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Is the “Flow Hive” as Sweet as it Appears to Bee?

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Bees

Bees

The Australian “honey tap” invention, currently funded with over $5 Million on Indiegogo, is alluring to commercial and backyard beekeepers worldwide. I have been asked to share my opinion, so here it is. Raw and unfiltered, like good wildflower honey.

Before you proceed, please see their video so you know what I’m talking about.

First of all, teaching children that honey comes out of a plastic tube is like telling them that chocolate milk comes out of brown cows (which, trust me, many children actually believe).

There are, however, three aspects of this invention that I find compelling:

1.) Lesser harm to the bees during the extraction process
2.) Smaller overall hive size (facilitating transportation for commercial beekeepers and addressing space concerns for urban beekeepers)
3.) Ease of honey harvest

Making beekeeping sound as easy as “honey on tap” raises a few red flags, though. This seems like a great way to get “bee-ignorant” people to donate $ or buy products. More than anything these guys are trying to make a buck off of the fact that bees have been in the news as of late and people don’t understand the half of it. Sadly, their product is not about the bees, the health of the environment, or you and me, no matter how sweet they make it sound. This is about MONEY! And they want more and more people like YOU to give it to them.

It is true that some bees are harmed during the conventional honey extraction process, but we are talking about a statistically insignificant loss of life (per my calculations on our farm, less than .03%/colony/year).

Country Flat Farm Honey Harvest

“Capped” Honey Comb

If we really cared about the environment, we’d be talking about how invasive Apis mellifera truly is – how this species has naturalized to every continent except Antarctica over the last 400 years, and how it has literally obliterated hundreds of native species through aggressive habitat invasion.

If we really cared about honey bees, we’d be talking about the fact that honey bees are sick because we have enslaved them and forced them to hard labor on a narrow diet of nectar and pollen from crops which they aren’t evolved to eat.  This invention takes us one step further in the direction toward mankind’s complete technological dominion over living things, which is already backfiring all around us – think antibiotic resistance, loss of biodiversity, industrial agriculture and genetic engineering.

It doesn’t matter that Dave Rastovich, the pro surfer featured in Indiegogo promotional video for the honey-keg, is an internationally-known, self-proclaimed “environmentalist” and cetacean-lover. He might surf naked with whales and dolphins, but sadly, he’s also under-informed about the realities of beekeeping. We are left to wonder if these guys paid him to stand there with a plastic tube full of honey and make their whole project look “cool” and garner a broader audience.

My concern is that a more hands-off approach to keeping bees will lead novice beekeepers to believe that they don’t need to interact with or monitor their hives as much as they really should. Monitoring them from an outside trap door/window is not sufficient, especially considering the diverse afflictions they currently face. More novice beekeepers keeping bees sloppily all over the planet will only encourage the viruses, fungi, pathogens, parasites, diseases and other biochemical disorders that the rest of us are trying to bring under control through responsible, natural, small-scale beekeeping.

Producing honey is becoming more difficult every year and I highly doubt that the thousands of novice beekeepers who buy in to this seductive pitch will produce more than a few drops with their “miracle” hives. Meanwhile, Cedar Anderson and Co. and the plastics manufacturers make a bundle.

Honey Bee Pollinating Meyer Lemon Blossom

Honey Bee Pollinating Meyer Lemon Blossoms

Another question: if you’re not in a warm place like Australia, how do you get the honey to actually “flow” without heating your entire hive up to 80+ degrees Fahrenheit? If/when your bees actually produce honey, manual extraction will still be necessary during times of year when the bees are producing honey but it’s still to cold for the honey to flow.

Full disclosure: Honey extraction has been an important cultural component of my farm education. Since I was a kid, we always had family and friends, and now beekeeping students, down to the farm to help with the process. The work itself, though cumbersome at times, gives us an opportunity to celebrate the bees in ways that we otherwise wouldn’t. Most importantly, manual honey extraction forces us to look through the entire hive to monitor the health of every frame.

What’s the problem with a little bit of honest blood, sweat and tears anyway? These guys make it sound like the process of extracting honey is onerous beyond belief. The people I work with who are learning about growing food on their own actually want to work, want to get covered in honey and clean up the mess, not just flip a switch and have it all done for them!

Honey Comb

“Uncapped” Honey Comb

The honey extraction process also allows us to extract the wax, which we use to make candles in the Winter time. Wax buildup and extraction is another concern I have about this “miracle honey box.”

Finally, I don’t like the idea of the frames being made out of plastic – it’s just more junk destined for the landfill that won’t break down for centuries and more petrochemicals in contact with the food we feed our children.

My dad and I mill the wood for our frames out of salvaged Redwood when we can and always build them by hand to ensure quality and durability. Even if one doesn’t take it to this degree of self-sufficiency, plastic can be avoided easily with traditional, pre-assembled Langstroth hives and natural wax “foundation” comb.

I guess I’m a little skeptical about a hive that makes producing honey sound so easy, but I wish them luck and appreciate their dedication to being kind to the bees.

If you want to see honey extracted the “old fashioned” way, we’re doing it on June 20 this year in Big Sur.

My two cents,

Farmer Ben

Bee and Rose Blossom

Bee and Rose Blossom