To go with or against the Flow?

| 25 Jun 2015 | 02:43

All of a sudden it was everywhere. It’s probably safe to say the Flow Hive was the first piece of farm equipment ever to go viral. The Australian founders of this new technology, which allows beekeepers to tap their hives’ honey like a keg, raised their hoped-for $70,000 via Kickstarter in 477 seconds, and went on to raise more than $10 million. But while the public fell head over heels, a schism opened up in the beekeeping community.

Will this invention bring beekeeping to the masses? Or encourage lazy wannabes? And will more beekeepers necessarily be a good thing?

It will revolutionize beekeeping – for some

I thought it was impossible when I first saw a video. I actually wondered if it was a spoof. But after watching them do one frame live on Skype, I can assure you the Flow Hive is real. I was sent one box of the frames to test. My test so far is too small to be sure, but I can’t imagine that I’m going to find too many disadvantages other than price.

I’m not sure how I will manage my hives using this new technology, as it changes several things I have always done. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be using it someday; it will just be too useful not to. It is the coolest beekeeping invention since [Moses] Quinby invented the smoker we all now use [in 1810].

Since top bar hives can be built from scrap lumber and you can harvest honey with two used five gallon buckets, I can’t see that everyone is going to spend the money. But it may revolutionize beekeeping for some.

The emotional reaction of people has mystified me. I’m sure some of it is jealousy. But some of it seems to be a knee jerk reaction to something revolutionary. Revolutionary concepts seem to have that effect.

One of the naysayers’ arguments is that it will bring a lot of people into beekeeping who shouldn’t be there. I think this is a bit harsh, but there is some truth to it. Hardship and work tend to filter and change a group of people. When the pioneers had to take a Conestoga wagon from Pennsylvania and walk thousands of miles to the frontier, it took a certain kind of person to take that on, and the hardships themselves shaped that person. It was a different sort of person than the one a decade later who hopped on a train and rode it west in a couple of days. It changed the quality of people who showed up on the frontier when that filter and that crucible of hardship and work wasn’t there.

But does that mean we aren’t going to build the railroad?

Michael Bush, beekeeper and author of “The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally.”

Less steward than honey thief

At first glance, I too was mesmerized by the ingenuity of the Flow Hive. Upon further scrutiny, however, I’ve concluded that this honey-on-tap invention is more beer keg than sacred hive.

One of the selling points of the Flow Hive is that “harvesting honey is easier on the beekeeper,” eliminating 90 percent of labor, and it’s “so much easier on the bees.””

But since when is being a steward to the bees about ease and honey anyway? The golden nectar is actually not the main attraction of beekeeping, unless you’re running a commercial operation. Honey is bee food and we should be leaving most of it for them, and just taking the excess, not turning on a tap and squeezing seven pounds of honey off of every plastic frame. Traditionally, beekeepers only harvest honey once a year, which is not the impression you get from this campaign.

Call me a hippy gluten-free-granola-eating chick, but beekeeping is about communing with the bees and this is my biggest gripe with the Flow Hive invention. You become more of a honey thief at the turn of a tap while the bees do all the work.

This contraption prevents you from peeking under the lid and observing what’s actually occurring inside of the hive. Beekeepers can actually assist the bees by checking brood patterns, checking for disease, and ensuring that the queen is alive and well. None of that is encouraged or easy with the Flow Hive.

While Flow Hive is arguably a technological breakthrough, it does increase our reliance on plastic and does encourage folks to harvest honey that isn’t even ripe since the bees can’t cap it with wax like they usually do.

Really how will Flow Hive help save bees? Doesn’t it make them even more of a commodity? Not everything that has to do with bees is good for the bees.

Maryam Henein is an activist, investigative journalist, director of award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees, and founder of HoneyColony (, a magazine and marketplace that aims to put honesty back into the food supply.