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.