Beekeeping is one of those pastimes that seems to attract creative and inventive types who like nothing better than to invent new gadgets and hive designs. Most of these rapidly fall by the wayside, but the advent of crowd-funding and the good-will towards looking after our little flying friends has resulted in a slew of new "innovations" that are generating a great deal of interest both inside and outside the beekeeping community.
The Flow Hive - "beekeeper’s dream" or "wannabe’s fantasy"?
Probably the most controversial project in that guise has been the Flow™ Hive from Australia which was launched on the Indigogo crowdfunding website on February 2015 seeking some US$70,000 and has so far raised over US$12M in a just over a month through a well-orchestrated promotional campaign prior to manufacturing. With a slick video promising "honey at the turn of a tap", the Flow Hive has caught the attention of the mainstream press and the ire of most beekeepers.
The controversial Flow hive
From the video, one would think that simply setting up a Flow hive full of bees guarantees honey for your toast by simply turning on the tap and letting the honey flow out. The videos make no reference to bee stings, swarming, disease or pest management, leaving enough honey stores for the bees over winter etc and one has to delve into the website to find any of this information.
Many local beekeeping associations in the UK are on standby over the next few months for an influx of disgruntled and disappointed people who having spent their money buying into the Flow Hive idea, will end up with a colonies of diseased or downright angry bees that have yet to deliver a drop of harvestable honey!
As the Italian photographer and fellow beekeeper Renée Ricciardi writes, “Beekeeping involves respect, patience, and attention to the natural world. After years of beekeeping you become attentive to humidity every time you step outside, you start noticing which flowers bloom first, you stop hating pesky dandelions, and when it rains you think of the bees.”
Planting for bees
However, despite this there is some really useful honey bee science coming out of several UK universities that also use social media to communicate with the public. A recent study on plants attractive to bees conducted over two years by the Bee research team at Sussex University is shown on a YouTube video shown below;
Results show that certain varieties of flowering plants like Lavenders are 100 times more attractive than other species like Pelargonium (geranium) that were ignored by all pollenating insects. Generally speaking, native wildflowers and especially herbs, seem to be very attractive to both bees and humans!
As a beekeeper, I'm often asked for lists of suitable plants for bees and now I have some real evidence to back it up!
Combatting Varroa mites organically
Other research looking into improving honeybee health generally and combating the Varroa mite specifically is also taking place around the world. Two projects from Germany look promising. One is the "Bee Sauna" that carefully heats the colony above 39 °C for two hours twice a year. At this temperature the proteins in varroa mite suffer irreversible damage and they die. The bees however can tolerate temperatures up to 45 °C and so remain unaffected.
The Bee Sauna is inserted into the base of the hive and heats the colony
From the German language video, it appears that the sauna requires mains electricity to activate the heating elements which is a big problem for me and other beekeepers with out-apiaries in rural areas. Hopefully they will produce something that can run on batteries.
The second project is from from Hohenheim University and uses a replica of the female Varroa mites sex pheromone to entice male mites away from the bees brood cells where they normally mate with females onto sticky pads elsewhere where they die and can be removed later.
Varroa mites (in red) feeding off bee larvae
Hohenheim University is currently looking into patenting and exploitation of the invention. However, similar processes are already used to provide organic control of other insect pasts such as codling moths etc and is proven to work. Researchers said this method should be relatively inexpensive, harmless to both bees and humans and easy to handle.
Both are currently being trialled and tested, but seem to offer some much needed hope to us otherwise beleaguered beekeepers trying to keep our colonies healthy and productive.