FlowFrameIf you are a beekeeper then, of course, you have. Ad nauseam. One weekend last February you could not swing a LOLcat without hitting an enthusiastic article about the apparatus at left, part of a system to drain honey from a hive without opening it. The articles were mostly the same few news reports being repeated along with excited blog posts by non-beekeepers with many links to the marketing video. Beekeeper opinions seemed harder to find except for a few surprising testimonials on the company site. Perhaps, as we were, the beeks were getting emails from friends and family asking for an opinion.

Before we could finish researching and mulling for our readership the energetic Emily Scott scooped us with a detailed report including a link to the the patent and a poll of her readership. Other bee bloggers slowly and thoughtfully chimed in, such as Rusty at Honey Bee Suite or globe-trotting beekeeper Kris Fricke or this beekeeping vlogger or vlogging beekeeper whose work we shall be watching.

That left little for our inexperienced selves to add to the discussion and the furor seemed to die down. No doubt there will be more once the early adopters start using the devices but until then it is beekeeping as usual.

But then the flow hive was brought up during a question and answer session at the SEMBA conference in March. We ourselves were asked about it at the April meeting of Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers. A co-worker emailed us in early June. A friend asked our niece the week after. Someone asked our beekeeping host at a party near June’s end. A week ago a store-owner brought it up to us as we were chatting at the register. It appears with such regularity that we went looking fruitlessly for a widget to add to our layout that would show "Days since anyone mentioned that flow-hive".

So for the sake of our non-beekeeping readership who does not regularly read all the bee blogs we do, we should at least point to a few references, which we have just done two paragraphs ago, and perhaps organize our own bullet-pointed summary after all if only to show off the cute little animated gif on which we spent so much time. The longer we delay this post the less of its dwindling relevance it will have and we will have completely wasted our time on the rough drafts. So here we go, succumbing to the sunk cost fallacy for any of our readers who still may care:

  • First of all, we give the inventors (in a warm, sunny part of varroa-free Australia) the benefit of doubt in believing their reported experiences. They are surely honest beekeepers but just as surely someone has committed marketing on their behalf.

  • Honey flowing into an open jar (or onto a stack of pancakes as in the video) seems to be asking for a robbing frenzy in the beeyard although the inventors claim their bees take no notice. The patent mentions the more credible draining into sealed containers.

  • Not all honey flows readily. Ivy and heather are notoriously difficult to harvest. Even more common clover or multifloral honey can be reluctant to flow in cooler temperatures.

  • How can the beekeeper decide if the frame is ready for harvest? Peeking in the device’s window just shows the edge of the comb. Hefting the box to judge by weight is not quite opening the hive but neither is it leaving the bees undisturbed.

  • It seems to be promoting the wrong-headed notion of a beehive as just a noisy honey jar with a tap like a beer keg. This is probably what provokes the most visceral negative reaction.

  • flowFrameIt is, one must admit, mechanically clever. There, we have said something nice about it.

  • The mechanism is expensive. If it catches on one would expect the price to drop but it is unlikely to become inexpensive. For a commercial beekeeper one per colony would be a significant investment.

  • Plastic mechanisms are prone to wear and breaking. How long before an expensive replacement is needed?

  • Bees have a well documented reluctance to use plastic foundation. How well will they take to these plastic cells? One could counter this pessimism by pointing out the success of some beeks at using entire polystyrene hives.

  • For a high price it seems to merely make more convenient the least difficult part of beekeeping. Honey harvest can admittedly be messy and sticky but becomes less so with practice.

As keepers of non-conventional beehives it is hard to see how we could retrofit this device. And, as the skepticism in our comments indicates, we are neither inclined to try nor tempted to go Langstroth for the sake of using it. Perhaps this will sweep the world and revolutionize beekeeping as the marketing claims but at risk of being old sticks-in-the-mud we only foresee a brief wave of badly kept bees before the idea is abandoned.

And you kids should get off our lawn.

Last Tuesday was a good bee day. Dr. Milbrath delivered two nucs of her Michigan bees, helped us hive them in Beatrix and Dorcas, and inspected Clarissa, whose original five frames, a mix of brood frames and food frames, and the four empty bars we had added have become nine combs full of brood. We at once added another four empty bars and today replaced the empty baggie of syrup with a fresh one. There is a population explosion due and much comb to be built.

The other bit of good news is that our experiment of chamfering the ends of the ridge on our top bars seems thus far to be successful. There was no attachment to the sides, not even on the beautiful rectangular sheet of comb that came to within a perfect bee space of each wall and floor. (Sorry not to have a picture.) Even Dr. Milbrath was impressed. We shall not yet declare victory but preliminary results are most encouraging.

a2b2We finished the day packing a chicken-raspberry-chèvre salad and dining with our beekeeping niece (who was also getting a nuc) al fresco at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, followed by a meeting of the Ann Arbor Backyard Beekeepers. Before the meeting proper Dr. Milbrath demonstrated how to monitor varroa using a soon-to-be-available kit for performing a sugar roll. The main speaker for the night presented information on Russian bees and the breeders who raise them. Concluding the meeting was a quick review of varroa treatment options. Then homewards, happy in again having all hives occupied.

QuinceBudsNow that we are no longer beeless and Michigan spring is truly upon us (although frost is not out of the question) it is time for one of those tedious inventories of our various plantings. We begin with the joyful observation that, three bloom-less years after planting, the quince tree has a great many rosy buds. We can hardly wait to see our bees on the coming blooms. And then dare we hope for a small crop to poach?

By contrast the apple trees are disappointing with one mere blossom on the Fuji and none at all on the Calville Blanc d’Hiver. All three of these are getting large enough that we ought to remove their protective cages while we can still somewhat easily lift them off.

Among the Asian pears our Shinseiki, having survived the winter, is leafing out nicely while the recently replaced Hosui, the original having died during winter, has finally grown tired of its pretense of being a stick and its lone green bud has developed into a few wee leaflets. Unfortunately a tiny green caterpillar reduced their number before we crushed it.

BushCherriesGreenBushCherriesRipeningThe bush cherries happily survived being transplanted and some of them finally bloomed for the first time. Alas our bees did not get here in time to take advantage. Nevertheless we see fruit forming on two of the shrubs, one riper than the other in spite of all getting the same amount of sun. With so small a crop the birds are sure to get them all. Not that we mind too much.

The mulberry has not yet leafed out but the green buds promise it shall. We seem to have neglected to mention that our first mulberry, Wellington, did not make it through its first winter and was replaced by the current Oscar.

The lindens are both looking good although the tupelo seems to have died. The tiny remnant of the shortened-by-nibbling, more-twig-than-tree locust has sprouted greenish growths and, as Granny Weatherwax might say, aten’t dead yet. Sadly the same can not be said of the even tinier and much more shortened-by-nibbling bee bee tree. It is now a been been.

ClarissaWithAnkleBitersClarissaAndNucClarissa has bees! Yesterday morning we picked up our anklebiter nuc but sadly the rain discouraged us from trying to hive them right away. Instead we sat the nuc on a bench in front of Clarissa and opened the entrance. This would allow bolder foragers to take advantage of breaks in the rain to orient on the correct general surroundings even though the home they have known would soon vanish.

With the forecast that the morning rain would very likely be followed by more rain all day and tomorrow, we took advantage of a sudden appearance of the sun to transfer the bees from nuc to hive and give them a bag of syrup to encourage comb building on the empty top bars. Each frame being lifted set off a loud buzzing but there were no attempts to sting or chase us. They seem quite mellow and the industrious girls are already bringing in pollen.

BevelContrastAlso Clarissa is using our new, experimental top bars. Hoping that the bees would be less likely to attach comb to the sides of the hive if the guiding ridge did not extend all the way from wall to wall, we used a compound miter saw to bevel each end face of the ridge at a 30° from vertical angle starting 3/8" in. The pictures show the difference between an unbeveled and beveled bar.

If they still attach as much as before then we can sigh and continue to use the simpler unbeveled top bars. Otherwise our batch process to make them will acquire another step.

Either way we are rejoicing in having bees again with more to come.

Milwaukee Electric HackzallIt is hard to write this post without sounding like a hyperbolic infomercial but we are that eager to spread the joyful news about an especially useful tool combination, the Milwaukee 12-Volt Hackzall with the Lee Valley pruning blade. The two make a fantastic woodcutting team, which only a lightsaber could beat. No arborist should be without one! (And extra blades and batteries, of course.) But if you need more than our enthusiasm to be convinced then read on. Or if you really don’t care then, sorry, feel free to read something else.

Much of our outdoor work involves removing storm-fallen trees (especially from our driveway) or making and maintaining trails by pruning or felling saplings. The mighty gas-powered chainsaw is the traditional tool for these operations but we are ever reluctant to use it. It may be the most intrinsically dangerous tool we use. In addition it is noisy and smelly and never seems to go very long without requiring the chain to be sharpened, either a tedious procedure or trips to the hardware store. The chain also requires attention to its lubrication and tension. And, of course, there is the awkward starting ritual of the two-stroke gasoline engine.

We addressed the noise and smell and avoided the starting ritual by trying a small cordless electric chainsaw but it proved underpowered and ran out of charge quickly. In addition it still had the dangerous and quickly dulled chain as well as the messy chain oil. Larger and more powerful models than ours are available but they are also significantly more expensive and we were reluctant to invest in a trial.

We had largely reverted to using a manual bow saw for nearly all of our sawing. Requiring more effort (which we shall call an exercise program) it is much quieter and less treacherous and actually seems to cut nearly as quickly as a chainsaw until one’s arms tire. Also dull blades are fairly easy to change for new. Still we wished for the convenience of a safe and effective saw powered by something other than ourselves.

Having successfully used a corded reciprocating saw within extension cord range of the house we considered whether a cordless version would serve. Our search turned up the Hackzall, a reciprocating saw without the usual nose heavy shape. Better balanced, it can somewhat safely be used one-handed. It reintroduces some noise to our sawing but no smells, no lubrication, and no sharpening. Blade changes are trivially easy, requiring no tools. Twist a collar, pull out the old blade, put in the new, and release the collar. It accepts any of the usual Milwaukee blades and their knockoffs for its intended rough carpentry uses (We used it during our cutout adventure.) and long “pruning” blades are available although the ones we tried worked best on dead wood.

Lee Valley pruning blade for reciprocating sawsFeeling satisfaction with our new powered sawing capabilities we achieved genuine elation when we discovered the Lee Valley pruning blade. It resembles the kind of blade that is usually attached to a telescoping pole pruner but has a shank to fit most reciprocating saws, happily including the Hackzall. Cutting as easily through green wood as dead, with the curve of the blade helping to pull the wood into the cut, it is removing much of the tedium from our ongoing job of clearing the abundant dead wood of windy years and ash borer.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 72 other followers