Interestingly I have the same surname as the woman who started this thread on the Flow Hive but we are not related. I've been watching the trending topic of the Flow Hive in social media and its financial bonanza, and I have to say I have very mixed feelings. The outpouring of enthusiasm (expressed through money funding the campaign) suggests that many people are either interested in beekeeping or in honey or in doing what they believe will help bees. I say "believe" because they are buying this hive based on what the creators say in the video, rather than any research of their own into what bees are as an organism and what they need. I am of the view that the Flow Hive is about convenience for the beekeeper and focuses on the "crop" (i.e. honey) rather than from a knowledgable understanding of bees. I have no doubt that the inventors are well-intentioned, but I don't think they are aware of all of the ramifications of their design and viral campaign either. Honey bees have been so "managed" for centuries that one really has to dig and study to learn about what they are and what they need, as even much of what passes for "natural beekeeping" is done with honey production in mind, rather than the welfare of the bees.
I have one acquaintance buying a Flow Hive. Below I will express what my various concerns are, and I will be most curious to see what documentation or guidance the makers provide with it, to see if they address any of these concerns. Just as a good farm store will not sell an "Easter chick" to a family who has no clue about chicken keeping and will instead require purchase of a small flock and provide guidance on how to house and raise them, a good beekeeping supply house will sell not just hives but books and resources and dispense with advice to help new beekeepers enter the vocation responsibly. Particularly as the Flow Hive inventors have a new methodology that purports to make beekeeping easier (thereby attracting those perhaps less likely to put effort into learning), in my mind they have the ethical imperative to educate not just on the use of their hive but on all aspects involved in beekeeping. The Flow Hive video focuses only on honey extraction. It fails to address: how are you going to get bees and get them into the hive; how are you going to manage or prevent swarms; how are you going to keep your bees alive when there is no nectar flow (i.e. winter in most climates) - especially if by having honey on tap you have taken too much away and not left enough for the bees - and how much is too much to take; how are you going to re-queen; how are you going to prevent illness, etc. I believe these topics should have been touched on in the video - in the form of the caveat "before you buy this, be aware there's more to beekeeping than honey extraction, here's how we will guide you or where we will refer you for education" - but hopefully they will be addressed in materials supplied to buyers of the Flow Hive. If they are not addressed, then I would say that these gentlemen are doing the bees of the world the ultimate disservice, by bringing into beekeeping people who think it's only about getting honey on tap. These will not be responsible beekeepers unless they learn first about bees.
To look at just a few of the concerns I mentioned... Say you buy the Flow Hive, where do you get the bees? Most new beekeepers are not going to catch a swarm, but rather buy a "package". Ok, you've got a box made of somewhat flimsy wood and screen and it's buzzing madly because it's filled with THOUSANDS OF BEES. How are you going to put them into the Flow Hive? You've got to open that box... and the video suggested there's no need for the smoker or bee suit.... hmmmm... And then what about that little cage with the queen bee in it pacing back and forth, wanting out... Did the people telling you about honey on tap and a hive you never had to open tell you how to put her into your hive without her flying off and without you getting stung by all those other bees who are trying to stay around her? And then if you follow usual procedure and put the queen cage in there with a marshmallow, you've got to open the hive again later to make sure she was released and to get that queen cage out again. (But I thought the video said we didn't have to open this hive and interfere with the bees?) If instead of buying a bee package the new Flow Hive owner plans to catch a swarm, how? The Flow Hive itself is not likely to work as a bait hive as in its new form it will smell of plastic, not of the wax comb that would be put in a typical natural bait hive. If the new beekeeper is expecting ease, are they prepared to go and fetch a wild swarm from say 15 feet up in someone's tree and then take it home to their new Flow Hive?
Assuming these new beekeepers populate their Flow Hives one way or another, how are they going to manage them? Not in terms of extracting honey, which the Flow Hive is geared towards and they are enthused about, but all of the other aspects of management. Left to its own devices, a growing bee colony will produce more queen cells. As a new queen is about to hatch, the old queen will depart with say half of the colony. If you let that happen, one day you'll have a dramatic swarm of thousands of bees flying around your yard for a while, then your neighbor's yard, perchance to land in one of their trees. Where, as a responsible beekeeper you have to retrieve them and have another empty hive ready to put them into. (Oh, you didn't know that you needed more than one hive?) If you don't recapture your swarm, it will look for a home elsewhere - perhaps in the roof of one of your neighbors' garages or sheds or an attic in your neighborhood. Currently municipalities are allowing urban beekeeping, but that will quickly change if we have unmanaged swarms. And if half of your colony leaves, guess what? Less honey on tap as half of your "workers" left. A conventional beekeeper is all about maximizing honey production and thus prevents swarms by regularly opening their hives and removing the queen cells so that no new queens are hatched, so then no swarms. But that means you have to open the hives after all, and regularly, and the Flow Hive was supposed to be about non-interference... So you are going to need that bee suit and smoker after all. (Then, if you go this swarm prevention route, you also get to do kinky things like kill old queens, artificially inseminate queens, etc. as your old queen will eventually die and you have to open the hive again to put in a new queen...). The alternative to this conventional beekeeping swarm prevention methodology is to let them swarm! But then as a responsible beekeeper (and to keep the honey production in your apiary) you have to be ready to catch swarms and have ways to house those swarms. So you need extra empty hives, and you need to be collecting your swarmed bees from neighbors' trees and the like. Or you have to have other beekeepers at the ready to come and collect swarms you don't have a place for, but I personally think that is irresponsible as there's no guarantee the bees will hang out until your local swarm collector shows up a few hours later. Or are you (or your neighbor) going to call a pest exterminator to deal with those bees?.... But wait, the Flow Hive is supposed to be about being friendly to the bees and turning a tap to get honey! Why are we talking about exterminators? But this will happen if new beekeepers rush to these Flow Hives without understanding what they are getting in to.
Will the makers of the Flow Hive prepare new beekeepers for ANY of this? And the other things I listed? There's much more to beekeeping than harvesting honey.... but the only thing their video talks about is harvesting honey, as easy has having beer on tap. If you have a dairy goat for milk you have goat milk on tap.... but - you have to milk your goat 2x a day, get your goat pregnant on a regular schedule (no baby goats, no milk flow), deal with veterinary issues and kidding, and then manage your growing herd or find home for all those baby goats. Likewise, simple, easy honey on tap with no other responsibilities is a pipe dream. Beekeeping requires much more, even natural, low-intervention forms of beekeeping like the Warré Hive (see below). If it's too much work for you to learn to be a beekeeper in healthy relationship to your bees (and bees in general) and your neighborhood/community, don't take it on. If the makers of the Flow Hive are not prepared to support their customers in becoming responsible beekeepers, they are creating a monster that will result in many failed beekeepers who will quit and potential ill-will toward bees from unhappy neighbors of Flow Hives that are not managed properly.
I am a relatively new beekeeper (started in 2012) and use the Warré hive because it is a bee-centric approach that involves minimal intervention (swarm management rather than swarm prevention) and focuses on how bees live naturally in that its dimensions mimic a hollow tree trunk; top bars rather than frames are used, so that bees to form their own comb on with little "guidance" on how to do so from the humans; and intervention is minimal (hiving a package or swarm; occasional honey harvesting - usually 1x a year for me). What honey I get is a gift from the bees, not a commodity. I make sure to leave plenty for them - in fact I usually leave most of it for the winter, to prevent starvation or feeding of sugar, and only take surplus after a new nectar flow is reliably happening in the spring. There were entry hurdles - I build my own hives (though you can buy them), I took conventional beekeeping classes, then read books on the Warré methodology and participate on a Warré forum to learn from more experienced beeks, I also call on local beekeepers for guidance, I get stung when I put myself in the wrong place or wrong attitude in relation to this untamed, undomesticated creature I am inviting to live in proximity to me. There are ongoing hurdles: I have to catch swarms and re-hive them. I have to repopulate hives that don't make it through the winter. I have to interact with and educate my neighbors about these creatures I have brought en masse into our neighborhood. I have to continually learn. But I love it. I chose it. I'm willing to do all these things to live in respectful relationship to the bees. They are not my workers to give me honey on tap. They are honored guests and it is my job as a host to learn as much about them as possible and to create the conditions that encourage them to stay, to flourish, and to perhaps have a bit of excess honey that I can enjoy. This has become long and a bit of a rant, but I feel the excessive exuberance for the Flow Hive merits words of caution.
If you are thinking of buying a Flow Hive, first, please, spend some time reading about all of the aspects of beekeeping, here on Permies and elsewhere. Ask questions of Jacqueline Freedman this week. Read books. Consider what other types of hives are out there and what you are taking on. See what local regulations beekeeping is governed by. Decide how to enter beekeeping from all of this, not just from a groovy new viral video about the latest beekeeping gadget and a greed for your own honey. Respect the bees and enter beekeeping with the odds of success on your side and theirs.