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Beehive Invention Looks To Backyard Beekeepers To Save Dying Bees

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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.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 It's called colony collapse disorder. Millions of bees are dying all across the world, but an invention by an Australian father and son is helping small colonies of bees survive. Even thrive. KPBS reporter John Carroll shows us how the invention is creating backyard beekeepers. The world over

Speaker 2: 00:19 Stuart Anderson and his son Cedar had been your garden variety beekeepers for years harvesting honey. The traditional way, the sound you're about to hear is them showing that traditional way.

Speaker 3: 00:31 You had to protect yourself from stings fire per smoker to sedate the bees, crack the hive open lift heavy boxes, pull out the frames, try not to squash bays, brushed them off for 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 fames have to go back to the hives again.

Speaker 2: 00:49 That changed back in the mid two thousands when the pair decided there had to be a better and easier way. Cedar Anderson talked to me via Skype from his home in Australia.

Speaker 3: 00:59 It was just so much work to get your honey in such a disturbance. For the bees and 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 who quite cranky about it and I thought there had to be a better way. That led us on what turned out to be a decade long invention journey of tinkering away, trying prototypes and putting them in the homes and I was waiting three months to see whether the bees liked it or not. Eventually they settled on a design that would become the flow hive and in there is partially drawn honeycomb cells, which the bees waxer complete themselves and then start filling them with nectar and do that process of Manny.

Speaker 2: 01:41 When the bees are finished and the combs are full of honey, you put a lever into the top of the flow hive, give it a turn, which opens up the honeycomb cells and outcomes the honey. When they were ready to go in early 2015 the Andersons turned to a crowd funding website with the goal of raising $70,000 instead, they raised more than 12 million. Now a little more than four years later. The Anderson's say there are more than 65,000 flow hives in more than 130 countries. Two of those hives are perched above a canyon in mission hills. They belonged to Erik carpet ski

Speaker 1: 02:16 flow. I was great because it's made it accessible to so many more hobbyists, which then allows that genetic diversity.

Speaker 2: 02:22 Genetic diversity is critical to strong B colonies. It makes them much more able to fight off viruses and to withstand the destruction brought by the use of insecticides. Plus Cedar Anderson says the process of beekeeping is good for humans too.

Speaker 3: 02:37 People just that vaping to open their eyes to what's going on with the flowers, what's going on with the sprays, what's going on with habitat and the very matrix of life that we all depend on.

Speaker 2: 02:49 Bees are responsible for 30% of pollination across the globe if they go so to fruits and vegetables. Aside from the delicious honey he a couple of times a year, Eric Karpin ski says it feels great to be doing his part to combat colony collapse.

Speaker 4: 03:06 I love that. We just have all these little pockets of reserves all across the u s all across the world because we can't, we don't know exactly what causes Connie claps. If all of a sudden there's a huge colony collapsed set in a bunch of commercial beekeepers, they can, we could put out the word, hey, we need queens, we need, we need some hives.

Speaker 2: 03:23 Even with a flow hive, you still have to tend to your B's, which means you need a bee suit and a smoker. It may not be traditional beekeeping, but it is an effort. However you could call it a labor of love. KPBS reporter John Carol joins me now and John, welcome to the program. Thank you. Maureen. Was it difficult finding beekeepers in San Diego whore who are using this new method? It wasn't difficult because the company flow hive, that's their corporate name. Uh, they keep in pretty close touch with their customers. Uh, once you buy a flow hive, there's all sorts of interactive things that they encourage you to do with the company. Uh, and so they stay in, you know, fairly close touch with their customers. So they suggested a few people to me when I made the inquiry and we ended up talking to a fellow in mission hills by the name of Eric Carr Pinsky who was very interesting and uh, yeah, so it was not hard at all to find those folks.

Speaker 2: 04:20 Have any idea how popular beekeeping is here in San Diego? So we know that the San Diego Beekeeping Association has about 1200 members. Um, obviously there are people who have hives, whether they're a flow high for traditional that are not members of the association. So there's quite a few in this county. And of course we have commercial operations in the county too in the agricultural section. Like, um, I'm thinking of Staley farms and Valley Center, uh, that, you know, have the traditional big white boxes. And yeah, I help us visualize the difference between this new flow hive system and the old system of collecting honey. It sounds like in the new system, the bees actually do more of the work. Well, I, they do more work. Um, the way it's set up is there's a traditional hive on the bottom and that's where the queen has to be in lay her eggs and everything and then they have just this great in between those slats in that hive and the flow hive above.

Speaker 2: 05:20 And that's so the queen can't get up into the flow hive because you don't want her laying eggs up in the flow hive. You want just the workers up there making the honey. So the flow hive sits on top of a regular traditional hive, which you do still have to tend, you have to take care of the bees down there. Now has this new method a allowed more people to get into beekeeping and how do you produce it? It has because you can do it. It's, it's easier and it's smaller and the amount of steps that you have to go through. I really was kind of not aware of this until I got into doing this story. The traditional way of harvesting honey is a tremendous amount of work. You have to go to the hive. First of all, you have to have on your bee suit and you have to have your smoker that sort of calms the bees down and then you go into these big boxes, you have to crack them open, you have to pull each slat out one at a time, and then you have to constantly smoke because the bees will defend their hives.

Speaker 2: 06:22 So they're very upset that this is happening and you have to get them off either through the smoker or a leaf blower. Then you scrape off the cap of the wax and then you take it all into another room somewhere where you have an expeller and it's very messy. And then you have to clean them all off and go back out to where the boxes are and put them all back in again. It's, it's a very difficult situation with the flow hive. You have to do a little of that with the bottom hive. But then the top one, this is sort of the genius of this, uh, invention. It what it is, it's it's little premanufactured honeycombs that are sort of made out of a plastic and the workers come up into their and they coat them with wax and make the honey and then they've sort of the crux of the whole thing is you put this lever in the top and it opens up the honeycombs, so all the honey that's in there just flows down and into a nice big jar.

Speaker 2: 07:20 Now, one of the most interesting things about all this I think is the idea that the presence of more backyard beekeepers actually works against the problem of bee colony collapse disorder. How does that work in a couple of ways. First of all, um, something that Cedar Anderson, who is the son part of the father and son team of Australia, they're the inventors. Cedar told me this and so did Eric here in San Diego that first of all, people get much more interested in the environment around them. They're careful that there are no insecticides around the areas where they can control. So that's one thing. Then the other thing is that people have these little colonies everywhere where the flow hives are. And so it increases genetic diversity so the bees are able better able to fight off, um, all the things that are against them in society these days.

Speaker 2: 08:16 Cause the being hives to collapse and cause them to collapse. Right. What got you interested in this story? I was just poking around the Internet one day and uh, you know how you'll get little pop up ads for things and one came up for this and I thought, oh, that looks interesting. And I've always been kind of fascinated with bees and they're remarkable insects. They have gps. I mean they, they tell each other, okay, go out there, turn left and then turn right. And I mean it's just, it's astonishing how smart they are. So I was already primed for something like this. And then when I saw that I thought, oh my gosh. So I looked more into it and I thought if I don't know about it and I'm always keeping my eyes and ears open for stories, most people probably don't know about it.

Speaker 2: 08:58 And it's worth getting out there if for no other reason than to help in small ways to combat colony collapse disorder. Because as you know, Maureen, if the bees go, so do most of our fruits and vegetables, so you have to wear a bee suit while you were reporting. Uh, half of it, uh, I was in, you know, dress reporter clothes. So really only my hands were exposed, but then of course, my head. And so I put on one of those, um, you know, those hats with the netting in front. And it was a good thing I did. I had a couple of bs that seem to be fascinated with me, kept flying around. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter John Carroll. John, thank you very much. Thank you, Maureen.

Speaker 5: 09:46 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.