By Kim Robson:
With the recent rise in popularity of backyard beekeeping and growing concerns about colony collapse disorder, more and more people are trying their hands at beekeeping. A crowdfunding campaign for a new beehive meant to simplify the honey extraction process is gaining a lot of attention.
The Flow Hive allows beekeepers to extract honey from the hive by simply turning a tap. The crowdfunding website IndieGoGo, which is hosting the campaign, says the Flow Hive has raised $5.7 million dollars so far. Over 1,000 backers have donated $600, the minimum amount that promises a full hive in return.
Cedar and Stuart Anderson, a father-son team, explain that the Flow Hive will free beekeepers from the laborious process of harvesting honey. Casual and expert beekeepers are shown in their video saying that the Flow Hive will “revolutionize” beekeeping.
But some apiary experts are speaking out against the product, with one even calling it an “expensive gimmick.” They say the Flow Hive is overpriced and the promotional video vastly oversimplifies the complexities of beekeeping. California beekeeper Mike Harrel went on record, saying, “I don’t see it being affordable, sustainable or really a long term solution to harvesting honey.” Community-based San Diego beekeeper, Hilary Kearney of Girl Next Door Honey, also disapproves of the hive.
Andrew Cote, president of the New York City Beekeepers’ Association, says, “It’s a rather expensive gimmick, and it would not behoove any serious beekeeper to buy this product. There’s a lot more to keeping bees than turning a tap,” Cote continued. “I am a bit concerned that this may result in sort of a Christmas puppy or an Easter bunny syndrome.”
There’s a lot more to beekeeping than turning a tap. Gene Brandi, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation, cautioned against buying a hive just because it looks cool and easy. “I think you need to have the interest and the passion in bees first before you even think about buying one of these things,” said Brandi.
So, what is the problem with this hive? For starters, harvesting is just one small part of beekeeping, Cote explained. In order to properly check on their hives’ health, apiarists should regularly suit up and look for a water source, healthy brood patterns, and whether there are signs of disease or parasites. Serious problems can result from failing to do so, he said.
For instance, if a beekeeper forgets to provide a water source for his bees, they may all swarm his neighbor’s bird bath or swimming pool. Overcrowded bees will also swarm and leave the colony by the masses. “It’s a problem for other people when 20,000 bees land somewhere,” Harrel noted. Diseased bees can spread illness to other hives within a three-mile radius.
The Andersons warn potential backers that keeping bees requires work. “We’ve always stressed that people who buy a Flow Hive need to know what they are doing,” Cedar Anderson has said. He recommends that new beekeepers contact their local bee clubs to educate themselves.
Next, experts see flaws in the hive’s design, too. Beekeepers will not be able to check whether their combs contain overripe fermented honey, watery nectar, or imperfectly cured honey. Anderson counters that the Flow Hive’s clear wall actually makes it easier to see if the honey is ready. Still, a keeper can see only the combs that are against the clear wall, not combs in the interior of the hive.
Crystallization is yet another concern. “If the honey crystallizes in the cell, it’s going to tank,” Harrel said. But Anderson argues that bees tend to chew out any cells jammed with crystallized honey. He did concede that “It’s true our Flow Frames don’t solve the issue of [crystalized] honey.”
Finally, apiarists take issue with Flow Hive’s suggestion that it’s an affordable beekeeping option when it actually costs more than a traditional Langstroth hive. Anderson claims his hive design will free beekeepers from paying for costly extraction equipment. But most beekeeping associations will cheaply rent or lend for free their extraction equipment, so a casual beekeeper wouldn’t even have to purchase it outright. And most beekeepers harvest honey only once a year, so it’s not as though the extraction process is taking over one’s life.
It’s wonderful that people want to help support bees and fight against their decline; however, buying a nifty new gadget isn’t the best way to do it. “Bees need help surviving through the issues they have, not by making honey collections simpler for a backyard beekeeper,” says Harrel. An intrepid new apiarist should take classes and learn everything about how hives work so they can be responsible caretakers.