Conventional harvesting methods for hobbyist beekeepers involve opening a beehive’s honey super (the box on the top where bees store their surplus honey); smoking the bees and brushing or blowing them off the frames; removing one or multiple frames, then transporting them to the kitchen, laundry or honey shed; cutting off the caps; spinning the honey out with a centrifugal extractor or simply squeezing it out; filtering out the wax and dead bee bits, THEN taking all the frames back to the hive; putting the frames back; putting the box back together and then cleaning everything up!
It’s a long and arduous process, usually done on a hot day, and which involves lots of heavy protective clothing, sweat, bee stings, and backbreaking heavy lifting. And it’s really rough on the bees. Part of their home is destroyed, and many are killed in the process!
Inside every Flow Hive is one or more Flow Frames. The frames comprise a partially prefabricated honeycomb matrix which the bees complete with their own natural wax, fill, and cap, as they would a conventional frame.
When the honey is ripe, the beekeeper, from outside the hive, simply inserts a Flow Key into the top of the frame. When the Flow Key is turned, the mechanism is activated. The wax parts of the cells crack and the hexagons are split, forming channels, and the honey runs down into the trough, out through a tube, into the beekeeper’s chosen receptacle.
After a few hours the bees notice the honeycomb is empty underfoot and they chew away the capping, repair the cells, and refill them.
Beekeeping has been in the Anderson family for three generations. A love for the bees and the natural world has always been an important part of the lives of the father-son inventing team behind the idea, Stuart and Cedar Anderson.
It all started because Cedar felt bad about bees being crushed during the honey harvest. He was also sick of being stung and having to spend a whole week harvesting the honey from his small, semi-commercial apiary.
“The first idea was simply that there must be a better way, and I’d been thinking about that from a very young age,” says Cedar, who started keeping bees when he was just six years old.
For almost a decade, Cedar and Stu tinkered away in the shed to find a way to harvest honey that was less stressful on the bees — and the beekeeper. They were chasing the beekeeper's dream.
Stu and Cedar would draw sketches and discuss ideas, then Cedar would use his remarkable lay engineering nous to come up with working prototypes.
After trialling many methods over the years, and finding nothing they were really happy with, eventually a “Eureka” moment occurred.
“I think Dad had had a few strong coffees that morning,” Cedar recalls.
“He held his hands together in a way that resembled a honey cell and then moved them so the two halves were offset.”
“I knew straight away exactly what he was talking about,” Cedar says.
That was the morning the Flow honey harvesting system was born.
Months of experimentation led to a number of prototypes, a lot of trial and error, then friendly beekeepers trying out the designs.
The frames worked. Very well indeed. And it soon became clear that Stu and Cedar had something really special that was going to change beekeeping forever.
By the time the Flow Hive Indiegogo campaign was launched in February 2015, the teaser video had gone viral, and was instrumental in Flow Hive becoming one of the most successful campaigns ever launched.
At that time, it was Indiegogo’s most successful campaign and the most successful ever launched on any platform outside the United States, garnering over US$12.3 million in pre-orders in just six weeks. Their humble target of US$70,000 was reached in 177 seconds.
The media interest was staggering, with a feel-good story that practically wrote itself: A father and son both struggling to make ends meet when they finally launch an invention they had been working on for 10 years – a beehive which delivers “honey on tap” – and become millionaires almost literally overnight.
The reality, however, was as the money rolled in, so did the orders – 20,000 of them, with the scramble on to fulfil — before Christmas!. Amazingly, Flow managed to deliver on their commitments only a few weeks behind the schedules outlined on Indiegogo.
Fast-forward to February 2018, and there are now 51,000 Flow Hives in use in more than 130 countries. Manufacturing and logistics processes have been optimised and the company now generally dispatches orders within 24 hours. Flow has won multiple awards for innovation, design, marketing and business including Good Design Australia, D&AD White Pencil, Fast Company World Changing Ideas, two medals at Apimondia International Beekeeping Congress and was declared NSW Business Chamber’s Business of the Year (2017).
Now, Cedar and Stuart are at the helm of a company that has matured into not only a successful Australian exporter, but a prominent advocate for bees and the natural world. A global community of hundreds of thousands of people has sprung up around the idea of being kinder to bees and taking better care of our local environment.
Recently, Flow launched a new, limited edition product – a pollinator house – designed as a home for solitary bees, made from upcycled Flow Hive offcuts. Eight hundred units sold in the US and Australia almost immediately, and all the profits will be going toward pollinator habitat programs later in the year.
The company is also going through the process of gaining B Corp accreditation, which means meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
The company is launching a new hive, Flow Hive 2, aimed at making beekeeping even more enjoyable and accessible.
Michael Bush, author of Beekeeping Naturally and a well-known U.S. beekeeper, said: “It’s not very often something is so revolutionary as to blow my mind.“Saving 20 percent of harvesting labour is not trivial, 40 percent is amazing, 60 percent is revolutionary. But 95 percent – that’s mind-boggling!”
Michael Howes, of Tyagarah Apiaries Australia said: “I put the Flow box on one of my hives, and the bees took to it straight away. The honey came out clean, no wax. The bees just remove the capping and start filling it again. Great system!”
Having grown up on a bushland “intentional community” in the Rainbow Region of NSW, Australia, Cedar didn’t have a telly growing up. Instead, he spent his time tinkering and coming up with crazy inventions to delight his friends and family. As an adult, work revolved his other consuming passion, flight, as a paragliding instructor and capturing aerial footage for Greenpeace.
Having been a third-generation beekeeper since the tender age of six, it was during a particularly nasty summer honey harvest that Cedar decided, “there had to be a better way.” Now, Cedar is at the head of Australian manufacturing success story, Flow having shipped more than 51,000 orders all around the world. He lives on the far north coast of NSW with his partner, Kylie Ezart, and their two children.
A long-time tinkerer, Stu has built several houses over the years (including the one in which Cedar was raised, and where Stuhe still lives with his partner, Michele Wainwright) and co-designed and built an off-grid solar and water-powered electricity supply to serve a dozen homes on the cooperative. He’s also a life-long beekeeper and before the Andersons’ incredible invention became all-consuming, was the director of a not-for-profit community organisation based in Lismore, NSW.
As well as having a hand in the daily decision-making at Flow, Stu is the man on the mic, talking Flow Hive at numerous business and beekeeping conferences and other events, in Australia and abroad. Stu is still an avid beekeeper with a passion for the natural world and a family man with four kids and eight grandchildren.