Beehive technology has changed little in centuries, but an Australian father and son believe they have a better way, and it's getting a lot of people excited. Besides enabling many individuals to harvest their own honey, the idea may play a role in fighting the problems that plague bee populations.
Bees tend to be rather protective of the food stores they have put so much energy into producing. To avoid being stung, apiarists wear protective suits, put on visors, and use smoke to reduce the likelihood of attacks. Once done, there is still the matter of removing wax and dead bees. All of which makes the whole idea too much hard work for the average backyard gardener.
Stuart Anderson's family have been keeping bees for generations and when his son Cedar suggested there might be a better way, he was disbelieving at first. However, the two came up with a proposal—which took a decade to refine—and they are now at the point of running a crowdsourcing campaign.
The Andersons describe their prototype like this:
The Flow frame consists of already partly formed honeycomb cells. The bees complete the comb with their wax, fill the cells with honey and cap the cells as usual. When you turn the tool, a bit like a tap, the cells split vertically inside the comb forming channels, allowing the honey to flow down to a sealed trough at the base of the frame and out of the hive, while the bees are practically undisturbed on the comb surface.
When the honey has finished draining, you turn the tap again in the upper slot which resets the comb into the original position and allows the bees to chew the wax capping away, and fill it with honey again.
Credit: Cedar and Stuart Anderson. The capacity of Flow frames to open at the turn of a tap and release honey is at the core of the proposed revolution.
Having already raised $2.7 million, against a $70,000 target, it is clear there is enormous demand for the idea. At the very least, it looks to be the biggest advance in apiary since the perfection of removable frames in 1852. People who would never have gone to the effort of having a hive in their backyard previously are now excitedly contemplating fresh honey literally on tap. The Andersons warn, however, “All the rest of the normal beekeeping care for the hive still applies. Beetles, mites, swarm control etc.”
Credit: Cedar and Stuart Anderson. With luck the honey can be drained without the bees even noticing.
A much bigger question, however, is whether the Flow frame can play a part in stemming bee decline. The answer is unlikely to be known for some time as the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder are debated and numerous.
Nevertheless, current methods of honey collection are undoubtedly stressful for the bees. They don't just lose the product of their hard labor, but get disorientated by smoke and may die trying to sting those they suspect are threatening their store. This stresses the colony and probably makes bees more vulnerable to other threats. Moreover, by encouraging single-hive hobbyists over commercial apiaries, the Flow frame may promote genetic diversity and reduce the chance of mites or viruses spreading between colonies packed too closely together, and also bolster the fertilization of urban crops.