Bees that have called the rooftop of one of MacEwan University’s buildings home since 2016 recently received a special visitor — the architect of their unusual hives.
Australian Stuart Anderson, co-creator of the Flow Hive, dropped by the building in downtown Edmonton to see how the urban pollinators like his creation. Anderson and son Cedar released the Flow Hive technology in 2015 and while it hasn’t been adopted by many commercial beekeepers, it has seen a big uptake from smaller-scale beekeepers.
“The Flow Hives have taken off,” said Anderson, whose company has about 65,000 customers in 130 different countries.
Anderson and his son, who spent 10 years developing the Flow Hive, became internet sensations when they crowdfunded its launch, reaching their desired target of $70,000 in seven minutes. In their first six weeks in business, they received about 25,000 orders, and their company now has 50 staff.
Anderson was invited to speak at an international beekeeping conference, Apimondia in Montreal in September, and decided to come to North America for a month. He and wife Michele Wainwright landed in Vancouver and then headed to Grande Prairie to visit beekeeper Doug Wild, who has been trying to adopt Flow Hives for commercial purposes. (Since Flow Hives are more expensive per unit than the traditional Langstroth hive, they have not been widely adopted by commercial beekeepers.)
“Doug and his daughter have been experimenting with Flow Hives for commercial purposes,” said Anderson. “There are a number of people doing that around the world. It’s really important to actually spend time person to person and that was the case. It’s great to see what they’ve been doing and have a personal relationship with them.”
Troy Donovan, MacEwan’s beekeeper (as well as a learning system administration applicator in his day job) was so excited to meet Anderson, he asked him to sign his bee suit.
In turn, Anderson was enthused to see how the university has made his hives part of its sustainability program — maintaining the bees on the roof, and both selling honey and using it in vinaigrettes made by the culinary program. (The school has also started growing microgreens, and composting.)
“They’re demonstrating not just to the university, but to the world, that there are all kinds of things to make the world sustainable,” said Anderson. “It’s exciting to visit here and see how the Flow Hives have been integrated into a sustainability project.
“My dream for the Flow Hive was that more people get involved in beekeeping and understand the complexity of not only insects, but our human interrelationships with all life.”
When using a Flow Hive, a beekeeper can harvest honey without a honey room or disturbing their bees.
“When bees are not disturbed, they are less stressed. It just makes it so much easier,” said Anderson.
The hive uses special frames that can store honey, unlike the traditional Langstroth hive. The Flow Hive does use some of the Langstroth hive design, such as a brood box. It also has viewing windows and its plastic frames have a matrix that bees build their wax honeycomb on. That allows the beekeeper to harvest the honey by turning a key, which allows the honey to flow out of the frame.
MacEwan started with four beehives on the roof, and expanded it to six. Donovan, who had always wanted to keep bees, approached the university and originally initiated the project.
“It’s been a lot of fun and we show that we can keep bees happy and healthy on the roof, so it’s been very successful,” he said.
The beekeeping program has been promoted to the university students, the on-site daycare, and many other community groups. The bees feed from nearby trees as well as trees in the more distant river valley. Since the hives have been installed, the university groundskeepers have added more flowers to nearby grounds.
“Having the Flow Hives really helps with the limited amount of space,” said Donovan. “When I put in my order for the Flow Hive, I never thought I’d get to meet one of the fellas who created it.”