People keep asking me what I think of the new 'Flow Hive', so here are my thoughts.
First, it is not a new hive, but simply an add-on to a conventional hive - really just a set of special frames, and only for honey, not brood. This removes many objections on the grounds of 'propolis jamming it up' and 'eggs laid in plastic foundation' - they are simply not going to happen if it is used correctly.
Do I approve of it? Only insofar as I approve of any conventional beekeeping, which I don't very much. I don't like plastic in hives - particularly plastic foundation - and I don't like unnecessary disturbances in the lives of bees, BUT- this device actually reduces such disturbance, as well as removing the need for a centrifugal extractor and other extraction/bottling equipment, so from that point of view, it is 'greener', provided it has a long life, which it should have, given that the moving parts only move infrequently and with little load stress.
As a piece of thoughtful engineering I think it is remarkable. I was invited to look at it and contribute my thoughts about 6 months before the launch, and while I expressed some reservations - particularly about crystallization of honey in the combs - I could see that, for some people, this was what they had been waiting for to take up beekeeping.
Given that most people live in urban locations, the storage problems generated by conventional equipment are considerable, especially when much of it is only used occasionally. Add to this the fact that bees can become very defensive when whole supers of honey are removed from their hives, which can put people off keeping them in populated areas or near their own house, then this device could be a boon to the backyard beekeeper who wants to disturb her bees as little as possible.
There have been accusations of 'exploitation' and even 'cruelty' associated with this product, but I suggest it is rather less exploitative or cruel than the violent methods currently used by commercial beekeepers to take honey - such things as bee-blowers result in the deaths of millions of bees during the honey-taking operation. This device enables honey to be taken in modest quantities without opening the hive.
Lastly, there is the question of 'attitude': promoters of the Flow Hive have been accused of 'callousness' and having a 'mindset of casual exploitation'. I must say that this is not borne out by my correspondence with the inventors, who appear to have bee welfare very much at heart.
Used correctly and with due care, this device may well increase people's awareness and appreciation of the lives of bees, and reduce the casual disruption promoted by so many beekeeping organizations. By enabling the removal of some of the honey at the right times, bees are able to top up the cells without having to suffer the violent removal of honey supers and the collateral damage this entails.
'Attitude' is not something that is derived from or dependent upon any particular device. A tool is a tool: an axe can be used for chopping wood or for killing someone. If people are of a mind to exploit nature, then they will find ways to do so. If they learn to appreciate the natural world, then they will treat it with respect, regardless of the tools they happen to be using.
I still prefer to do my beekeeping in top bar hives, because of their simplicity of construction and use and bee-friendly design, but given that many people prefer to use movable-frame hives, I see this device as a possible alternative to the 'box-removal and centrifugal extraction' method that may appeal to some beekeepers.
Phill Chandler is a natural beekeeper and is pioneering the reintroduction of the native black bee into the UK. For information about his work and free downloads see The Barefoot Beekeeper.
For more information see The Flow Hive.
To read more about tree hives, log hives and natural beekeeping check out Permaculture 83
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