Australian beekeeper Victor Croker is creating a buzz in the US with a revolutionary beehive which is said to produce up to 35 per cent more honey than conventional methods and reduce colony losses experienced by the industry in harsh weather conditions.
His company, HiveIQ which was developed in partnership with commercial builder Dave Leemhuis, has broken the mould for traditional beekeeping methods by developing a sustainable hive design that utilises polystyrene insulation that Croker says makes for ‘happier bees’.
The third-generation apiarist, who is currently in the US presenting his award-winning design to commercial beekeepers at trade shows being held across the country, says he has already quadrupled his projected sales targets in the five months he has been on the road there.
“I’ve driven almost non-stop from California to the top north-west corner of Washington through Montana, North Dakota down to Miami in the south-east corner of Florida since June,” Croker says.
“I have driven more than 35,000 miles and am now on my third rental car, back in California to begin my third lap.
“In Georgia, our new dealer sold a trailer-load of our product in under 36 hours. The dealer told me it was unheard of to sell that much product at a state beekeeping conference. It was absolutely phenomenal.”
The Canberra-based Croker and Leemhuis, who between them maintain about 1,500 beehives, began experimenting with insulated hives after a cold, wet winter in 2010 had caused their bees distress from condensation and mould growing inside the hive.
It was a radical move as the traditional timber box hives currently used by the industry have remained largely unchanged for the past 170 years.
The entrepreneurs launched HiveIQ after five years of research and field testing by a team of software developers, industrial designers, manufacturers and electronics engineers in Canberra.
HiveIQ describes its beehive, which replaces traditional timber construction with high-density expanded polystyrene, as a revolutionary design that better replicates the thermal properties of the honeybee’s natural environment, namely tree hollows.
The lightweight design, which scored HiveIQ a 2023 Australian Good Design Award, also provides six-fold improvement in insulation compared with traditional timber hives throughout the year.
HiveIQ says its beehives, which are made in Australia from 100 per cent recyclable materials, improve honey production and create a healthier environment for the bees.
“Old-style, thin-walled wooden bee boxes don’t provide a lot of protection from the weather elements, but HiveIQ beehives authentically replicate the design of tree hollows, the natural, thermal environment for bees,” Croker says.
“Because our hives are insulated, they work equally well to protect the honeybees from extremely cold or hot weather. Happier bees produce more honey; it’s that simple.”
In his travels Croker says he has spoken to many large commercial operations in the US with up to 120,000 beehives.
“Most report losing 30 to 40 per cent of their colonies over winter so they're losing tens of thousands of colonies each year,” he says.
“Then they've got to make the colonies back up for the next season, so they're constantly splitting their hives to try and recover from all the losses.”
Some have tried wrapping the hives with insulation materials, which Croker says is costly and labour-intensive.
“A lot of the commercials are forced to move their hives down to California to get out of the cold, so they've got a better chance of survival,” he says.
Croker notes that heatwaves can be just as damaging as bitter cold for hive numbers.
“I met a large Arizona beekeeper with more than 10,000 hives who lost 30 per cent of his commercial hives in a heatwave in recent years, so they can overheat and die in summer as well,” Croker says.
“Just trying to help the beekeepers to understand the importance of insulation in those hot extremes, as well as the cold, has been one of our core objectives during the road trip.”
HiveIQ is already supplying commercial operations in the US to field test the insulated hives alongside their wooden hives this winter during almond pollination season. It could prove to be a major turning point for the company in its bid to crack the US market.
“We can’t wait to see the results in mid-2024,” Croker says.
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