeeping yet, but …”) I infer that they aren’t beekeepers.

          Now, I don’t have concrete proof that my interpretation is correct, but it isn’t just a baseless assumption, it’s an inference.

        • Hi Phil,

          I’m more than surprised by some of your comments here. Please see some responses below to your points;

          “Having campaigned against industrial beekeeping for 15 years and having practiced, taught and written extensively about ‘natural beekeeping’ for a good part of that time (although I notice that I don’t get any credits in this article) I can understand the attitude of the writer, but not her logic.

          The Flow Hive clearly reduces human interference with bees’ lives by eliminating the need for bee-blowers, extractors, etc and the act of removing whole boxes of honey from hives.”

          Bee blowers are rarely, if ever, used by small scale beekeepers. In my many years of experience they are also rarely used in commercial beekeeping operations. And even if they are sometimes used, you yourself recognise there will be little or no uptake of this invention in commercial beekeeping circles in any serious way.

          In terms of extractors, this has nothing to do with human interference in bees lives.

          In terms of removing whole boxes of honey from hives – individual combs may be gently and swiftly harvested from any type of hive. The ‘supering’ approach with Langstroth hives and also the Flow Frame approach of draining honey from above the brood nest creates empty cells, which triggers unnatural stimulation of nectar foraging (The Wisdom of the Hive : The Social Physiology of Honey Bee Colonies, Seeley, pgs 187-190). Welcome to the primary technique of industrial honey production.

          You mentioned not having any credits in the above post. May I recommend people read one of your articles about the history of the Langstroth Hive and the mentality and management techniques behind the design:

          http://biobees.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/what-is-wrong-with-modern-beekeeping.html

          “The plastic combs it contains are never used by the bees for brood, so arguments about ‘the bees’ womb’, cell size or vibration-based communication – all of which only apply to brood combs – are irrelevant.”

          Hardly irrelevant if you consider the true meaning of the superorganism concept – that the colony is an indivisible whole. Honeybee colonies are a “single integrated living organism” (Tautz) and are equivalent in many ways to a mammal as they posses many of the characteristics of mammals.

          “I am quite sure that the inventors will have avoided using any material capable of causing chemical contamination of honey, and the idea that it “encourages + celebrates beekeeper-centric beekeeping” is an unwarranted assumption.”

          Unfortunately, the migration of plastics in the environment and in our bodies is of real concern. Kirsten has provided a link above showing scientific findings, and there are plenty more if you go looking. At the very least the precautionary principle should be used here, particularly considering our track record.

          In terms of the approach of the inventors, I don’t know them personally and have nothing against them – they seem like nice blokes! However, I have read their website and heard this interview on ABC radio the other day:

          “It’s going to take me a while to realise how big this is for beekeepers and for the world,” he said.
          Manufacturing is expected to begin in Brisbane in a month, with plans to expand overseas already in the works.
          “We’ll be setting up new factories … cranking out the parts as fast as we can,” Stuart said.
          “We’ll probably have one other manufacturing scene overseas somewhere.
          “Maybe in America somewhere because the local Brisbane factory wouldn’t be able to supply the demand.”

          I don’t think it’s an unwarranted assumption that this approach has very little to do with bee health. The video on their website clearly shows the blokes holding up big jars of honey, a lady drizzling honey from the spouts on pancakes, etc etc. There is very little talk of bees. The quote on their website that it is ‘so much easier on the bees’ is entirely unsupported by science or practical experience and in my opinion is classic greenwash.

          Taking a look at the homepage of their website will quickly reveal to you the level of knowledge, respect and understanding of the bees needs:

          “Many years ago….I went down to one of my beehives, which I knew was a pretty wild hive. It was getting on towards evening and a bit of a grey day, not the best time for beekeeping! So I put on the bee vale my grandma made me and pressed the gaffa tape back on the mesh that covered the holes. Then I put on my glove, (I couldn’t find the second one). I fired up the smoker and blew plenty of smoke into the hive. When I opened the lid my suspicions were confirmed. The bees weren’t happy about being disturbed. I pulled the sleeve over my gloveless hand, blew some more smoke into the hive and pulled some nice frames of honey out.

          The hive was packed with bees and it was near impossible to get the honey out without squashing lots of them. I really don’t like squashing bees! The bees became grumpier and started to sting me through my bee suit. They weren’t happy. I put the hive back together, squashing more bees as the lid went on and ended up running away across the field…”

          “The Warre is a low-intervention system, but not one that works well everywhere, with all types of bees, and not one that is suitable for people with disabilities, due to the box-lifting involved. This is true of all vertical-stack bee hives.”

          Yes, including a Langstroth hive. But what about a horizontal Warre or a Kenyan top-bar hive Phil?

          “The Flow hive eliminates the need for several other pieces of equipment, such as extractors, decapping knives, settling tanks, and saves having to buy and store extra supers, frames, foundation, etc. Therefore it has a considerable net advantage in terms of storage space, energy and materials costs.”

          If you replace ‘Warre’ or ‘Kenyan’ with ‘Flow’ hive in the above statement, the same applies. None of that equipment is necessary with natural comb hives. The key difference here is that, in terms of energy and materials costs, the Flow Frames are incredibly expensive and would have a high carbon footprint. The expense ($350US for 6 x Flow Frames compared to $16AU for 8 x Warre frames or $4AU for 8 x Warre top-bars) aspect alone makes the invention difficult for most people to afford. The carbon footprint of the manufacturing of the units themselves, shipping from central points and the top-down approach to the roll-out of the product is surely the antithesis of your own approach and the philosophy of ‘the People’s Hive’.

          Also, the Flow hive is not actually a new hive, it is a new frame. Even this simple point has been lost on most people. It has been tested and designed for use with a Langstroth hive system. It is a unnecessary and unsustainable plastic addition to an industry already burdened with invention.

          “It may well appeal to the urban beekeeper, however, who would like to keep bees but has nowhere to store all the junk that comes with standard, conventional hives, nor is prepared to build a 3-metre gantry to accommodate a Sun hive, nor can risk a huge, immovable colony of bad-tempered bees in a Warre.”

          No junk is needed for Natural Comb hives. What about a Kenyan top-bar hive Phil?

          I’ll ignore the ‘bad-tempered’ bit, because I harvested wild honeycomb from 50 Warre hives yesterday, used no smoke and didn’t receive a single sting. Moving any colony from a small backyard due to problems with neighbors or overly defensive colonies can be difficult, independent of the type of hive.

          “I would prefer that plastics were not used inside a hive, but given that it is confined to the honey area, has limited contact with either bees or honey, and that this is currently the only suitable material for this device (I suspect ceramics may well replace plastics in due course) I don’t see it as a big issue.”

          The honey will be in constant contact with the plastic. As will the bees. I would love to hear your cost estimate of a ceramic version of this – maybe you could install one for the Royal Family when it’s produced?

          All the best,
          Tim Malfroy

    • David Livingston

      Phil
      I am shocked by your support of this hyped up plastic insert .
      You are the person who introduced me to no frills natural beekeeping and you think a £300 super is a good idea ? What happened ? I could not be more surprised if you accepted sponsorship from monsanto !
      I would prefer that people spent that money attending one of yours or other natural beekeeping courses .

      David

  • BigT

    What about having both Flow Hive and Warre’ frames in the same box..? This may allow the hive to produce its own wax comb along with a potentially more productive frame as well? Or, a Flow Hive Brood Box on top, or below, a more natural Brood Box?
    I have no doubt the natural wax honey would be a more nutrient rich product, but the whole hive may still be happy and healthy along with a more accessible product. Because lets be honest, if beekeeping is ALL work with very little honey only the bee enthusiast’s will keep it up. Conversely, if it is easier for a layman to help with a healthy hive while having some decent production, then everybody wins…??

    • Steve Williams

      I wondered the same thing when I read the inventors’ claim that the Flow Frames will work with Warré hives. But Warré is about much more than the design of the hive. One of the key aspects is nadiring new boxes so that the brood zone continually moves downward into virgin comb, while harvesting top boxes when the honey store is surplus to the bees’ needs. Having a static top box seems to interfere with that rather neat arrangement. It would be interesting to know how the bees react, but I wouldn’t do the experiment on my Warré hives, personally.

  • Ben B

    Profit driven? Have you looked at what Milkwood charges for workshops? My word, that’s gotta bee the pot calling the kettle black. If you REALLY cared so much for bees, how’s about running some free or low cost beekeeping workshops so more real people can access beekeeping, instead of just cashed up Sydneysiders (the demographic of which btw, seems to be the target of your article). I’d like to see some empirical, peer reviewed research on your claims also. Bee good!

    • Hey there ben – firstly, i’m talking about the industrial beekeeping industry being profit-driven, at the expense of bee health. which it is. secondly, our beekeeping workshop prices are in-line with the DPI’s beekeeping workshops. thirdly, we do run low-cost Q&A beekeeping events regularly. And people travel from all over Aus to do these workshops, not just sydneysiders – and there’s more and more established beekeepers choosing to learn these techniques, which is fabulous 🙂

    • Steve Williams

      I think the $400 or so I spent on doing Tim Malfroy’s intensive 2-day beekeeping course back in 2012 (through Milkwood) was money well spent. That and the extensive background reading set me up with the knowledge I needed to start beekeeping.

      Seeing a shiny plastic gizmo and buying it online, without any prior knowledge or experience of beekeeping, is a waste of money. The buyer is going to get stung in more ways than one.

      I’m glad to hear of your life of moneyless altruism by the way, but personally I have to work for a living and get paid. So do Kirsten and Nick.

  • Carrie

    Loving all the discussion on To be a Flow Hive or not to be….that is the question. It”s like stepping into the abyss….my worry is the estogen in plastic that can release over time. There have been many sad tales of this interferring with nature…fish, aligators & humans. I guess it will bea wait & see as the wheels of profit in the honey industry turn. I do like the idea of increasing Bee populations…maybee workshops run in schools.

  • Stefan Carpentier

    Hi Kirsten
    1st of all, thank you for stating your educated opinion so clearly and in this case, against the public drift. It should not matter where the drift is going, true stays true.
    I am 110% behind dedicating to the bees, listening to what the bees need and want, not what I think they need or should want. LISTEN is the key to good beekeeping.
    Now a few critical points. I am a 8 year beekeeper myself, never treated any bee or honey with anything else but love and care.
    1) I have yet to understand why it is so disturbing for bees NOT to get to build their own comb. I see this as the key to rejecting this Flow contraption.
    2) To the Flow thing; how would I make sure NO bee is in any of the cells when I turn the knob? This is all not clear to me.
    I could think of many ways to make the harvest process easier and therefore the urban Beekeeping more accessible. I think this is in general desirable. But not at the expense of the bees or, even worse, at the expense of the EXPERIENCE.
    Thanks for your time
    Stefan
    http://www.ajarofhoney.com

    • for further reading about why natural comb is so important to the honeybee superorganism (apart from + beyond the fact that the comb is itself classified as an internal organ of that superorganism, something that the organism is far better suited to make than a plastic or other material insert), might i refer you to Tautz, for a start – and also Seely – and also my article here 🙂

      • Stefan Carpentier

        Thanks Kirsten.
        I started to read “The Buzz about the Bees” and it starts to dawn on me what you are talking about. These girls are amazing in so many ways. Situations like this one today humble me so much. And it is yet one more good reason why I Love this Beekeeping so much.
        Thanks for sharing.
        I hope we stay in touch.
        Stefan

  • Mark Mathieson

    Hi Kirsten.

    Some great moral bravery displayed in sharing your opinion. …and I guess that is point I find missing in most of the above debate. As with climate change, we are too quick to revert to the ‘he-said, she-said’ debate over technical issues and science, without stepping back and looking at our human values and ethics. A decision to endorse the flow-hive or not would ideally be made on the basis of ethical and value-based alignment with truly sustainable system design, not on science, research and/or dollar driven economics. It will only be when humankind understands that we do NOT stand alone from nature; that whatever we do TO nature, we do to OURSELVES that decisions around flow-hives (or not) will enhance or destroy our long term occupation of the planet. Truly sustainable systems are complex adaptive systems (homeorhetic) and ‘nature’ has always had the design patent on these. The more we try (as humans) to ‘force’ system design to our own agenda, the (ultimately) less sustainable the system we are ‘forcing’ becomes. In this sense, my belief would be that a flow-hive is further away from a truly sustainable system design than more ‘natural’ apicultural systems and hence is less desirable. A key point in this however is including ‘humankind’ within the system. Removing human interaction from bee systems is just as unsustainable as removing people from nature (think National park) – it is not a design principle which actually aligns with both the (truly) natural world and a complex adaptive system design.

    Just some food for thought…

    M

  • Sylvia

    Thanks for offering a useful critique.

  • Mick Rose

    The inventors of this product are people I know. Without giving too much private info to a public forum, I would like to provide a bit of perspective. They are the absolute antithesis to profit driven, big ag, animal enslaving people that you could imagine. They are people that are absolutely aligned and active with ecological, environmental and community enhancing principals. Do you use petrol in your car? Cedar doesn’t. Have you paraglided over a forest to expose a multinational mining companies lies in court? Have you been on countless daring missions for greenpeace? Do you grow your own veggies and only use thrown out appliances that you have fixed yourself? I could go on but the point I want to make is that your principles are very much in alignment with those of the inventors. Their motivations are benevolent just like yours appear to be.

    • I am sure that is all plausible, but that’s not the point of my piece – it’s not about the people making the product – the point is that I don’t think introducing more plastics to a hive is a great idea, especially when an equivalent low-intervention, low stress beekeeping approach can be achieved with good sound beekeeping practice that is accessible to anyone who cares to learn.

      And lovely though these folks undoubtably are, the product they and their team are promoting (very skillfully) seems to be getting an overwhelming response from folks that see it as an ‘easy’ version of beekeeping – as their marketing material re-enforces. And at this time I don’t think it’s ethical to promote either plastics or ‘i just turn this tap and that’s all i have to do’ (when actually, that’s far from all you need to do in terms of overall responsible hive maintenance) as a bee stewardship approach.

    • Mark Mathieson

      Thanks for lifting the lid (a little) on the backgrounds of the designers Mick – it certainly helps lend some personality to the story. As I think we would all assume, it certainly does appear that the two guys involved have all the very best of intentions (although I would still question the profit motive – at $600USD a pop ‘someone’ is making some real money here I’m sure). I do agree with Kirsten though, that the backgrounds and motivations of the designers are separate from the ethical and values based merit of the flow-hive itself. If we keep making decisions about our ‘way of life’ that preference the ‘easier, quicker, cheaper’ versions over the more sustainable, ethical and holistic then we continue to say that humankind ‘knows better’ than natural systems. It is my belief that it is exactly this decision making model that has gotten us (and keeps us within) the mess we are in globally. Perhaps by way of example, i note that the flow-hive is a trade-mark term, and I would imagine that the design has been copyright or patented. How can any product be truly sustainable if the ownership of such is limited to the few. By default we exclude large swarths of humanity from having access to such ‘sustainable products’ either through economic limitations (cost) or access (legal protection). As a result, on an ethically metric, the flow hive is ‘less sustainable’ by design…

      Regards

      Mark

      • Mick Rose

        If you spent 10 years living on a shoestring while you perfected your design, would you elect to release it without patent? Getting a patent on a design is unethical? What would stop someone else patenting it with a couple of modifications?
        Making it cheaper is more ethical? Surely this would just encourage the ignorant masses that are the only people gullible enough to buy this. They will be scratching their heads as they unpack it, turn the tap and wait for the honey to come out.
        Money in the hands of ethical people is a positive thing unless of course it corrupts them. I will bee-keeping an eye on them, don’t worry!

  • Mick Rose

    To quote from their marketing material – “BEE ENTHUSIASM: If you are new to beekeeping, welcome to the exciting new world. As a new beekeeper it is important to be fully informed about all aspects of what is involved in caring for bees. Some of these answers can be found on our website and in our FAQs. We also strongly recommend you join your local beekeeping club for additional support. “

    • Steve Williams

      And to quote from the *top* of their blurb:

      “It’s the beekeepers dream…
      Turn the tap and watch as pure, fresh, clean honey flows right out of the hive and into your jar. No mess, no fuss, no expensive processing equipment and without disturbing the bees.
      We are excited to introduce our new invention that allows you to enjoy fresh honey straight out of your beehive without opening it. It’s far less stress for the bees and much, much easier for the beekeeper.
      “This really is a revolution. You can see into the hive, see when the honey is ready and take it away in such a gentle way”.
      It will help the bees and it will help beekeepers. They both help our world.”

      I’m sure they’re great guys, but this is really laying it on thick, clearly aimed at people who have no experience of beekeeping. Then they talk up the harvesting process as if it’s a major military operation. (What backyard beekeeper uses a leafblower on their frames for chrissake?) Bollocks.

      Anyway, they’ve already made a shedload of money. I just hope these things are made of recyclable plastic.

      • Mick Rose

        Well marketing has always been about the bollocks Steve and the anti-wrinkle cream doesn’t work on ’em either!
        When you do finally come round to the Flow way, there will be a heap of cheap ones on EBay Hehe

        • Steve Williams

          😀

  • Chris

    Thanks for sticking to your beliefs about wholistic management of livestock. Joel Salatin does the same. While it doesn’t win friends in the mainstream of monoculture, the delicate balance of superorganisms require we talk more about the bigger picture.

  • Ruben Davis

    Kirsten’s article makes complete sense if you subscribe to the notion that a bee colony is a super-organism.

    If you don’t subscribe to that notion, a better idea might be to disprove it, because that notion is there with or without Kirsten. Her condensing information and pointing out where to get the expanded form is not a cause for questioning integrity.

    Tautz’s book has a 45 page chapter about their wax home and it only adds weight to the notion that wax an integral part of the super-organism’s health. Plastic has obvious failings on 5 out of the 9 functions of a wax comb as outlined in that chapter. Kirsten’s job isn’t to retype those 45 pages of Tautz’s book, or any of the other books that examines a bee colony as a super-organism. That there may be knock-on effects for beekind is a sensible thought to consider.

    Looks like some knuckleheads want a round of applause for investing so heavily in their own ignorance. The plight of the honey-bee is way bigger than anyone’s opinion on Kirsten.

  • Bob Redmond

    Thoughtful and well-written article, very much needed perspective, thank you! As you say above, it’s not about the FLOW inventors or slamming their idea… it’s about the inordinate response to a neat DIY effort by some beeks. Why are so many people enchanted by this? Because somehow people think this is how to “save the bees.” You spell out why this ain’t necessarily so, and offer the much-needed voice of bees to the discussion. Thanks again.

  • Bhramari Devi Dasi

    GREAT article! Thank you so much for reflecting all my concerns as well.

  • BillSF9c

    I happen to use a Warré, modified for the same area/volume, but octagonal, internally, and with 9 topbars.

    I want one thing only, considered, regards to the flow-hive – Bees are known to generally very much dislike plactic comb. They usually must be well coaxed to use it. Generally, this means wax-coated at the least. If there is but one plastic comb amongst others, what are they to do but fill the air-void? In this case, wax coatings may very well not be required.

    For an old granny who insists on living alone and continuing to have bees when she can no longer deal with the harvest, this may be useful. As a gadget to allow boasting-rights for a rich-pseudo natural-ist / eco-ist with a hive and a rent-a-beek, fine. And send a link to every fellow with a square egg maker. (Seriously, for any who are unaware of these.)

    These have a place in the world. Not MY place, but it’s a big world and there are many stubborn grannies out there. Were mine still around, I might get a frame or 2 for her. As she is not . . .
    BillSF9c

  • Daniel Moore

    I’m confused, though. The normal method involves basically ripping the hive apart after filling it with smoke.

    Turning a spigot would definitely be less stressful on the hive, and they seem to be ignoring that entirely. There seem to be distinct pros and cons to both approaches, rather than making out one approach to be GREAT and the other to be AWFUL.

    Why not find a happy medium? Maybe a fake backplate that can be removed and causes the honey to flow out, while still letting the bees build their own comb?

    • only the *conventional* alternative involves ripping the hive apart to get honey… Theres lots of low intervention natural beekeeping approaches that allow you to harvest honey with very little disturbance. But the flow hive marketin doesn’t mention that… It’s comparing itself only to what seems like a very destructive harvesting approach.

    • Steve Williams

      I don’t know what some beekeepers get up to, but I think “ripping hives apart” is mainly for bears.

      The procedure for normal beeks is less Rambo-esque: during a hive inspection you notice that the bees have stored enough honey to get them through the winter (or the summer, which can be tough in Aus) and can spare some capped combs or a whole box.

      (NOTE: The hive inspection has to be done whether you’ve got a Flow Hive or a normal hive. It involves smoking and opening the hive. No way around this really, and it may be a legal requirement wherever you are. Peeking through a little window isn’t enough.)

      You check carefully that there is no brood comb in the top box. If there is, you shut the hive up and go away, cause the bees won’t leave the brood.

      If there isn’t any brood in the top box – woot! – you can fit a clearer board (one way system for bees: they can get out (down) but not in (up) and wait for 24 hours or so. You then remove the top box (hopefully largely free of bees), brush any remaining bees off of the and take the frames away. Quick and easy, light smoking only.

      With a top bar or open frame hive, all you have to do is cut the comb off of the bar/frame and return the latter to the hive, on the bottom (nadiring). With a Langstroth with full frames, well you have to do all the extraction business, and should have built a Warré instead. (OK so I’m biased: Warré rocks.)

      I know that some commercial beekeepers may do the full leafblower thing on their bees, slam the boxes about and crush loads of bees while working the hives, but then those must be beekeepers who don’t give a sh*t about bees, I guess.

      OK, so it doesn’t always work that smoothly and the bees may have cross-combed the hive, but that just involves a bit more patience to sort out. Sh*t occasionally happens.

  • Janet

    Quite apart from the horrors of plastic and industrial farming,a huge concern to me (as an amateur beek who has experienced AFB) is all those abandoned dead outs which will be robbed and spread disease to other hives. The flow hive makes it look so easy, people will leap in, may not bother to check for brood health, then give up when the SHBs etc take over- that means abandoned hives.

  • Laura

    Kirsten, thank you for writing this.

    Yours is the first article I saw that expressed some reservations about the newest social media sensation, the Flow Hive. The promo for this nascent product was sent to me ad nauseam by dozens of people. I posted your article on my FB page and was immediately attacked by people who objected to terms you use like what bees “want” and who mocked any discussion about “bee-centric thinking.” I’m a beekeeper and have written a number of articles over the years calling out conventional beekeeping practices. Often, as you find here, those ideas are vehemently attacked.

    Here’s what I wrote on my FB page in response to those yelling comments:

    I’m surrounded by conventional beekeepers who almost always transport hives to pollinate distant monoculture crops (a majority of honeybees in the US are trucked crop to crop by commercial beekeepers). Commercial and hobby beekeepers alike also regularly dose bees with synthetics meant to eliminate varroa, hive beetles, and nosema (which creates resistance in the pest and weakens the bees). We’re also surrounded by conventional agriculture wafting pollen from GMO plants and the pesticides that must be used with these GMO plants (also harmful to the 4,000 natural pollinators native to the US such as butterflies, moths, and solitary bees). On our little farm we keep hives organically and non-intrusively. Last year we harvested no honey from most of our hives, leaving it for the bees in hopes they could make it through this winter. (That’s doubtful, we’ve had weeks of sub-zero temperatures.)

    My real frustration is the Flow Hive-sponsored notion of “easy” when it comes to solutions. These problems are complex and deeply rooted in our economic system. If the Flow Hive gets more people into beekeeping that’s a plus – especially if they really dig into research about what allows honeybee colonies to thrive. In that case, maybe they’ll add their voices to the growing clamor for a more sustainable food system. That may take actual bee-centric thinking.

  • narf77

    “Inventors” of the flow hive? I think not, as this interesting post shows…the ‘flow hive’ was patented back in 1940.

    http://www.honeybeesuite.com/patent-for-flow-style-beehive-1940/

  • Sharon

    I really think it is quite pointless to argue in support of this gimmick if one has never kept bees naturally. I know bugger all about about engines and wouldn’t dream of posting on a mechanic’s forum with my opinion on some newly invented engine part.

    I’ve been keeping bees naturally for 20 years. This gimmick is wrong, and just plain impractical, on so many levels. It cannot be fit into a natural beekeeping system and plays on the heightened awareness of bee issues as well as our insatiable appetite to buy the latest consumer goods, no matter how expensive or unnecessary.

    I have a hard time imaging how it could even fit into the typical backyard beekeeper’s system that’s based on industrial beekeeping practices.

  • Georgie

    A very valuable read thank you.

    I have had a great love of bees for a long time and participated in a short intro course for apiarists a few years back, it has been something I have wanted to pursue for a while now but have never had the guts to jump in. This flow hive seemed a great idea to be able to start and therefore learn and become more comfortable with keeping a hive without the need to be so invasive on the bees. Also eliminating hot knives and spinning machines to harvest honey etc…

    I now feel torn between pursuing this as a hobby and passion and at least giving it a go with a great beginners tool “flow hive”. I have no intention of doing the wrong thing by the bees but am feeling confused as to what to do as a total beginner this seemed like such great learning tool.

    • I would suggest that as a total beginner, you read up on bee-centric beekeeping! 🙂 – it’s not hard, people all over the world do it extremely successfully, and we were all beginners once 🙂

      And it benefits bees much more than the langstroth beekeeping system (which flow frames are a part of)

  • Renée R

    Thank you for posting this. The flow hive has been making me uneasy and I couldn’t articulate why.

    A ton of my non-beekeeper-friends posted the flow hive to me as a way of saying “hey, isn’t that cool???” But inside I felt it was gimmicky and self centered.

    The purpose of it is to provide people with honey. But to me, that’s not what beekeeping is about. These creatures work endlessly and should be respected for their production/pollination. They have so many toxic variables they’re up against, does the beekeeper need to be another one?

    The relationship to the keeper should be symbiotic. We protect them, and are rewarded with some honey.. But plastic frames and INSTANT access to honey is NOT in their best interest.

    I made a photographic body of work called “Non Nobis” by photographing beekeepers all over Massachusetts. (Art on my website) The title is Latin for “we work but not for ourselves” and references their enduring labor that even the bees don’t get to enjoy.

    This style of beekeeping is getting the millennial generation (which I am a part of) interested because it’s instantly gratifying, but it’s long term benefits will be outlived when people get their new hive and realize that it’s more that just a fancy automatic honey appliance.

    Photography: http://Www.ReneeRicciardi.com

  • Steve

    Hey there. I have been to the milkwood warre beekeeping course in Sydney, and have some warre hives. I am very aware of the natural process in the hive (and agree with them).

    Just wondering, how does the flow hive go compared to a langstroth hive? Most of the negatives you talk about are already implemented in modern langstroth hives (plastic frames, reusing comb, standard size cells, queen separators, exotic queens etc).

    I see the main benefit of the flow hive to be that you don’t need to open the hive as often (to harvest honey).This its self is a good thing, because cracking the hive open all the time weakens bees: it lets hive beetle in, changes the internal hive temperature,squishes some of them, and generally stresses the bees. Potentially, could the flow system avoid some of these problems from happening as frequently(as you would still have to open the hive for inspection/add frames). Do you think the flow system is good purely in terms of honey harvest( compared the the langstroth), without having to open the hive?

    The warre hive is clearly superior for bee health and in a completely different class, but is the flow hive better than the modern langstroth in terms of bee disturbance?

    • Well, it’s hard to say – it might be an improvement (in terms of disturbance) on conventional hive maintenance + harvesting, or it might not… but regardless, it’s sortof a ‘possibly not as bad’ tool for a non apicentric beekeeping system, which is being touted (loudly, and worldwide) as the best thing for backyard beekeepers + bees ever. Which is very deeply misleading.

  • Kathryn

    In a bookshop yesterday I saw a fat volume labelled “Collins complete beekeeping” or some similar title. It was very fat. Very fat indeed. I thought “at last there will be a book on beekeeping that will discuss the pros and cons of top bar hives along with Langstroth and all its relations”. No such luck. The name of Warre was not in the index, or on any of the pages. Top bar was there only to say that frames have top and bottom bars. There was no discussion of bee behaviour. I’ve long since come to the conclusion that many, many beekeepers just like playing around with hives and bees as toys, not as small ecologies that are part of a greater one. Thank you for this article. It puts into informed words all my instinctive reactions when I first read about the “Flow hive” which seems to me the biggest risk to bee health since the skep.

  • Tara Cox

    I am most impressed by the article and highly disturbed by some of the responses. I am not a beekeper (yet) but in the past I was a zoo keeper. Having kept and bred a wide variety of insects and other creatures, the plastic’s debate was always a hot topic. Ultimately my own concenses for any captive animal is that plastics, of any variety, are detrimental to the overall health and wellbeing of your animals.

    Entomologists at the Sydney University were very helpful at the time in providing me with information (mostly along the lines of “plastics are convenient and financially cost effective for the keepers (& zoos) but toxins released from plastics because of the everyday temperture variations are ingested or absorbed by insects, and these toxins increase along the foodweb.”

    It is hard to believe that the plastic issue alone doesn’t seem to concern most people, let alone removing the natural behaviours of animals. Unfortunately it has always been my experience that people believe insects are not as cognitively aware as other creatures (incl. us humans) and us such they often get a raw deal when it comes to environmental enrichment in captive populations. The absolute best form of enrichment you can give any animal is to allow it to perform its instinctial natural behaviours.

    I think your rant is completely justified and it absolutely needed to be voiced.

  • Comments for this post are now closed. Thanks everyone for your contributions, it’s been amazing and incredibly informative to hear what everyone has to say on this subject. Ultimately, we hope you’ll never stop seeking out knowledge + learning about bees, and do what you think is best by them, for all our sakes.