26 Oct 2015

The flow hive - take 3

There were two posts on the famous flow hive.  Today at 8PM there will be a program on ABC TV about the inventor(s) and the product.  We had a chance to see the item at our last meeting (thank you Barry) and I would like to submit my current comments before today's program.

When I initially have heard about the flow hive, I thought that it is just a silly gimmick.  The moronic YouTube promos enforced this view.  A hive full of honey but no bees, honey flowing in the open to open jars with no bee in sight - this cannot be real.  The idea promoted there - just crank the handle and honey flows freely, beekeeping is easy - sounded preposterous if not outright dangerous - for the bees and the "flow beekeeper".

Close look at the concept showed that there is more to it that initially met the eye.  It is being promoted in a reasonable way.  The package on offer consists of a proper brood box Langstroth style with 8 normal frames supporting free comb, not foundation (who would think - it is natural beekeeping!), base, excluder, the "flow super", top mat and a roof.  The package has been assembled by someone who knows a bit about beekeeping.  The accompanying videos now show real hives with bees inside and harvest where honey is safely kept separate from any bees around.

It became clear to me that the flow hive is not a bee keeping concept, it is a honey harvesting concept.  The only item of new is the flow super.  There is no flow hive, there is only a flow super as a replacement for honey supers.

If it works over time and in the right hands (on this later), it may be a sensible proposition.  The design itself impressed me from an engineer's point of view.  It is clear from many details that the design is a product of many seasons and many trials and tests.  It is an impressive design where care has been taken of larger and smaller details.  Covering small but important details is a sign of good, thoughtful design.  Some design aspects puzzle me - they seem to result from some sort of experiences and knowledge that is not random.  It is even more intriguing by the fact that I could not see reasons behind details that are seemingly of importance.  Impressive indeed - from an engineer's point of view.

Now for a beekeeper point of view.  Michael Bush, a seasoned practitioner and highly regarded by many, myself including, gave the product his seal of approval.  I am not the one to dismiss Michael's opinion lightly.  Still, I am not quick to jump on the bandwagon.  I would like to see that it works well over a few seasons - the design may be prone to clogging by wax or propolis, some other issues may emerge. 

One aspect of the flow hive worries me most - their marketing angle.  I can see that an experienced beekeeper who knows what he/she is doing can save lots of time at harvest.  Such a beekeeper would know when is the right time to crank the handle and would know that there is more to bee husbandry than harvesting.  However, the flow hive seems to be marketed primarily to beginners and bee ignorants.  You get the whole package - from the base board to the roof, just install and crank whenever you feel like it.  Easy peasy, everyone can be a beekeeper now.  This is dangerous - for the bees and for decent beekeepers.  I can see backyards filed with flow hives that spread swarms around, feed SHB and generally suffer in inexperienced hands tempted by slick videos and cranking the handle at wrong times and to the detriment of the bees.  I hope that I am just a pessimistic old geezer.

I am surprised that the marketing is not directed more at professionals for whom time savings may justify the investment.  Maybe price is too high at the moment, maybe professionals are reluctant to jump into deep water.  They surely know that harvesting is just a small part of beekeeping and the cost is not justifiable.  Knowledgeable professional would be able to use the flow box without causing any collateral damage to the whole hive.

What is the future of the flow hive?  I think that it will stay around but in what segment of the beekeeping world - hard to say now.  Only time will tell.  I am not tempted, I will wait and see.

I will see what the 8PM program shows and if I see something that can be added to the above, I will do it.  I also warmly invite others to contribute to the discussion.  The more opinions the better.

Andrew, at 7:10 PM

25 Apr 2015

Small hive beetle - the clear and present danger

Small hive beetles (SHB) had arrived in Victoria.  Actually they did arrive some time ago but they get more visible over time.

SHB seem to be the gift of Olympics 2000.  First detected in 2001 around Newcastle, it since spread over NSW and Qld.  It favours warm and moist climate so it was slow to move south, but now it is in Victoria.  If you see inside or outside a hive a black beetle the size of a ladybird - this is it.

When SHB overwhelm a hive, they makes the bee colony abscond, looking for a better place.  In USA it is called "September swarming", as it usually happens in the second part of the year.  On 13 April I have received a call to remove a bee swarm.  I could not believe it - bees DO NOT swarm in Melbourne in April, but the caller sounded knowledgeable and was insistent.  I went there and here it was - a proper swarm on a roof, with scouts etc.  SHB are the only explanation I can think of.

USA beekeepers from southern states claim that for them SHB are worse than varroa.

I have no direct experience with SHB, but I saw them already in a few hives.  No losses as yet. Here is the summary of a search on available SHB info:

1. SHB can easily enter hives, bees cannot stop them even if they try.  Indeed they do their best but to no avail.

2. Once beetles are in, bees have no natural way of removing them.  They cannot kill them, they cannot kick them out.  Conclusion - beetle numbers in hives tend to grow over time with no natural limiting factor in sight.  This is really scary!!!

3. Bees chase the beetles, try to contain them in tight spots ("beetle jails") and keep them there.  They can do it, but then the beetles have sneaky ways to make bees feed them.  Keeping beetles in check keeps a number of bees away from useful work and may be a feasible strategy only up to a point.

4. Beetles themselves do not cause any damage but if a number of them lay eggs, the larvae quickly overwhelm the hive and turn it into a slimy stinking mess.

5. Hive inspections and manipulations cause general chaos and let beetles get out of jails.  This often allows them to lay eggs and to bring down the hive.  Another possible trigger for a catastrophe is if the number of beetles inside is simply too high for bees to control.

SHB are claimed to be of little concern to beekeeping in Africa, where they came from.  African bees are known to have the tendency to abscond at a drop of a hat - maybe this is their way to shake off beetles and limit SHB damage?

 These are the known strategies to fight SHB or at least minimize damage:

- beetle trapping outside hives.  Traps resemble wasp traps.

- denial of hive entry by hive design, with or without trapping, see www.beetlejail.com.  Also alternative designs may be possible, taking advantage of differences in bee and beetle size and legs length.

- beetle trapping at the hive entrance.  For current designs refer Mrs. Google.

- beetle trapping inside the hive.  Numerous traps are on the market, again refer Mrs. Google.  Traps require periodical emptying.  Some traps allow emptying from outside, some require hive opening.  Overall efficacy of traps is unknown at this time.  Traps are unlikely to get all the beetles and the question is - to what degree the beetles not trapped are capable of bringing a hive down.

Possible additional strategies:

- hive designs that leave no room for beetles to hide.  Langstroth hives seem to be a beetle paradise with numerous small tight spots.

- floor mesh with openings large enough for beetles to be pushed out.  If it works, this may allow bees to remove beetles and bees indeed try to do it.  However, it may work only if beetles cannot enter a hive from below.  Beetles can land on a horizontal surface and most likely on a vertical one as well, but surely not upside down.  It is unclear whether they could walk upside down on a reasonably smooth surface.  Possibly metal or plastic may not offer enough for beetles to hold on to so a bottom mesh say #6 (3.5 mm opening) with metal/plastic collar may just do the job.

The above is just a summary of what I could gather so far.  The April swarm really made me worry.  Please comment if you can.  If you have more information, please send a message.  Let's tackle the problem jointly.


15 Apr 2015

The flow hive - the discussion continues

I posted my reservations re. the famous (infamous?) Flow Hive in the previous post.  These reservations were sort-of ideological so maybe not convincing for many.  With this post I am trying to go a bit more down to earth to look at nitty-gritties of beekeeping with the the Flow Hive.

The Flow Hive looks very attractive but my concern is that many ignorant people with no bee knowledge will go for it expecting honey with no work involved. Something for nothing. It always looks attractive but seldom if ever works. The ignorant ones will expect that all they need to do is to crank the handle and every time they will get honey flowing out. This is what the promo videos promise, don't they? In reality they are likely to instigate robbing, breed varroa, promote SHB infection, wax moth and swarms that will annoy and irritate neighbours.

 Overharvesting is a real risk.  If all you do is to crank the handle, how will you know that comb is ready for a new harvest?  There is no need to look inside the hive or whatever, one can get stung, let's just turn the handle and see what comes out. Cranking the handle while bees are refilling the comb may yield something else than honey flowing out - bits and pieces of bees.

Responsible beekeeping (the nasty word again) requires that the hive be managed to minimize swarming.  The hive needs periodical check for diseases or a failing queen.  SHB is a new and VERY real problem.  Varroa is on a horizon, it is just a matter of time before it comes.

There is more to responsible beekeeping than pinching the honey.  I stress the word "responsible".
Promises of something for nothing are dangerous and usually end in tears.

I see the "invention" to be a dangerous concept.  But I may be badly wrong and if so - I will be the first to admit it.  Time will tell.