A swarm to yard beekeeping

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I’m using 2 sets of trousers, a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath a white durable coat, thick goatskin gloves and a round helmet with a wire veil. I appear like a mix of the Michelin Man and Buzz Lightyear.

Earlier in the early morning, my hubby got a cardboard box of bees, or a “nuc” (noticable “nuke” and brief for “nucleus colony”), from our regional yard farm shop, and now it’s time to move the buzzing mass to our hive. Despite my protective getup, my hands are shaking, and worried sweat is dripping down my forehead– precisely how I do not wish to be responding. Bees can’t always notice worry, however they do react to any unexpected worried motions, and if one bee remains in distress, it will send “attack pheromones” informing the others that the hive is under risk.

I’ve been growing fruits and veggies and raising chickens in my Northern California lawn for almost a years, and diving into gathering honey has actually constantly been the next rational action. But there’s something that’s postponed my leap into beekeeping. I’m, well … frightened of being stung.


Bees type comb on the lower frames of the Flow Hive.

Josh Miller/ CNET.

That’s partially what drew me to the Flow Hive previously this year. It’s an option to the standard beehive, one that guarantees to let individuals harvest honey with “minimal disturbance” to the bees. The hive, which began as a crowdfunding project 3 years back, is the creation of Stuart and Cedar Anderson, dad and child beekeepers from rural Australia.

“I just felt that there had to be a better way to harvest honey than the way I was doing it. It was hot, heavy work, nearly always on a hot day, and it felt pretty rough on the bees,” Cedar Anderson states in an e-mail interview. “It’s pretty hard to harvest in the conventional way without ending up killing at least some.”

Going with the Flow

The old-school technique of honey harvesting usually includes a standard Langstroth hive, called after its developer, Lorenzo Langstroth, a Philadelphia clergyman who created it in the mid-1800 s. Inside, movable boxes are stacked vertically, each with 8 to 10 frames on which honeybees can develop their combs.


The author’s hubby opens the back of the Flow Hive.

Josh Miller/ CNET.

To extract honey from a Langstroth hive, you begin by getting rid of the frames one by one, brushing the bees loose (undoubtedly squashing a few of them) and utilizing a serrated knife to scrape the wax covering the cells, all while striving not to stimulate a cloud of mad protectors. Then you utilize a gadget, either hand-cranked or powered by a motor, to spin the frames utilizing centrifugal force till the honey lacks the cells and is drained pipes into pails. It’s a procedure that can take hours and even days.

Though you might still squash a stubborn bee or 2, the Flow Hive drastically alters the harvesting procedure. It looks comparable to the Langstroth on the outdoors, and in truth, it obtains a great deal of functions from it, however the Flow Hive’s frames have preformed partial honeycomb cells made from plastic.

When the beekeeper inserts a tool and turns it (sort of like a beer tap), the cells in the comb type channels that let the honey circulation down and out of the hive. For the beekeeper, the advantage is that you can collect the honey without opening the hive and disrupting the bees. “People have been scraping frames and spinning honey for hundreds of years, and that works and that’s fine,” states Matt Bludorn, a yard beekeeper and ER doctor in Bryan,Texas “But I think this works a little better.”

The Andersons debuted the Flow Hive on Indiegogo in February 2015, and within minutes of its launch, the project had actually exceeded its objective of reaching $70,000 By completion of the project, they had actually raised $122 million and reached a brand-new Indiegogo record. Since then, they have actually broadened to around 35 staff members and offered more than 54,000 hives.


The back of the Flow Hive permits you to see and access the honey without disrupting the bees.

Josh Miller/ CNET.


But the hive has actually stimulated debate amongst standard beekeepers, beginning with its high expense. The initial Flow Hive begins at $699, and the current version of the hive, the Flow Hive 2, is a shocking $749 That compares to around $200 for a requirement Langstroth set.

Novella Carpenter, author of “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,” states the Flow Hive’s high cost does not actually make things simpler for individuals who are having a hard time to start in beekeeping. She points rather to the increasing appeal of do it yourself techniques that let you develop hives from scratch utilizing wood from a structure supply shop. “There’s this whole DIY movement of people who want to have bees but they don’t want to pay for all the expensive equipment,” she states.

Carpenter, who teaches writing and metropolitan farming at the University of San Francisco, likewise challenge the quantity of plastic utilized in the FlowHive “A lot of times the last thing the bees want to do is build out comb onto plastic,” she states. “Who knows why?”

Even Anderson confesses that often it can take longer for bees to fill the comb on the plastic Flow frames with honey than they would with traditional wood Langstroth frames. “In that case, you can press some wax or burr comb onto the frames,” he states. “Once it’s been used the first time, bees will treat it like any other comb.”


Bees starting their operate in a hive.

Josh Miller/ CNET.

Tapping into debate

But the most controversial argument worrying the Flow Hive pertains to the hands-off mindset surrounding it. Traditional beekeepers stress that due to the fact that you can tap in to the hive quickly, it sends out a message to individuals that they can get the honey without the trouble, when in fact you require to be continuously preserving your hive and handling your nest’s health. “The idea of oh, you just crack it open and no work, no muss … I don’t totally agree with it,” Carpenter states.

John Chesnut, a botanist who keeps hives in California’s San Luis Obispo County, concurs, including that the hands-off mindset that accompanies the Flow might motivate lazy beekeeping and errors. “Beekeeping has never been a casual endeavor,” he states. “The standard set– a string of [Langstroth-style] hives and an extractor for honey collection– makes more sense virtually and financially for the dedicated beekeeper.”

Chesnut, who discovered beekeeping 45 years back, thinks the Flow Hive is simply a trend which as soon as the buzz wanes, the “newbies” will simply proceed to the next pattern. “Keeping homicidal, venomous insects quickly loses its charm, unless you’re deeply committed — and the Marie Antoinette-style make-believe farmers are just going to disappear in a season or two.”


The author and her household examine the Flow frames.

Josh Miller/ CNET.

Anderson states that whether you select a standard beehive or Flow Hive, there will constantly be individuals who get delighted and after that lose interest. On the other hand, “There’s also going to be a lot of people who become committed, responsible, long-term beekeepers.”

But while an ignored garden is an issue just for its owner, an absence of effort with beekeeping can be downright devastating. Talk to any long time beekeeper, and you’ll hear tales of nest collapse condition, in which most of the employee bees inexplicably vanish, leaving the queen and her brood to pass away. While nest collapse isn’t totally comprehended, beekeeping practices play a substantial part in it. Keepers who do not frequently examine the health of their bees can quickly permit the spread of pathogens to other neighboring healthy hives. Novices who aren’t knowledgeable about the difficulties, or who aren’t ready to put in the effort, threat ruining their own hives– and other hives miles far from them.

Dedicated beekeepers should remain watchful, continuously monitoring their hives to make sure the bees have enough nutrition to bring them through a cold spell and keeping an eye out for illness and parasites such as the varroa mite, which the United States Department of Agriculture calls “the single most detrimental pest of honeybees.”

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Bad beekeeping

Nonetheless, lazy beekeeping will always exist, no matter the hive setup that people choose. Bludorn, who owns both a Langstroth and a Flow Hive, says it comes down to the beekeeper, not the hive type. Regardless of which hive he’s using, he has to do the same things for the colonies to thrive. “You’ve got to control for pests, and you’ve got to monitor the hives; all that stuff is exactly the same,” he says. “There’s months and months of stuff you have to do before you actually use the ‘flow’ portion of your Flow Hive, and if you don’t get that right, it’s just not going to work.”

At a time when there’s an ever-growing demand for pollinators, there’s something to be said for a contraption that makes harvesting honey easier and that could potentially convert more hobbyists into devoted beekeepers. The number of professional beekeepers has been decreasing every year, and between 2015 and 2016, the nation’s beekeepers lost 44 percent of their colonies, according to the USDA. That’s due to a combination of pesticides, parasites and loss of habitat — and though bees have slowly been making a comeback over the past couple of years, there’s still a long ways to go.


Good beekeepers need to regularly check on the health of their bees.

Josh Miller/CNET

Bees among us

Honeybees, as pollinators for many crops, are vital to our food supply. They’re especially critical in my state of California, which produces about 80 percent of the world’s almonds. Each year roughly 1.7 million hives are moved into California’s Central Valley to pollinate the state’s almond crop. That’s more than half of the entire honeybee population in the United States. And a steady increase in the acreage devoted to almonds means a rising demand for honeybees.

Granted, backyard beekeepers won’t boost California’s food supply anytime soon, but more bees and genetic diversity can’t hurt, and though there are fewer pros every year, more hobbyist beekeepers are jumping onboard. The American Beekeeping Federation has seen a 45 percent increase in membership since 1999. The majority of its members are small-scale beekeepers, or hobbyists who own fewer than 25 hives.

The relaxation of urban regulations prohibiting beekeeping has encouraged more people to get involved. Major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Seattle have lifted beekeeping bans thanks to growing demand from hobbyists. “It’s the legalization of it that’s making it more attractive to people, I think,” says Carpenter, “just knowing that it’s not illegal. People are saying, ‘Oh, OK. I can do this.'”


Each frame slides into the Flow Hive’s housing.

Josh Miller/CNET

A sweet beginning

So far, my own experience with beekeeping has been limited, but I’m pretty sure I’m in it for the long haul. If all goes well, we’ll collect around 35 pounds of honey in the fall. That’s a lot of honey. Some of it we’ll enjoy ourselves; some of it we’ll give to friends and neighbors; and some of it will go back to the bees as food to help them survive a cold winter.

And as it turns out, my fears about transferring the nuc to the hive were unfounded. After we used a smoker to puff several wisps around the frames, the bees buzzed lazily around us, paying zero attention to the humans looming over them. (The smoke masks the smell of the alarm pheromones they use when they think their hive is under attack.) Without a care in the world, my 7-year-old son helped move frames swarming with bees. That’s not to say I won’t eventually get stung — I probably will. But for now I’m simply marveling at the sight of the bees at work and reveling in the meditative hum in my backyard. 

This story appears in the Fall 2018 edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.