Paddling Upstream: Thoughts on Going Against 'The Flow'

Added on by Renée Ricciardi.

I've gotten at least 5 emails everyday for the last week, all with the same message. 
"Check out the cool new Flow Hive!"

Siracusa, Sicily. 2014

It seems like the perfect product. Even I considered buying a few frames and outfitting my wooden hives to fit the new system. But the 'Flow' hive has been making me uneasy and I couldn't articulate why.

First, let me explain the product and what all the buzz is about. In the commonly used Langstroth hive system, in order to cultivate honey the keeper needs to:

Open the hive > remove honey filled frames > brush the bees from those frames >use a knife to remove the capping from the wax cells > and use a centrifuge that gets the honey out of the frame. It's an arduous process that takes hours, skill, and patience.

The 'Flow' hive eliminates all of these steps and is less disruptive to the hive. It supplies fresh honey on tap. 

The Flow Hive in Action

The purpose of it is to provide people with honey.
The purpose of it is to provide people with honey.
The purpose of it is to provide people with honey

Typical Honey Extraction in Centrifuge. 
Bologna, Italy. 2014.

But to me, that's not what beekeeping is about. These creatures work endlessly and should be respected for their production/pollination. The species Apis mellifera, or honeybee, has many toxic variables it's up against: Colony Collapse Disorder, Varroa mites, parasites, temperature shifts, pesticides, mice/bears/skunks, ventilation, poor nectar flows, birds, wasps, robbing from other colonies, disease.



Does the beekeeper need to be an additional threat?

Inside, I felt the flow hive was gimmicky, and is self centered for the new beekeeper. The relationship of bees to the keeper should be symbiotic.

We protect them, and are rewarded with some honey -- occasionally -- when there's enough to go around. (This is key. Honey is bee food. When we take it, we deal with possible starvation of the hive OR replacing their vitamin rich bee food with refined sugar or corn syrup products - neither are ideal.)

Rooftop Beekeeper, Boston. 2012.



Also, the 'Flow' hive uses plastic frame foundation which is NOT in the bees best interest. Bees don't like having the size of each individual cell shape be man-made and have a predetermined size by a generic honeycomb shaped plastic mold. Plastic frames do not allow the bees to choose the size of each frame. Also, in colder climates, the plastic is less efficient for over wintering hives since there is less insulation than that pure, natural beeswax. How many new beekeepers buying this product know that?

You don't need to open the hive to extract honey... 

...which adds to the convenience. If you're extracting honey from a hive you're not looking inside of, how do you know if you have a healthy, egg-laying queen? How do you know how much pollen/brood there is? How can you evaluate the health of your colony if you're blindly extracting honey whenever you want to add something sweet to your breakfast or to show off your new toy to your friends? You can't. 

In other words, it's the perfect invention for lazy, hungry honey-eaters who are also terrified of being stung. It will create a generation of oblivious people with bees who don't know the delicate mechanics of the beautiful hive.

In 2011, I made a photographic body of work called Non Nobis by photographing beekeepers all over Massachusetts. The title is Latin for "we work but not for ourselves" and references the bee's enduring labor. The fruit of this labor, the bees never get to enjoy. 

This product and new style of beekeeping is getting the millennial generation interested because it's instantly gratifying (I know, since I am a millennial.) 




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, and last, you stop hating pesky dandelions, when it rains you think of the bees. You're suddenly attentive to the size and shape of new vegetation in your garden. In other words, beekeeping takes over how you think the planet functions.

Standard Langstroth Style Beehives  8x10 Large Format Silver Gelatin Contact Print. 2011.

Standard Langstroth Style Beehives 
8x10 Large Format Silver Gelatin Contact Print. 2011.


The customers of this product know the bees are dying and it's excellent that it's becoming household knowledge that this problems exists. A movement to help the bees is exactly what we need - and what I have been working on for years. I recognize that if anything, the Flow hive is getting the word out that it;s time to #savethebees. 

But the "Flow's" long term benefits could be outlived when people get their new hive and realize that it's more that just a fancy automatic honey appliance. 

Words and Pictures by Renée Ricciardi.

               July Rain Storm. Rome, 2014.

Renée Ricciardi is a Boston based artist, photographer, and naturalistic beekeeper. She received her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography from the Massachusetts College of Art.

She spent six months living with beekeepers in 13 regions of Italy.Renée is currently working on a personal assignment photographing apiaries, beekeepers, and organic food in cities across Italy.