Beekeeping hasn’t changed much since the late 1800s, but a newfangled hive that has hit the United States market this spring has been causing quite a buzz.
The Flow Hive is designed to allow beekeepers to tap honey from a hive without disturbing it or the bees.
The Australian-based company’s website proclaims, “Turn the Flow Key and watch as pure, fresh honey flows right out of the hive and into your jar. No mess, no fuss, no heavy lifting, and no expensive processing equipment.”
In early 2015, when the father and son team of Stuart and Cedar Anderson started a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, traditional beekeepers started howling in protest.
They worried that people would purchase Flow Hives without getting the proper training or putting in the time to tend to the hives, including the important tasks of monitoring for varroa mites, hive beetles and wax moths.
Meanwhile, the crowdfunding campaign blew up. Though the Andersons only aimed to raise $75,000, the campaign raised $12.2 million and set records for the speed of fundraising and the amount raised.
Aaron Bertram, media manager for Flow Hive, says that about 30,000 people have purchased Flow Hives, including about 40 people in the Charleston area.
Bertram acknowledged the initial resistance from “conventional beekeepers.”
“But we’re seeing a lot of that dissolve as it becomes clear that the vast majority of the people that have bought a Flow Hive have had a positive experience and that, yes, it really works, and that it really is the gentlest method of honey extraction ever conceived.”
Bertram insists that the success of Flow Hive, so far, is not just about the product itself, but the joys of beekeeping as well.
“Beekeeping is a way to reconnect with the little bit of the planet each of us calls home and to produce a little of our own food and improve our immediate environment by making a home for pollinators,” says Bertram, adding that the desire to connect with the natural world through beekeeping will “ultimately deliver a net benefit to the world.”
But the skepticism about the Flow Hive is not dissolving for some longtime local beekeepers, such as Mount Pleasant resident Larry Haigh.
Haigh, who is president of the S.C. Beekeepers Association and education officer for Charleston Area Beekeepers Association, calls the Flow Hive “an interesting novelty.”
He has several reservations about it, starting with the price. A complete hive is $700, three times more than a traditional one.
“I’m not buying one,” says Haigh.
Haigh says beekeeping and harvesting honey is “not like tapping a maple tree for syrup.”
Beekeepers have to stay on top of all the threats to the hive, particularly monitoring it for the varroa mites and protecting hives from mosquito sprayings.
He expects the process of tapping the comb for honey potentially could disrupt the delicate moisture balance in honey. Bees usually cap off a comb when it reaches 18.6 percent water content. Above that and the honey is at risk of fermenting.
“Honey is just one of the things you get from successful beekeeping and a lot of that (getting honey) involves luck,” says Haigh.
But Haigh gave himself room to be wrong, noting that some were skeptical about the internet initially and that the Flow Hive may have some “unintended advantages” in the months and years ahead. It’s just too soon to tell.
Some local beekeepers, especially younger ones and “new bees,” are more open to trying the Flow Hive.
Dr. Athena Beldecos, an internal medicine specialist at Roper St. Francis Hospitalist Services, saw the crowdfunding pitch and thought, “I can do this.”
Beldecos adds the Flow Hive seems like a “kinder, gentler and safer method (to remove honey) for everyone involved,” especially the bees.
“I had no idea I was stepping into this maelstrom of internet debate from these traditionalists who say this is wrong and that it’s not going to work,” says Beldecos, who took a beekeeping certification course with CABA last year.
“I think initially there was this was just ‘honey on tap.’ You still have to do everything else. The difference just comes at harvest time.”
But Beldecos admits she is “a total novice” at beekeeping and that having a hive and a backyard organic garden in the middle of Daniel Island is part of a much bigger philosophy about the environment for her.
“It’s not just about the bees. It’s about the bees in relationship to everything else and to be able to demonstrate that in a small suburban plot, where I’m surrounded by grass lawns and Roundup (chemical weedkiller).”
Kevin and Summer Trepen of North Charleston started beekeeping in May 2015 and already have three hives, one in their backyard and two at a horse farm on Johns Island that his brother owns. They got their Flow Hive earlier this spring.
Like Beldecos, they took a certification course in January and took note of the objections of veteran beekeepers when the subject of Flow Hives came up.
“We didn’t really want to tell the older beekeepers that we had the Flow Hives because we didn’t want them to think these new people wanted to try new things. We kept on a low profile about it,” says Kevin, who works for the North Charleston Sewer District.
Summer, a Montessori teacher, says while she expects the Flow Hive to be more convenient to harvest honey, managing the hive will still be a fair amount of work. One bonus of the Flow Hive, she adds, is an observation window.
Retired chef Terry McKelvey has been beekeeping for two years and has five hives, including four on James Island and one on Sullivan’s Island.
Last year, he or “my girls” (the bees) produced 15 gallons of honey.
His wife bought him a Flow Hive super (or top) for Christmas “because it looks so wonderful.”
“Does it work? I don’t know yet,” says McKelvey. “It seems pretty exciting. It would be a nice way to harvest the honey and not have to go through taking it (frames filled with comb) off and spinning it (to get the honey out).
Veteran beekeeper Tom Knaust of the Charleston-based Queen & Comb recalls the barrage of interest and comments on his Facebook page when news of the Flow Hive spread.
Knaust says the controversy started in part because the initial marketing seemed to downplay the responsibilities of beekeeping.
“Everyone is captivated by the idea of turning a tap and having honey flow out, but it’s really challenging to keep bees. They (Flow Hive) have gotten so much backlash on that particular fact that they changed their whole website to add stuff on beekeeping.”
Knaust describes the Flow Hive as “a really neat, innovative idea,” but has reservations beyond that of most beekeepers.
“As much as I’m intrigued by this new product, I can’t get behind the plastic (inside the Flow Hive). That’s my big reservation,” says Knaust.
“I don’t use plastic in my hives because honey is super acidic. It can leach things out of plastic,” he says “I don’t bottle honey in plastic. I try to, as much as I can in my entire life, stay away from plastic.”