A preface to the Million Bees Roadtrip, 2015
When I went to pick up the Honey Exchange‘s new trailer at Harvey Trailers in Bangor, Maine the helpful and friendly sales guy asked me the question we have heard at the store this year more than any other question: “Have you heard about the new Flow Hive? I saw it on Facebook.” This guy was not a beekeeper; he didn’t mention knowing any beekeepers. He was, like many people these days, curious and fascinated with our odd little pastime. But the Flow Hive, and their video that has taken the internet by storm, had really piqued his interest.
I gave him my short answer and I have been planning on writing my long answer in this space for some time. But the longer I thought about it the longer the long answer grew. And it grew more boring and mired in the minutiae of beekeeping with each passing day. We try, whenever possible, to keep the Bee-Loud Glade from becoming a boring place. So I’ll attempt today to share a brief but thorough opinion on the merits of the Flow Hive, and why it matters, and how it all connects to the Million Bees Roadtrip. Bear with me, I’ve got something to say:
The title above lays bare my free admission of a deep green envy for the clever Australians who have brought the world The Flow Hive. They began a fundraising campaign with the intention of gathering $70,000 (USD) in investment capital. As of this writing the campaign has raised over $12 million. This enormous sum speaks not only to the ingenuity of the design and the amazing success of their promotional video but to the intense global interest and fascination with honey and honeybees. The message has been spread about the peril that faces honeybee populations and people seem eager to find a way to help.
Let me take a moment to explain why I was buying a new trailer: In the past three years we had borrowed a trailer from our good friend, Josh and loaded it up with 100 Hardeman Apiary packages to bring back to beekeepers in Maine. We have never advertised packages and have, without any sales effort at all, sold them all. Each year the price increased, the list sold out earlier in the year, and we turned away more people throughout the spring. We figured, at the maximum tow capacity of our Honda CRV, we could bring up 150 packages and the slight extra profit would pay for the new trailer in a few years. (I should point out the sale of packages is not especially lucrative for the Honey Exchange. It’s a labor of love.) This year we again sold out of packages without advertising, at an increased price, and earlier than last year. We have been turning people away since mid March. This is the state of demand for package bees. I’ll return to this later.
If you haven’t seen the video for the Flow Hive, check it out. It’s charming. But watch for one thing – watch for flying bees. You won’t see many. (And ask any of your beekeeper friends if they’d ever bring a honey-coated stack of pancakes into their bee yard. You’ll get only one answer.) You will see a very innovative way of harvesting honey from a hive. It is pertinent that hive is in Australia and the video was shot on a hot summer day. Here in Maine honey might flow through gravity alone on the hottest days in July. At best it’s a parlor trick in the peak of summer. Other than that it’s an impediment to modern beekeeping.
The Flow Hive purports to solve a problem in beekeeping where problems appear the least – at honey harvest. All the real problems facing honeybees are within the brood nest and in and on the bees themselves. Responsible stewardship of a hive requires regular and careful inspection of its inside. The Flow Hive, like any honey super (only immensely heavier) needs to be removed before an inspection can take place.
Herein lies the deceptive part of the Flow Hive video – it makes it appear keeping bees is like keeping an aquarium; like you won’t possibly be stung by bees being a beekeeper; like you don’t even need a veil or smoker. None of this is true and we worry about the effect of a huge new crop of new beekeepers who have been deceived by this false impression. Put plainly, without proper care their hives are going to die.
I’m not sure what the $12 million equates to in numbers of new hives but I am sure it is going to have a profound influence on the demand for package bees. You might think as a guy embarking on a five-day roadtrip to pick up package bees I would be pleased by this. I am not.
Let me try to explain my complicated emotions regarding package bees. If you’ve read this space before you know this journey is one of the highlights of my year. Package Day at The Honey Exchange is a day that fills me with joy like a child at Christmas. But if we could satisfy the demand for bees with local stock I wouldn’t miss package bees for a moment. Our mission at The Honey Exchange is to educate people not only about the importance of honeybees but also about how to keep bees healthy and alive. We are also beekeepers ourselves and we raise winter hardy queens from our own stock. We can choose the queens to breed but the drones they mate with are perpetually being diluted with bees from away that haven’t undergone natural selection for winter hardiness. The evolution of northern stock is being slowed by the interference of human commerce.
I tried to promise to not get into the tiny details of beekeeping and it’s too late to make this long story short. We just came out of a brutal winter. We saw lots of beekeepers at all levels of skill and experience lose hives to the cold and endless wind. Many people need package bees to replace their dead hives and there is another crop of enthusiastic beginner beekeepers ready to pick up their first package on Package Day. So back to that envy part: I can’t stop thinking about that $12 million. Forget what I could do with that kind of investment capital for my business. Think what we could do to raise winter hardy queens, or make overwintered nucleus colonies, or provide education and support to increase our local hive survival rate. Maybe somebody could help me make a video snazzy enough to raise money for that. Maybe we could hire Amy Sedaris.