Backyard Beekeeping Takes Off, But Attracts Criticism Too

Flow Hive is an alternative to the traditional beehive, one that promises to let people harvest honey with “minimal disturbance” to the bees.

The old-school method of honey harvesting typically involves a traditional Langstroth hive, named after its inventor, Lorenzo Langstroth, a Philadelphia clergyman who designed it in the mid-1800s. Inside, movable boxes are stacked vertically, each with eight to 10 frames on which honeybees can build their combs.

To extract honey from a Langstroth hive, you start by removing the frames one by one, brushing the bees loose (inevitably squashing some of them) and using a serrated knife to scrape the wax covering the cells, all while working hard not to stir up a cloud of angry defenders. Then you use a device, either hand-cranked or powered by a motor, to spin the frames using centrifugal force until the honey runs out of the cells and is drained into buckets. It’s a process that can take hours or even days.

Though you may still crush a wayward bee or two, the Flow Hive dramatically changes the harvesting process. It looks similar to the Langstroth on the outside, and in fact, it borrows a lot of features from it, but the Flow Hive’s frames have preformed partial honeycomb cells made of plastic.

When the beekeeper inserts a tool and turns it (sort of like a beer tap), the cells in the comb form channels that let the honey flow down and out of the hive. For the beekeeper, the benefit is that you can harvest the honey without opening up the hive and disturbing the bees.

But the hive has stirred up controversy among traditional beekeepers, starting with its steep cost. The original Flow Hive starts at $699, and the latest iteration of the hive, the Flow Hive 2, is a staggering $749. That compares with around $200 for a standard Langstroth kit.

But the most contentious debate concerning the Flow Hive has to do with the hands-off mentality surrounding it.

While an unattended garden is a problem only for its owner, a lack of effort with beekeeping can be downright catastrophic. While colony collapse isn’t completely understood, beekeeping practices play a huge part in it. Keepers who don’t regularly check on the health of their bees can easily allow the spread of pathogens to other nearby healthy hives. Novices who aren’t aware of the challenges, or who aren’t willing to put in the effort, risk destroying their own hives — and other hives miles away from them.

Source: A swarm to backyard beekeeping