Thoughts on the Flow Hive: a pre-emptive review

If you are into bees and beekeeping and you use social media then you have probably come across the Flow Hive. In the days since the 1:41 min video announcing the hive was released, it has exploded across the Internet attracting an astounding 1.5 million views and more than 70,000 shares on Facebook.

Claims of revolutionary advances in beekeeping are rightly met with scepticism and conversations on social media about the Flow Hive have been no exception. Questions, concerns, and doubts have jostled in comment sections with the hope and happiness that this innovation inspires. Indeed what the Flow Hive seemingly offers is the holy grail of honey production; an accessible, painless way of harvesting the sweet golden goodness that humankind has coveted for so long.

While hive innovations are nothing new many are simply impractical or in the realm of the unattainable. The Phillips concept Urban Beehive for example, is suggestive of utopian sustainability in which minimal inputs result in a cornucopian bounty of readily consumable honey. The hive is however part of what Phillips describes as a ‘far-future design concept’ intended to stimulate dialogue about the role of technology and design in sustainable urban living.

Having seen a prototype of the Flow Hive design I can vouch for its ingenuity. The mechanism that enables the flow of honey directly from hive to jar is indeed inventive and is clearly the product of much experimentation and thought. As the hives’ creators Cedar and Stuart Anderson say, it is “…something we have been working on for a decade”.

Flow Hive is an innovation that perhaps evokes Rev. Langstroth’s now ubiquitous, box-like patent of 1852. Langstroth’s hive too promised a vision of honey production that enabled the beekeeper “to obtain his [sic] surplus honey in the most convenient, beautiful and salable forms.” langstroth-hive

But what people claim is missing from these narratives, like from so many hives across the world, is the bees. A concern that advances like the Flow Hive heralds an end to the art of beekeeping are legitimate. There exists an inevitable tension between having the skills and knowledge to work with bees – to identify problems and disease, to really know and respond to the bees – and the goal of making bees, beekeeping and honey production accessible. Those who work with bees are indeed a special breed and there is a real worry among the beekeeping fraternity that an innovation such as 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.

The Flow Hive is not a magical, endless fountain of honey – anyone who knows anything about bees and honey production would know this, and those who dive headlong into the world of bees soon find out. What the Flow Hive does offer is the potential to stimulate interest in bees at a time when it is perhaps needed most.

All new technologies and innovations must pass a test of time and rigorous usage before they catch on to become engrained in our way of doing things. Based on the interest in the the Flow Hive so far, when it is launched it will be wildly popular but the truth is we wont know how successful the Flow Hive is until it has been tried and tested by both bee and keeper over successive seasons and in different conditions. What the interest in the Flow Hive shows us however is that bees are back on the agenda in a big way and that is worth celebrating.

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