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On the Honey Bee Frontline in Sonoma County

Jordan Winery Honey Bee Flow Hive

Earlier this fall, Healdsburg's Jordan Vineyard & Winery installed its first apiary, which includes three Flow Hives — innovative beehives introduced to the world in 2015 that allow honey to be extracted without disruption or stress to the colony.

At a time when the U.S. honey bee population has decreased by 40 percent since 2006 (according to the Bee Informed Partnership), this is great news.

Flow Hives are such a new product that only an estimated six wineries in the nation possess them so far. Among Sonoma County wineries, only Jordan and Lasseter have Flow Hives.

Residents at work | Follow our Flow Hive journey. Link in bio.

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Aside from being easier on bees, Flow Hives require less labor for beekeepers. "They're easy for first-time beekeepers to use," said Mike Turner. His company, Marin Coastal BeeCo, services hives around the North Bay, including those at both Jordan and Lasseter wineries. "They take a lot of the rigor and hassle out of extracting honey from the frames."

Traditional beehives require the beekeeper to smoke the bees, dismantle the hive, remove the honeycombs and harvest honey with a centrifugal extractor. That’s a lot of stress if you’re a bee living in that hive.

With the Flow Hives, a lever opens honeycomb cells, after which honey drains into a container. When the lever is turned back, the honeycomb cells are reset and ready to be refilled with honey.

"Beekeepers have been creating unique beehives for hundreds of years," Turner said, "so it's not unique that someone has come up with a new way of doing this. But the way they've done it is fairly ingenious."

While some traditional beekeepers have expressed concerns about the Flow Hive’s unconventional system, others are optimistic about any invention that will create more beekeepers, increase bee populations and raise awareness about worldwide bee colony collapse disorder.

Flow Hives were designed by Australian father-son beekeepers, Stuart and Cedar Anderson. Their quest for a better beehive started because Cedar, who began keeping bees when he was six, disliked the fact that bees were crushed during the honey harvest.

For a decade, the two men came up with ideas, drew sketches, and built prototypes, finally developing and patenting the Flow system. Their 2015 fundraising campaign on crowdsourcing site Indiegogo became the sixth-most successful crowdfunding campaign ever.

The campaign immediately caught the attention of Todd Knoll, executive chef at Jordan.

“A beekeeper has been bringing traditional hives to Jordan Estate each winter for years," he said, "allowing his colonies to rest and recharge in a pesticide-free environment between pollination seasons for Central Valley fruit trees. After seeing a Flow Hive video on Facebook about 20 hours after the crowdfunding project launched, we decided it was time to bring beehives to Jordan Estate full-time.”

Located next to Jordan Winery’s garden, the new apiary is comprised of three Flow Hives and four traditional Langstroth hives. Using two different types of hives allows Knoll and Turner to study bee colony patterns, health, and honey styles from both the invention and the global standard for beehives (Langstroth), which has been employed since the mid-1850s.

These hives will not only be Chef Knoll’s source of honey for dinner parties and Tour & Tasting food pairings; they'll also be a tool for educational research and further understanding of terroir on the Jordan Estate, a 1,200-acre diversified farm just north of Healdsburg with more than three-quarters of the land preserved as natural habitat.

Visitors can witness this new invention in action on Jordan’s Estate Tour & Tasting, offered Thursday-Monday from May to October, and during Vineyard Hikes in spring, summer and fall.

Watch Chef Knoll and beekeeper Turner work with the Flow Hive in this video.

Learn more about Flow Hives. To email Mike Turner, write [email protected].

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