Beekeeping and technology

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Beekeeping is, in many ways, an old, well-established and somewhat staid undertaking. Until now! As in all areas of life today, bright minds are looking to bringing technological benefits to beekeeping. PerfectBee takes a look at a number of options bring the new and the old together.

Advancements in technology are surging forward in every aspect of our lives, and beekeeping is no exception. Since beekeeping is an art that’s thousands of years old, it’s of course possible and really enjoyable with only the barest technology. All kinds of gadgets are popping up these days, though, from the popular to the less well-known to the downright wacky.

Check them out, and see if any of them would be a useful addition to your beekeeping gear.

“Big news” technology

The Flow hive is the hot new thing in beekeeping. Even people who’ve never even thought about keeping bees are talking about it, so chances are good it’s popped up on your Facebook news feed at least once.

Although the video looks like it may be a trick, the Flow hive really does work. The secret is that the comb can be split apart inside the hive. The bees build their cells and store honey as usual, but once the honey is capped (which you can see through the clear viewing wall) you can insert and rotate a special tool that splits the cells apart.

So should you rush out and buy a Flow hive? Probably not, especially if you’re just getting started. For one thing, it doesn’t come cheap! A mere three frames cost $259 (by comparison, back in the traditional world, ten frames can be purchased for as little as $30 or so).The comb splits so that what used to be individual cells separate and realign to form clear channels for the honey to flow down to the bottom of the frame. At the bottom is a reservoir that leads to a hole in the side. When you’re not collecting honey, you can plug the hole up. When it’s time to harvest, unplug the hole and insert a tube to make what is, essentially, a honey tap!

Another really important point, is that the the object of the Flow hive is to minimize interaction with the bees. This may be good if you’re looking to obtain honey fast, but it’s far from ideal if you’re starting out and just getting to know your bees. At this point, you should get involved with your bees and understand how they do their thing.

Of course, if you already have some experience and a good sense of what you’re doing (and a lot of extra cash), then by all means get a Flow hive and try it out! Just be aware that it is a “disruptive” and – frankly – controversial development.

Less Well-Known

While the Flow hive is in the public eye, there are other extremely useful technology-driven ideas that bring beekeeping into the 21st century and deserve attention, too.

Hive Tracks is an app that lets you track the progress of your hives and keep tabs on your bees. It makes all your important information readily accessible and shareable, and creates interactive maps and calendars to keep track of where your bees are going and when you need to open up the hive.

Arnia is a high-tech combination of software and monitors that doesn’t just keep track of your hive’s temperature, humidity, and activity – it lets you check this information from any computer or phone. It’ll also send you an emergency alert if your hive gets blown over – or stolen.

Bee Smart Technologies is a very similar idea to Arnia. It keeps track of temperature, weight, and humidity online in real time and sends you an update every six hours.

Open Source Beehives is like the previous two, except that it’s community-driven. As the name implies, it’s open source, which means you can download plans, use them, change them to your liking, and upload them for everyone else to see. You can do this for both physical hives and monitoring sensors. If that sounds like too much involvement for you, you can also buy the hives and sensors direct from the site. Unfortunately, at the moment they only have Warre and Top Bar hives – no Langstroth.

Apis Technology is a Portuguese company that combines software and hardware to keep bees happier and healthier. Like the others, it monitors and keeps track of temperature, weight, activity, and pretty much everything in between! Apis combines this with their own hive design, coated with Portuguese cork that regulates temperature and stands up to the elements.

Wacky

There are also some beekeeping innovations out there that are a little stranger! Some are almost more art than technology, but all have their eye on the future and what’s best for the bees at heart.

There’s one particularly strange story that’s unfolding right now. It’s not a computer program, but it involves selective breeding and it’s very promising news in the fight against varroa mites, so we’re including it! Purdue University has been breeding bees with an unusual disposition for biting the legs off the mites, causing them to bleed to death.

Varroa destructor on head of bee nymph

Varroa destructor on head of bee nymph

Since varroa mites are so devastating and hard to kill, bees with genes that make them fight back could be a game changer. One co-op in the Midwest is working hard to build up this population, getting their queens artificially inseminated by Purdue bees and giving the resulting brood freely to their neighbors. With any luck, their colonies will interbreed and start a whole genetic line that can fight back against mites.

The Skyhive is a very cool design specifically for beekeepers in urban areas. The hive spends most of its time at the top of a 20 foot pole, but it can be lowered for inspection. This way it’s accessible when it needs to be, but for the most part it’s kept well above the heads of potential vandals and passersby who are afraid of stings. It also encourages public awareness of and conversation about the importance of bees, something the original seems to be doing very well in a public park in the Netherlands. Follow this link for information on how to buy one of your own.

The Bee Tower in Buffalo, NY is another urban hive innovation, though this one leans more toward art and education. It’s a 22 foot tall hollow pillar made of hexagonal pieces of perforated steel that bring to mind the hexagonal cells in a beehive. The top part of the pillar is devoted to bees, while the bottom part (separated by a clear ceiling from the bee zone) is a walk-in observation room. Just enter the pillar, look up, and see the bees in action. The hive itself is enclosed for warmth and can be lowered to the human zone for inspection and education. At least as recently as 2013 a colony of bees was living happily inside it.

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