I have never kept bees, though I have wanted to for some time now. So when a shiny new bandwagon came barrelling towards me, I hopped right on and pre-purchased a Flow Hive as part of the phenomenal Indiegogo campaign that broke records in a matter of days. In case you didn’t know, two guys in Byron Bay came up with a new design for harvesting honey from a beehive by simply turning on a tap. They created an Indiegogo campaign to raise $70,000. Within 72 hours they’d raised over $2 million breaking previous Indiegogo records for both the one and the two million dollar marks in the shortest time. It caused quite a stir.
Beekeeping forums are buzzing with heated debates about this new design with the primary concern of objectors being the bees’ welfare. This is in spite of the designers promoting one of the features of their new hive as reducing disturbance to the bees. Granted, this could just be marketing hype on the part of the inventors, but anyone who knows just a little about traditional methods of harvesting honey from a beehive will be able to see the truth of this statement when they see how the Flow Hive works. So, what’s the problem?
‘the Flow Hive will serve to reduce a complex and involved process that requires skill, knowledge and, above all, patience to a unthinking and even ignorant exercise focused on the honey and not the bees.’
‘it is not simply the invention per se that is to be deplored, it is the mindset of casual exploitation that is behind it […] This is unthinking consumerism at its worst. This mindset spells moral disaster, a total breakdown in our relationship with the Bee.’ [Their emphasis]
Important to the Natural Beekeeping Trust is the fact that the organism, the Bee (with a capital B), includes all the individual bees and the hive. From their perspective, traditional man-made beehives are a ‘perversion of the Bee life form’ and the Flow Hive is worse for ‘embed[ing] the equivalent of a food grinder’.
I would say that it is generally true that the further we move away from nature, the worse things get and the more we move back to nature, the better things become. I make this sweeping statement to show that I am at least philosophically aligned with the Natural Beekeeping Trust. On this basis I would agree that we need to watch closely to observe what impact this new design might have but I would suggest we need to watch the big picture as well as the small one of the individual organisms.
By the big picture, I’m talking about the holistic picture that is also important to the Natural Beekeeping Trust, but I see it differently. To them, the success of the Flow Hive represents a ‘frenzy of easy returns, of greed.’ That is probably true for some but it is definitely not the whole picture.
I am interested in being more connected to the natural world. This includes producing food on my own bit of land by the most natural methods I can manage. I believe that animals and plants should be allowed to live as naturally as possible for the best outcomes for the whole ecology. Because of this interest, I am well aware of the importance of bees in my garden and to life in general and of the global bee crisis. These are the reasons that I have wanted and planned to keep bees.
When this new design for a beehive came along, that offered minimal interference with the bees and ease of harvesting honey, instead of buying a new flat-screen TV, I jumped right on board and purchased a beehive as have thousands of others around the world. Questions of the welfare of the Bees notwithstanding, myself and many like me have decided to join the beekeeping club. Thousands of people, many as ignorant of beekeeping as myself, have put their hands up to say I want to take care of bees.
I have no doubt that some of these bee newbies are only interested in exploiting the bees for their honey; it’s sad but true. Others have good intentions but will fail, for one reason or another, to take proper care of the bees. But some, hopefully I, will learn how to take good care of the bees. This will in turn require taking good care of the garden to ensure the bees are well fed; the knock on effects go on from there because that’s the way a healthy ecology works. Overall, there is likely to be an increase in beekeepers, including the good kind. This is the part of the big picture, the holistic view, that the Natural Beekeeping Trust and others like them seem to be missing.
The current situation looks a bit like this: thousands of potential beekeepers have been motivated to cross the line to become actual beekeepers. Some of the existing beekeeping society have met these people and told them, your technology is callous and cruel and should not be allowed. How do you think the bee newbies might feel about this? I ask this because the number of bee newbies who become exploiters, failures or beneficent beekeepers is not set.
I propose an alternative approach to this situation. Granted some beekeepers take exception to this new technology, (for all I know they may be completely correct in their concerns), but consider for a moment, just temporarily, putting those concerns to one side. Doing this would allow these keepers of the knowledge to accept newcomers with grace and good will. Then bee newbies like myself can be taught how to properly take care of the Bees and in time we can be taught about objections to the Flow Hive or other technologies. We could be converted. At the very least, more Bees will receive better care and attention. At best there will be thousands more people who support the natural beekeeping cause.
The problems raised about the Flow Hive are not actually to do with the technology itself but how it affects peoples’ relationship with the Bees. That relationship will be more deeply shaped by the people who teach beekeeping than any bits of wood and plastic can ever do.
If you’re an experienced beekeeper who objects to Flow Hives, I urge you to hang onto those objections and accept the foibles of our ignorance for now. Teach us to be good beekeepers and, in time, at least some of us will learn to think as you do too. It’s up to those that already hold the beekeeping knowledge to ensure more bee newbies become good beekeepers. Cast aspersions on peoples’ choice of technology or help them to make better choices in the future. You can see people as the problem, some of them are, but you can also see them as part of the solution. It’s up to you.
Experienced beekeeper or bee newbie like me, please feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below.
UPDATE: I suggest you also read the comment by David below. I found it very helpful.