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Honey on Tap: Why Beekeeping Will Never be the Same

Mar 09, 2015 09:44 AM EDT

An Australian father-son pair recently put their minds together to birth an invention that may very well change how beekeeping is done forever. Called the Flow Hive, this revolutionary beehive puts fresh honey literally on tap, reducing labor for beekeepers, and - most importantly - stress for the world's most important pollinators.

When this reporter thinks 'beekeeping,' he thinks of a presumed-dead Sherlock Holmes traipsing around some secluded countryside with armloads of honey and happy bees a-buzzing. 'What better way to spend your retirement?,' is certainly what author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was thinking when he penned the famous detective's epilogue.

However, despite its romantic allure, traditional beekeeping is actually a very messy business. Covered from head to toe in protective gear, beekeepers have to crack open a hive to the predictable anger of its defenders. They then fire up a smoker - a device that helps mask the alarm pheromones that a colony's guards traditionally release. This is to help keep the bees calm, but when a giant human hand reaches in to start plundering the sweet golden treasure they have been gathering for winter, the bees are bound to grow angry.

Keepers then have to lift heavy boxes, pull out frames filled with honey cells, transport those frames to a processing shed, and then hand carve honey out of each wax cell. All the while they struggle in vain to not squash or injure the bees. The final morbid step involves filtering wax and dead bees from the honey, before returning the frames to the hive - likely squashing more poor bees in the process. (Scroll to read on...)

If it's pure honey you've got, you can image how many little soldiers unfortunately died during the labor-of-love that harvested it.

That's why inventor and third generation beekeeper Cedar Anderson, 34, first set out to change this process forever.

He distinctly remembers when he was younger having a particularly bad time with a hive.

"The hive was packed with bees and it was near impossible to get the honey out without squashing lots of them. I really don't like squashing bees," Cedar said in a statement. "The bees became grumpier and started to sting me through my bee suit... I put the hive back together, squashing more bees as the lid went on and ended up running away across the field thinking, 'there has to be a better way!'"

A decade later, Cedar and his father Stuart Anderson, 60, have invented that "better way," crafting a hive system that does not involve plundering messy wax frames full of honey. Instead, the Flow Hive provides channeled cells for the bees to fill. Little workers fill each channel with the rich, golden honey the hive keeps as a surplus of energy for wintering, and the Flow Hive apparatus can simply drain each cell at the convenience of a keeper - all with the simple turn of a lever. (Scroll to read on...)

And when the bees notice that a channel has been drained, they simply lift its wax cap and get to work filling it once more.

"It's not very often something is so revolutionary as to blow my mind," Michael Bush, a well-known US beekeeper and the author of Beekeeping Naturally added in an emailed statement. "Saving 20 percent of harvesting labor is not trivial, 40 percent is amazing, 60 percent is revolutionary. But 95 percent (which is what Flow Hive has pulled off) - that's mind boggling!"

And it seems that Bush isn't the only one to think so. When Flow Hive first hit crowd-funding site Indiegogo, it passed its modest target goal of $70,000 in just five minutes. Now, with 28 days of the campaign still remaining, the project has hit that goal more than 75 times over, raising a whopping $5,250,000 (USD).

"You never know what will happen when you put a new idea up," Cedar said.

He explained how people familiar with crowd-funding had told him that Flow Hive wouldn't find many backers because the idea was simply too obscure. Beekeeping, it was argued, is such an age-old practice, and those who do it likely want to stick to tradition.

"I'm very pleased to see that they were very wrong," the inventor added. "We hope that our invention will create a community of [modern] beekeepers around the globe keeping bees in this new, beefriendly way." (Scroll to read on...)

It should also be noted that using an approach like this certainly doesn't mean that beekeeping has become distanced from actually interacting with the bees. Depending on where and when the bees are being tended, keepers have to check for harmful parasites and other diseases regularly - a process that sill involves pulling the hive apart to check each Flow frame carefully.

Still, the Anderson pair hope that their invention will not only make things much easier for existing keepers, but will also attract a great many new ones - something that can help bee populations threatened by pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.

"Without the bees we may not be able to sustain human life as we know it, and without the beekeepers we wouldn't have enough bees," they explained. "In this modern world of limited natural habitat, beekeepers have become vital [caretakers] of bee colonies."

The father-son duo hopes that their product "will encourage thousands more people to become passionate [caretakers] and advocates of bees and become more aware of the threats facing not only bees but the matrix of life."

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

 (Photo : S. and C. Anderson / Flow Hive)

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