‘Suddenly it was total mayhem’: Australian inventors celebrate success of revolutionary bee hive
Posted On July 29, 2020
Three years ago, a father and son in Australia finally unveiled a device they had spent a decade inventing: a beehive that releases honey via a tap, without needing to handle the bees.
The pair, Stuart and Cedar Anderson, who live in the hinterland near Byron Bay in eastern Australia, an area popular with hippies, artists and surfers, hoped to raise US $70,000 (£50,000) for their invention on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. They reached their target in seven minutes.
Over the next 24 hours, the pair received a record-breaking $2.2 million, scrambling to find bank accounts that would permit such vast deposits.
By the end of the eight-week campaign, they had received $12.2 million, amounting to 25,000 orders from 130 countries, in one of the world’s most successful crowdfunding projects.
The invention – which they called the Flow Hive – has been credited with revolutionising beekeeping. It has also encouraged a new wave of beekeepers, who, it is hoped, will help to resist a recent global decline in the bee population.
Sitting on the balcony of a hilltop homestead that now serves as the office for their company BeeInventive Pty Ltd, Cedar Anderson, 37, admitted that he and his father were unprepared for the “terrifying” prospect of suddenly having to satisfy thousands of orders for a product that had no assembly line.
He said his first inkling that the invention might have a wide appeal occurred several days before the crowdfunding campaign, when he put a video explaining the device on Facebook: it was viewed a million times in the first 30 hours.
“That was when we thought maybe we were not deluded,” he told the Telegraph.
“We spent years inventing it but we didn’t know whether it was pie-in-the-sky and whether anyone actually wanted what we were inventing. Then suddenly it was total mayhem.”
The device, which costs upwards of £380, consists of artificial honeycomb cells in which the bees leave honey before sealing the cells with wax. A lever then splits the wax and rotates the cells to create channels for the honey to flow out via a tap into a drum or jar below.
Demonstrating a hive in the garden behind his office, Cedar turned a tap and a thick stream of honey poured out. He stuck his finger in the stream and licked off a large dollop, breaking into a broad smile: evidently, he still likes honey.
“This is good,” he said, turning to his father, before reaching in for another fingerful. “Really good. You can taste the tea-tree.”
The pair have now sold 49,000 flow hives, setting up workshops and factories in Australia and the United States and distribution warehouses in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, as well as hiring lawyers, marketers, shipping and logistics staff, and customer support teams.
Cedar, formerly a paragliding instructor earning AUS $20,000 (£11,300) a year and living in a shed, has moved into a home with his wife and two children on a 15-acre property.
Stuart, a former teacher and community worker, continues to live on a collective farm which he helped to found in the 1970s, but admitted to buying a new car for his partner Michelle.
“It has made me feel completely secure,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about money again.”
Australia is the last major honey-producing country that is free of the Varroa mite, a tiny insect which – along with pollution and various diseases – has caused colony collapses around the world. The mite spread from north Asia in the 1950s to Europe and beyond and has prompted up to a third of commercial beekeepers in Europe and the US to leave the industry.
Nadine Chapman, an expert on bees at the University of Sydney, said the mite has not wiped out bees entirely, noting that properly managed hives can survive. But she said the Flow Hive was helping to raise awareness about the need to keep Australia free of the mite and to combat global threats such as chemicals used in farming.
“If Australia got the Varroa mite, there would be a steep decline in the number of bees, but eventually we would probably get them back up,” she said. “It [the Flow Hive] is good in that it gets people involved, it gets them caring. The more people out there the better.”
The new hive has added to an international boom in amateur beekeeping, attracting people who like the option of keeping bees without the risk of being bitten or the heavy lifting involved in harvesting hives.
But the devices still require interaction with bees, particularly to ensure the hive is healthy.
In Australia, beekeeping clubs have seen a surge in members, with some reporting that membership has tripled since the Flow Hive became available.
"In [the state of] Victoria, I know a couple of the clubs have put caps on their membership, because they were getting too many inquiries,” Trevor Weatherhead, from the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, told ABC News recently.
The nation’s most populous state, New South Wales, has 6,400 registered beekeepers – an amount that has almost doubled since 2015. Nationally, there are 20,801 registered beekeepers, managing 647,000 hives.
The new beekeepers include those attracted by sustainable food practices and those who want to encourage the survival of bees.
Stuart Anderson, who learnt beekeeping from his father, said he hoped the device promoted beekeeping because “we need more bees”.
“It has allowed a lot of people to be beekeepers who wouldn’t normally be able to keep bees – whether they are not very strong or have bad backs,” he said. “It has been popular with women and children and families. You don’t have to lift heavy boxes for the hive harvest.”
Critics of the flow hive have objected to its use of plastics and note that it cannot harvest bees wax, which stays in the hive and is reused by the bees.
Stuart accepted the criticism, noting that “bees wax is such a lovely thing to have”.
He said the brood box beneath the hive is wooden but the plastic comb was impossible to avoid, noting that some other types of hive also use plastic.
Asked whether his invention could help to secure the future of the world’s bees, he noted there were 60 million beehives around the world and only 50,000 of these were flow hives, adding: “It will not make a dent directly.”
“We have added thousands of enthusiastic people who will care about bees and feel concerned and who will help to raise awareness about issues such as habitat loss and take some action,” he said.
“We hope that there will be all these children who grew up with the flow hive and that they will become the next generation of entomologists.”