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


JohnandJean said...

We had our monthly bee club meeting last week. Asked for a show of hands as to who had ordered Flow Hives up went half a dozen hands all newcomers to beekeeping.

My observations are 1. Too expensive for keepers with more than one or two hives especially if you already own extraction equipment. 2. There has been an upsurge of interest in beekeeping over the last 18 months after years of static club membership and with Flow Hive now an even bigger jump in interest. 3. Bide your time and wait 12 months and there will be a flood of Flow Hives coming on the market although they might be just a bit diseased. 4. This good idea will have an enormous impact on increasing disease spread. Not because of what it is but to whom it has been successfully marketed.

A good example of unintended consequences. The only real solution is for clubs and experienced beekeepers to introduce an active program for novices to learn good practice and get the Flow Hive inventors to help.

What is the chance of that happening?

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Steven said...

Hi John and Jean, I am one of those people who have been inspired to take up beekeeping thanks to the flow hive. I note that it in your post you mention the danger of increased spread of disease. For someone like myself it would be very helpful to have a page on the website or a post in the blog on what the dangers of spreading disease would be, particularly for the flow hive or the beginner. Thanks for any further suggestions. Steven

AJ said...

Hi Steven,

I do not know what John and Jean meant when referring to diseases, so I will go out on a limb and will try my best guess. My feeling is that the flow hive concept carries an implied promise that you can do beekeeping without looking into the inside of the hive often, or maybe not at all. just crank the handle. This is what I saw on the promo videos. It is nonsense for these reasons:

- you need to pull out flow frames to see whether the honey has been capped or else you just make a mess of everything,

- you need to look periodically into the frood box below the flow hive box and excluder (not mentioned on the video at all) to assess the queen presence and quality and to inspect for disease.

You cannot concentrate on honey alone. honey never get any disease, brood does.

The flow hive promo videos are, IMO, pushing an erroneous image of what beekeeping is all about, to the detriment of the flow hive buyers. My opinion is that #1 beekeeper's worry is to keep his/her bees alive, not harvesting method. I know something about it - I have just lost a colony due to a combination of factors - wrong location leading to a difficulty in keeping an eye on a hive (mea culpa), swarming and subsequent loss of queen for which I blame numerous honeyeaters (to me - beeeaters) around and SHB as the last nail into the coffin.

Steven, I will try to put a page on the blog as you are suggesting. It is a good idea and I am grateful for it.