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Beehive Invention Looks To Backyard Beekeepers To Save Dying Bees

Beekeeper Eric Karpinski tends to his Flow Hives in Mission Hills, July 9, 20...

Photo by John Carroll

Above: Beekeeper Eric Karpinski tends to his Flow Hives in Mission Hills, July 9, 2019.

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Millions of bees are dying across the world because of a condition called, "colony collapse disorder." But an invention by an Australian father and son is helping small colonies of bees to survive, even thrive.

Aired: July 22, 2019 | Transcript

Millions of bees are dying across the world because of a condition called "colony collapse disorder." But an invention by an Australian father and son is helping small colonies of bees to survive, even thrive.

It all started with Stuart Anderson and his son Cedar, who had been garden variety beekeepers for years, harvesting honey the traditional way.

“You had to protect yourself from stings, fire up a smoker to sedate the bees, crack the hive open, lift heavy boxes, pull out the frames trying not to squish bees, brush them off the combs or use a leaf blower, transport the frames to a processing shed, cut the wax capping off, filter the honey and clean up all the mess, then the frames have to go back to the hives again,” said Cedar.

That changed back in the mid-2000s when the pair decided there had to be a better and easier way. Cedar talked to KPBS via Skype from his home in Australia.

“It was just so much work to get your honey and such a disturbance for the bees. I’d spend all weekend just to get a few buckets of honey to sell to the shop and make a big mess in the process and my bees were quite cranky about it... That led us on what turned out to be a decade-long invention journey tinkering away, trying prototypes and putting them in the hives and then sweating away 3-months to see whether the bees liked it or not,” Cedar said.

Eventually they settled on a design that would become the Flow Hive.

“In there is partially drawn honeycomb cells which the bees wax-up, complete the cells and then start filling them with nectar and do that process of making the honey," he said.

When the bees are finished and the combs are full of honey, you put a lever into the top of the flow hive and give it a turn, which opens up the honeycomb cells, and out comes the honey.

RELATED: UCSD Researcher: ‘Bee Safe’ Label May Not Live Up To Promise

When they were ready to go in early 2015, the Andersons turned to a crowdfunding website with the goal of raising $70,000. Instead, they raised more than $12 million.

Now, a little more than four years later, the Andersons have sold more than 65,000 Flow Hives in more than 130 countries.

Two of those hives are perched above a canyon in Mission Hills. They belong to Eric Karpinski.

Photo by John Carroll

Beekeeper Eric Karpinski tends to his Flow Hives in Mission Hills, July 9, 2019.

“The Flow Hive is great because it’s made it accessible to so many more hobbyists which then allows that genetic diversity (across bee colonies)," Karpinski said.

Genetic diversity is critical to strong colonies. It makes them much more able to fight off viruses and to withstand the destruction brought by the use of insecticides, plus Cedar said the process of beekeeping is good for humans too!

“People who start beekeeping tend to open their eyes to what’s going on with the flowers, what’s going on with habitat and the very matrix of life that we all depend on," he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators to reproduce. Bees make up the majority of those pollinators. If they go, so do many fruits and vegetables.

Aside from the delicious honey he harvests a couple of times a year, Eric Karpinski said it feels great to be doing his part to combat colony collapse.

“I love that we just have all these little pockets of reserves all across the US, all across the world because we don’t know exactly what causes colony collapse ... So if all of a sudden, there’s a huge colony collapse set with a bunch of commercial beekeepers, you can put out the word, hey we need queens, we need some hives," he said.

Even with a Flow Hive, you still have to tend to your bees which means you need a bee suit and a smoker. It may not be traditional beekeeping, but it is an effort, however for Flow Hive users, it's clearly a labor of love.

Listen to this story by John Carroll

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