Editor’s Note: This is not a place for ad hominem attacks, but rational commentary and concern. Several experienced beeks have shared their concerns about the Flow Hive setup, even after watching all promotional material.
To be clear: experienced beekeepers are on both sides of the fence. We share their opinions below, but that share does not necessarily indicate endorsement.There certainly are pros and cons, and so we encourage you to do as much research as possible before making the purchase.
We’ve also linked to articles on other sites with more opinions and to an unauthorized Flow Hive Facebook group where you can interact with others. We have also reached out to Flow Hive representatives to give them the chance to respond to these concerns.
On February 15, I had two friends post a link to my wall of Facebook. The same link. In the following seven days I’ve had it shared onto my wall 7 more times. Not to mention the countless times I’ve been tagged in comments. It stirred my curiosity. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. The Flow Hive. It seems too good to be true. Honey on tap. You can see the video of how it works here.
It’s an innovative beehive invention that claims to revolutionize the way honey is collected. An Australian father and son team have created a new honey super that allows you to extract honey without disturbing the hive.
The Flow Hive frames can be designed to fit conventional beehives so it would seem you can just use the flow frames in your existing hive. The Flow Hives have been field tested for the past 3 years and the reviews sound promising.
With the Flow Hive there is no need to dismantle the hives and remove the frames for extraction. No smokers, no centrifugal extractors, no back-breaking work of pulling honey supers. Instead you just turn a lever which opens the channel within the honeycomb and the honey drains to a pipe at the back of the hive directly into your container of choice. Meanwhile, back in the hive, the bees are virtually undisturbed as the honey drains from under their feet. When you’re finished draining you just turn the lever back and the cells are reset and ready to be refilled. The bees then uncap the combs and start again without being disturbed.
This eliminates much of the labor involved in harvesting honey. You don’t even really need to be present. As a matter of fact, they say there is potential for remotely activated or automatic honey extraction.
Stuart and Cedar Anderson, the father/son inventors, hope to raise significant capital to begin manufacturing the Flow Hive but acknowledge that “You never know what will happen when you put a new idea up on a crowd funding site.” There has been much anticipation and the unveiling will happen any minute. As I’m writing this I’m switching back and forth to their Facebook page to see when the crowd funding goes live. It just went live and here is the link. In the first few minutes they’ve surpassed their goal of $70,000! This is definitely something to keep an eye on, perhaps even out in our own fields.
Criticisms of the Flow Hive
The following are summaries of opinions shared with us on Facebook. They are not necessarily endorsed by Keeping Backyard Bees, Mother Earth News, or Grit Magazine.
- Robbing may be a concern.
- Exorbitant cost.
- May not be appropriate for colder climates (other than Australia, where it is produced).
- Possible legality issues.
- May encourage predators, and give them even easier access to honey.
- May be more efficient at honey harvesting, but may be more disruptive to the “superorganism” that is the hive.
- Bees may not have enough space to properly move and clean the hive.
- As such, the Flow Hive system with its enhanced production has been likened to battery-caged hens.
- In-hive pests (such as varroa or hive beetles) may be different in different climates (ie: United States vs. Australia, where the Flow Hive was invented and produced).
- Disease: Plastic may absorb chemicals (such as miticides) used in consequence.
- The tubes (if improperly sealed) are a pipeline for ants, wasps, or raiders.
- Images don’t really show the possible interaction between bees themselves and the deposit jars.
- May rob the hive of too much honey when bees need it most.
- Inexperienced beekeepers may think this is a simple solution and/or believe that it will eliminate the maintenance that accompanies beekeeping.
- A worry about moisture content in the honey produced (ie: the need to still inspect hives, which defeats much of the purpose of the flow system).
- Bees prefer naturally-built comb, not plastic. May stress them out and/or disturb their natural seasonal cycles.
The following are longer quotations by various beeks of various opinions.
Brisbane Backyard Bees –“I like to view a hive of bees as a complex organism which includes the comb, an essential functioning part, constructed from flakes of wax produced from the bees’ abdomens [called the “superorganism”]. And our job as humans: to support this organism to perform as naturally as possible whilst sharing the harvest that the bees so graciously give up.
“The Flow Hive is a machine with moving parts and plastic comb. It may well fit our needs as consumers needing to have everything on tap – when we want it – now. And it certainly moves us one step further away from getting our hands dirty with the creatures that contribute to our food system. But what would the bees make of it? Does it support the natural cycles of this “superorganism”?
“Flow Hive honey extraction is less disturbing for the bees, but it needs to be emphasised that honey extraction is only one reason for opening a hive – there are maintenance tasks and biosecurity considerations.”
Blaine Nay – “Now, along comes a flashy new invention that presents itself as an effortless method of harvesting honey: The “Flow” hive. While the website does briefly mention that reponsible beekeepers should still conduct regular inspections, the website seems to imply that all one need to do to bee a beekeeper is to turn a spigot. Our honey bees need and deserve better care than simply opening a spigot. They need regular inspections and, when appropriate, treatments.”
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?”
Kostas: “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.”
Jonathan: “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.”
Kyle: “I am a certified bee keeper and can say IF it works like indicated it will be a positive for beekeeping since most over harvesting and colony disruption by robbing causes all sorts of issues even if done properly. The best beekeepers I know have all kinds of issues especially with wax moths and varroa. In the best circumstances you can lose hives even if everything is done right. If you really want to help bees stop using your Neonicotinoid insecticide and GMO plants modified to naturally excrete this substance.”
- Going Against the Flow: Is the Flow Hive a Good Idea? (Milkwood)
- An Ingenious Invention that Turns Beehives into Flowing Honey Taps (Wired)
- The Culmination of Callousness? (Natural Beekeeping Trust)
- Should You Go With the Flow? (Honey Bee Suite)
- Honey on Tap Video Review (The Bee Vlog)
- Flow Hive Frenzy (Simple Bees)
- Thoughts on the Flow Hive (bee’s wing)
- New Invention – Flow (Reddit discussion)
- Flow Hive Facebook Group (unauthorized group)
- Flow Hive FAQ