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.

24 Feb 2015

Flow Hive

The Flow Hive concept created quite a stir in the general community and even more so with beekeepers.  Here is a point of view I personally subscribe to.  It comes from Natural Beekeeping Trust blog (naturalbeekeepingtrust.wordpress.com).  I submit it for your consideration without any further comments:

We start with an extract from a piece that appeared on this blog a while ago:
In 1609, Charles Butler, in The Feminine Monarchy, wrote:
‘Of all insects, the bees are chief, and worthily to be most admired; being the only things of that kind which are bred for the behoove of men.’
Thus it has been ever since: bees are judged not by their intrinsic worth, nor by reference to their role in wider nature, but solely with reference to their utility to man.  The needs of the bee are subjugated to the needs of man.  Two hundred and fifty years after these words were written, just when the Victorians had outlawed the making of men into slaves for other men, allowing slaves to throw off their shackles, a clergyman named Lorenzo Langstroth invented a new shackle for the bee: the so-called moveable frame hive. Thus came about a perversion perpetrated on the bee that has been visited upon no other animal: the very body of the creature, the comb and internal organs of the Bee are henceforth to be constructed in the equivalent of a set of files in a filing cabinet, with each file capable of being withdrawn by the beekeeper at will .  The Bee thus becomes an animal dissectible at will, the equivalent of making the heart, lungs, uterus and so forth of a dog removable, and examinable, at the whim of the owner rather than only under dire veterinary need.
To continue the same line of thought, the comb that makes up the internal structure of a bee hive is made of wax, secreted from the bodies of the bees themselves. The wax is shaped into cells, of varying sizes according to the needs of the Bee. (By ‘Bee’ -with a capital ‘B’- is meant the colony as a whole, made up of individuals bees, bee brood, waxen combs and so forth.) In Victorian times, a decision was made that the variation one sees in natural comb was a waste of energy, and wax was moulded artificially into uniform patterns to ‘encourage’ the Bee to dispense with this essential variability in its internal structure. All in the name of efficiency.

In recent years, plastic has been substituted for the wax; entire combs are nowadays made of plastic! After all, why should the Bee make its innards from its own natural secretions when artificial materials can be used. Never mind that the comb forms the actual internal organs of the Bee. Anyone for a plastic heart, or a plastic uterus?

But man’s perversion of the Bee life form does not end there. We now see the invention of plastic combs that have embedded within them little rotating cams, such that, at the turn of a handle, the comb separates and out pours the honey. This invention is termed the Flow Hive and is the current rage of internet bee discussion forums. The argument goes that honey can be harvested with minimal disturbance to the hive. Setting aside questions of whether the hive will work in practice (for example: how long before the bees gum the intricate mechanism solid with propolis), what effect will this invention have on the Bee organism as a whole? The combs are, after all, an integral part of the Bee, properly created by the individual bees from their own wax. If for those combs we substitute plastic in which we embed the equivalent of a food grinder, that opens up the combs and allows their contents to ooze forth, what is the effect on the Bee?

Intensive animal farming has invented many contraptions in the name of efficiency, battery chicken cages come immediately to mind, but there are many others.  What stands out about all of these inventions is that they fail completely to see or respect the animal concerned.  Instead, the poor creature is seen as being no more than a machine, an unfeeling, mechanical contraption, there solely for the production of a foodstuff at the lowest possible economic cost. The cost to the animal counts for nothing, but cost there is, paid in silence.  It is well past time that we, as farmers and consumers, realised that animals will only thrive and remain healthy when they are allowed to be fully themselves.  How, for example, can a battery chicken be fully itself when it is prevented even from moving by the extreme confines of a battery cage?

We treat animals like this when we see nature in terms of separate elements that can be manipulated like pieces of machinery rather than as a complex whole, where all the parts matter, big and small.  As such, we miss the essential interconnectedness that exists between the elements and the whole and, in consequence, we cause great and unwitting harm.

The Flow Hive is a prime example of seeing nature in a mechanistic manner, treating the Bee as a machine to be manipulated and adjusted at will.  Thus, instead of thinking of the entire hive as a complex organism, one that includes the comb as an essential functioning part, the inventors see only a box of insects that can be manipulated to suit their desire for profit and efficiency. Their invention inserts machinery into the whole, into the body of the Bee to create a chimera, a hybrid. But, unlike the Greek myth, this is not a hybrid of two naturally occurring creatures, this hybrid is part natural, part mechanical, something literally monstrous, a cyborg.

That the inventors think of a hive as a box of insects, of individual bees to be manipulated for ease of robbing is one thing. That they pose with organic gardening magazines in their PR materials about the hive suggests they care about the earth. However, that they clearly aim at the burgeoning ‘bee-friendly market’ by suggesting that the hive promises less disturbance of the Bee, seems, to those who see the whole organism, to be a deceit. Yet, they look like nice chaps; no doubt they are. The detachment of the intellect from the heart is not a condition unique to them. It is the disease of our time, and there is no easy cure for such maladjustment.

What weighs heavily is this: a new invention in the world of beekeeping has caught the imagination of beekeepers, the public and the media in a veritable frenzy. The frenzy of easy returns, of greed. Even beekeepers of holistic repute either endorse the hive or sit on the fence, for now. This spells moral disaster, a total breakdown in our relationship with the Bee. Do we, collectively, really have no concept that the creature in our care is a complex organism that consists of the whole contents of the hive? Have we forgotten our indebtedness to this exemplary form of life, so intimately connected with our own lives, our sustenance?

The modern boxes we provide for bees have nothing to do with the needs of the Bee; they are simply the product of our materialistic way of thinking. Our goal is rationality and profit, and this has become a global problem of our times. We often fail to realize what we are actually doing when we wrongly apply our atomistic way of thinking to certain areas and, in so doing, misappropriate them.
We must change our way of thinking; we must view life holistically and not interpret it as simply the sum of its constituent parts, added together without any heed for the interdependencies and properties that come with complexity. Having done so, we, comprehending, will once more be able to revere life in all its manifestations, and this will include reverence for the Bee.

If the Bee is to recover from the onslaughts of our devilish inventiveness since the dawn of materialism, we need to help it find its way into the collective heart and mind of all humanity. We need to work together as one heart and one mind. We need to stay focussed. We need to aspire to love for the Bee and express this love, together with our understanding, in all we do.

It makes us sad therefore to see, by the responses of millions of people to the Flow Hive, that the Bee in its wholeness and beneficence exists neither in their minds nor in their hearts. It is dead to them. If beekeeping continues along these lines, if it fails to truly see the whole, the Bee will, in the not too distant future, be dead to us all.

 The Trustees of the Natural Beekeeping Trust

Please read it and consider.


13 Jan 2015

Removing bees from a compost bin - what to do and what NOT to.

The story below comes from Claire.  Very educating reading.


I recently received an email through various connections asking if I could remove a swarm from a compost bin. I thought well maybe I could see the bin and decide if the swarm removal was within my capability, never have done a swarm removal before. I had assisted in a couple of cutouts but never anything on my own.

As it turned out the person with the compost bin swarm lived in the same street I used to live in and I knew the lady so we caught up for a bit of a chat as I assessed the compost swarm. Based on what I saw when I lifted the lid of the bin I thought the swarm was fairly small.

I wasn’t able to do the removal for a further 3 weeks due to my work situation and the weather patterns. Mistake # 1 occurred about here- I should have checked the swarm again before attempting the actual removal. I had prepared 5 frames with nails and elastic bands to support the cut out comb and it was more like a 9 frame cut out!

Opened up the compost bin on the Monday evening around 6pm. Was amazed at how much larger the swarm had got in 3 weeks and thought-oh dear I don’t have enough prepared frames. But as the weather was due to change the next day and remain inclement for a few days I thought I had better proceed.

Laid out the prepared frames on the back grass and started to remove the honeycomb from the centre of the bin. There were some free combs and some others that had been joined together. All were too big to place in the frames without a bit of surgery happening. I did cut across some comb with brood in them so at least I knew there was live brood going into the frames.

I didn’t smoke the bin. The bees were placid enough and I am not very adept with the smoker so I did without it.

I managed to fill the 5 prepared frames and get them into the Langstroth 8 frame box then thought what the heck am I going to do with the still masses of bees in the bin? I  quickly strung some elastic bands across the remaining 3 empty frames and proceeded to place the remaining cut comb across the hastily strung frames.

The Langstroth box was absolutely chock a block with the cut combs. Brood was dropping out the bottom and honey was leaking from the frames. The base I sat the box on was covered in a mess very quickly. Mistake #2-I had forgotten to put the emlock strap under the base before I place the box on the base. I placed the lid on and went home.

There was still quite a few bees loitering in the compost bin but I just didn’t have any more boxes or frames to be able to put them in.

Mistake #3- I had left the box sitting on the ground near the compost bin. It was suggested to me later that I should have place the box on some temporary racking on top of the bin so it was closer to the swarm.

I left the box on the ground overnight hoping that I had collected the queen. I didn’t see her when scooping up the bees from the compost bin nor when I was placing cut comb into the frames.

When I arrived back at the house on Tuesday evening the owner informed me that not long after I left on Monday night there was a mass of bees on the grass in front of the box. I went to check and sure enough there were more bees outside than in. This was a bit of a worry as it had rained over night and it was obvious that I had missed the queen the previous night. I used a dustpan and brush to scoop up the bees from the grass. Mistake #4- the bees kept getting stuck in the bristles of the brush. It’s much stiffer than a horse hair bee brush.

I would dump the bees in the dustpan into the box and hope they would stay there. At some point I must have scooped up the queen and dropped her in the box as gradually the number of bees on the grass and on the outsides of the box decreased.

An hour or so after arriving and scooping I decided I had better close off the box and relocate it to its new abode. I put a mat on top and the lid  back on top, lifted the box, slid the base out, dropped the emlock on the ground and then placed second lid upside down over the emlock. I placed the chock a block box on the upside down lid so it was nice and square. I then attempted to use the emlock to hold the bottom lid, the base and the top lid altogether. Mistake #5-figure out how to use an emlock beforehand. I thought I had a nice tight bundle, lifted the box and the bottom lid fell off! In the very short time it had been in position it had been covered in brood that had dropped out of the combs and leaking honey as well.

Throwing caution to the wind and believing in my superior strength I picked up the whole bundle by the finger holes in the bottom lid and staggered off to the open hatch on the little red Jazz. With a great deal of luck I didn’t drop the box.

 I had earlier spread a sheet out on the floor of the hatch and I placed the box in the middle of the sheet. I wrapped the sheet very loosely round the box just in case the whole thing came apart while I was transporting it. I wanted to have the bees trapped in the sheet and not buzzing free in the car. I did consider wearing the full face bee suit whilst driving from Box Hill to Mitcham but it was very hot inside the suit and I was a bit worried someone might think I was a terrorist or a bank robber or something and call the police to attend to me!

I arrived at the new home of the bees and discovered that the recipients hadn’t quite finished weeding the space where the hive was to go and that they hadn’t quite provided a level space. In a short space of time it was all sorted and the man of the house even carried his new girlfriends in their box to their new home. Saved me the possibility of dropping the heavy box (now that’s another story to tell).

An email a day later said that the bees seemed to have settled in and there didn’t appear to be any issues. I am hoping enough brood survived and that queenie also survived.


Great stuff Claire and congratulations on the positive outcome.  And one small suggestion - for job like these never go alone.  You will always need another pair of hands and another pair of eyes.  As a minimum - to watch all these emlocks and to help carry heavy bits.