BEEcosystem: Reconnect with Honeybees
We are on a mission: to help reconnect individuals with the nature of food—we want to help make beekeeping more accessible to everyone, to spark those meaningful conversations with our friends, family, and neighbors about the critical importance of honeybees and other native pollinators, as well as the serious threats that they face today—that's why we created BEEcosystem.
As a natural extension of our previous Living Interior designs and furnishings, BEEcosystem is an indoor observation honeybee hive that literally brings your living room to life—
—or, an outdoor observation hive to bring your garden abuzz with activity.
Honeybees are vital to our global food system as pollinators, but unfortunately honeybees today face huge threats, disappearing in record numbers due to a phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder.
Everyone can do their small part to help save our pollinator allies, by simply ensuring pesticides are used responsibly and only when necessary, and by planting native pollinator plants to provide nectar and pollen for our foraging friends.
We warmly welcome all experienced beekeepers to help us in building a vibrant BEEcosystem community, one that works together in helping to educate people everywhere about the irreplaceable importances of all pollinators. For the inexperienced but intrigued, by choosing to become a hobbyist beekeeper and practicing beekeeping at home, you too can further contribute to aiding our pollinator allies—increasing the local honeybee genetic diversity in your area, and helping bring awareness to this critically important issue in your own home, neighborhood, and community.
Reimagining the Honeybee Hive
BEEcosystem is an indoor/outdoor wall-mountable cedar observation hive, small enough to be manageable in even nontraditional beekeeping spaces, but large enough to produce a raw cut-comb honey harvest once the bees have stored up enough extra to share!
But BEEcosystem is not an effortless honey-making machine—while beekeeping can be a modest pastime, it is a hobby that requires an investment in learning and practicing the art and science of beekeeping.
From our team's earliest design perspective, we wanted to create a hive that provoked intentional conversations about honeybees. Deliberately differing BEEcosystem from all existing styles of honeybee hives celebrates a fusion of old and new apiculture ideas, each to help create an emergent yet familiar form and function.
Unlike other small and often problematic observation hives out there, BEEcosystem features a modular design that offers the ability to expand—making it actually more comparable in this way to a traditional outdoor Langstroth or Warre hive design, which each expand upward by stacking additional hive boxes. By similarly attaching additional wall-mounted HexHive bodies, your BEEcosystem hive can grow right along with your honeybee colony inside, expanding across your wall in any hexagonal design you envision.
BEEcosystem's modular expansion works using our patent pending ventilation-to-crawlway magnetic points. Because both side vents and additional HexHive bodies attach magnetically, by simply sliding out one of the four side vents, another HexHive body is attached to create a more spacious hive interior—giving your colony of honeybees more room to grow and thrive.
Indoor Hive Features & Accessories
Apart from modularity, there are a handful of other features that differentiate BEEcosystem from previous observation hives. If you plan to setup your BEEcosystem hive indoors (as we did during our own hive testing this past season), we understand that you might reasonably have some concern about housing thousands of bees inside your home or office—but not to worry—that's why we decided to include spring-loaded safety closure hinges. To our knowledge, no existing observation hive employs this simple auto-closure mechanism. With this integrated failsafe, should the transfer tube ever become disconnected at either end—the HexHive body or the window unit hive exit—spring-loaded hinges automatically seal off the honeybees to remain safely inside the hive body and outside the window unit.
Many other indoor observation hives on the market also require the beekeeper to drill a hole from inside to outside their home, all just to accommodate that simple transfer tube that bees crawl through to come and go from indoors to outdoors. In a day and age where practically every exterior wall seems to have sliding windows, we thought this was a silly requirement for an indoor beehive.
Instead, BEEcosystem reward backers who choose our indoor hive accessories will receive our simple, noninvasive transfer tube solution—allowing apartment dwellers and renters, especially, to house their hive inside without having to damage their property by drilling a large hole in the wall. That solution is a simple window unit comprised of a durable insulating foam block, which can be cut to fit snuggly into any sliding window width. A pre-cut circular hole in the window unit foam fits tightly around the transfer tube's entrance/exit hole, allowing the bees come and go as they please right through your sealed window, and sparing your exterior walls from invasive modifications. An outdoor-facing landing platform is also included, which clamps securely around the window unit to sit outside right below the entrance/exit end of the transfer tube, giving your honeybees a convenient perch for takeoff and landing.
Additional Indoor+Outdoor Hive Features & Accessories
When we began work on the first BEEcosystem prototypes in October 2014, our goal was to design the most user-friendly observation beehive ever built, period.
- First, we included a cleaning drawer right below the screened-off "bottom board"—either outdoors or indoors, simply open up the bottom drawer to wipe out any discarded wax caps or fallen debris, while your bees remain safely inside the hive above the "bottom board" screen. **The cleaning drawer can also be used in conjunction with other common commercial honeybee hygiene products, like Tanglefoot or Vaseline, which can be applied to the inside surface of the drawer to trap and detect unwanted insect pests like mites.**
- Second, we redesigned the observation hive viewing cover using plexiglass that filters for only red colored light. Like many organisms, honeybees use sunlight to regulate their natural day-night cycles. This means that artificial lighting, whether indoor or outdoor, has the potential to confuse bees about what time of day it is. Existing observation hives typically suggest piling blankets over the hive viewing window at night, or offer bulky quilt covers. Interestingly though, because honeybees' color vision is shifted toward the violet side of the visible light spectrum, bees can actually see some colors of natural light that we humans would call "ultraviolet"—but this also means that bees don't see as much red light as humans do, maxing out at ~600nm light wavelength, versus the human eye's 700nm perceivable maximum! We used this physiological fun-fact to create a semi-transparent red light-filtering plexiglass nighttime viewing cover, which simply lifts magnetically on and off overtop of the regular daytime clear plexiglass viewing window. So after dark, cover up your hive viewing window—you'll see your honeybees (tinted red), but they won't see you.
- Third, we designed a hive-top feeder that works with standard mason jars. During the beginning of the spring beekeeping season, as well as during other times when few flowers are in bloom and the natural nectar flow is low, 50% sucrose solutions (1 part regular table sugar + 1 part water) are commonly used to provide honeybees with extra calories, which they use, for example, in the highly energy-intensive process of building beeswax, among their other caloric needs. Mason jars not only look simple and elegant, but are available everywhere, and easy to use when preparing a sugar feeder jar. **Other honeybee dietary supplements, like pollen or commercially available protein-rich pollen substitutes, can also be added through the hive-top feeder, which acts as an extra circular top vent when not being used for feeding or covered for weather protection on outdoor hives.**
- Last, we incorporated 6 specially sized "foundationless" top-bar style frames into each HexHive body. We wanted BEEcosystem to resemble as natural a beehive as possible, and wanted the hive to show the processes of honeybees building up their colony and honeycomb—that's why we chose to eliminate all commercial plastic frame foundation from the hive, ensuring that the view of the colony is never obstructed, and making it easy to harvest raw cut-comb honey. These "foundationless" top-bar style frames resemble to those used in typical Warre hives or Top Bar hives, and allow the bees to naturally build their comb downward from the freely hanging angled bars.
- Step 2 Tip: mount onto a wall stud or vertical structural member, NOT into loose drywall
- Step 3 Tip: indoor, set near to window; outdoor, do NOT set in direct daylong sunlight
- Step 4 Indoor Tip: orient window unit such that the hole for the entrance/exit tube is closest to the hive
- Step 5 Indoor Tip: occasionally, one or two bees may escape in this step—this happens, but don't worry—we promise that you and your honeybee hive will be okay!
Help Make BEEcosystem a Reality!
If you care about bees, we want to engage with you to help build a grassroots community that grows through educating one another, our neighbors, and our communities about the critical importance of honeybees and other pollinators.
So help us spread the word—please consider backing our campaign, and sharing this video online with your friends—together, we can help spark meaningful pollinator conversations, and lower the barrier to entry for the next generation of future beekeepers—help us create the first observation beehive to ship with bees already installed inside, mitigating the sometimes difficult and intimidating task of finding and installing a natural swarm or purchased package bees into an observation hive.
Together, we can make BEEcosystem a reality, and help shift the conversation about bees away from a stigma of danger, and toward the irreplaceable roles that pollinators play in agriculture and the environment!
Our vision is for our community of BEEcosystem backers to become a connected network of engaged local beekeepers, educating together both formally and informally, to help reverse the perilous trajectory of Colony Collapse Disorder. Working together, we can make a difference for all pollinators, and help people everywhere to reconnect with honeybees.
Special thank you to Christian John for the filming and editing of the campaign video, as well as to Matt Thompson for production and audio work.
Risks and challenges
Due to already having so many reward levels with slightly different beehive backer product configurations, in an attempt to keep this page somewhat navigable and understandable, we decided NOT to double every single $450+ BEEcosystem pledge level in order to offer both indoor and outdoor hive accessory versions—this means that we will need to follow up with each and every one of our $450+ backers, immediately upon campaign funding, and then continually up through the 30-day campaign conclusion, in order to determine which backers prefer indoor vs outdoor hive accessories (and if outdoor, which metal roof color they prefer as well). BUT, we personally think this challenge is great news, because we're truly thrilled to get to know our backers more personally, and begin building a grassroots community of pollinator protectors (and we also just can't wait to talk with you more about BEEcosystem)!
Another challenge we anticipate is in helping to guide novice beekeepers who back our campaign—if you're a first-time beekeeper, we welcome you to the BEEcosystem community—but you are probably more likely than, say, an experience beekeeper, to have the perception that beekeeping is an effortless hobby, magically producing honey. Unfortunately this is simply not the case—and in fact, many beekeepers will conservatively recommend waiting until a hive's second season in order to harvest any honey at all, and only then if the bees have stored up enough surplus to share. However, because building this community that supports pollinator educational outreach is so central to our vision for BEEcosystem, we are also THRILLED to welcome and encourage any and all new first-time beekeepers! But know upfront that we DO intend to help make you a true beekeeper, not just a fascinated passive observer. We're SO excited for all of the teaching and learning experiences sure to follow this campaign, and we hope that novices do join us, helping to grow the next generation of beekeepers.
If they are not already, our $450+ backers will become beekeepers—and this means following all local laws and ordinances. While the tides of stigma are changing, some municipalities still ban beekeeping outright. It is important to check with your state and local laws and ordinances, as many states also require beekeepers to register their hive(s). Here in Pennsylvania, apiary addresses are registered with the PA Department of Agriculture through a simple one-page $10 form. After the campaign (and hopefully throughout the campaign as well), our team will work closely with our backers to make sure everyone understands their local laws and regulations, as well as how to meet them.
A fourth challenge lies in the fact that our team is admittedly still in the process of negotiating with a potential honeybee breeder/supplier, so that important partnership is not yet officially in writing. However, we are very confident in our ability to meet this challenge, mainly because we are so very confident that our method of shipping hives with bees installed will work effectively. This confidence comes from the fact that our live bee shipping/packaging plans are so closely analogous to industry-standard honeybee package shipping (typically 3-pound packages of bees, often shipped via USPS), as well as the fact that we have appropriately over-budgeted for this added cost. The spring 2016 beekeeping season gives us far more than enough time to finalize discussions with a breeder/supplier during the off-season, and meet our fulfillment obligations to every one of our backers.
One challenge may come from backers who pledge a reward level to receive only one HexHive with their BEEcosystem, and whose honeybee colony successfully outgrows the space of that single HexHive. The reason BEEcosystem is modular is to be able to expand the available hive-interior space; however, this assumes backers will either pledge reward levels upfront that receive multiple HexHives, or purchase additional HexHives later on when needed. A larger honeybee colony tends to be a stronger honeybee colony, so permanently restricting bees to a single HexHive is not the ideal longterm condition, and a colony that runs out of room is far likelier to swarm. Swarming is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but if the colony either splits or leaves completely in a swarm event, the beekeeper may be disappointed. BEEcosystem is designed to expand into a large observation hive, not remain confined to a single 6-frame HexHive, and we will work with our backers to help them understand why this is the case.
One final challenge is that some backers, and especially first-time beekeepers, may believe that a failed colony signifies that they are a failure as a beekeeper—this is simply incorrect, but offers a teachable moment about what it really means to practice beekeeping. Remember the Colony Collapse Disorder statistic above? That on average ~1/3 of ALL hives are lost EACH YEAR due to Colony Collapse? Even professional beekeepers, who keep bees commercially to earn their living, still experience failing colonies every single year. Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality of beekeeping today—but it is also a driving motivation for the creation of BEEcosystem in the first place—by together creating new hobbyist beekeepers and more beehives across the nation, we all help make a contribution to localized honeybee genetic diversities. Some think the hope for honeybees' future may well lie in their ability to adapt and evolve resistances to the various stressors causing Colony Collapse. By keeping bees in your local community, you ARE helping to naturally foster that random genetic diversity—so remember, if your colony does fail, that does not make you a failure as a beekeeper. On the contrary, it proves you ARE a beekeeper for having tried, and you will always have the ability to continue beekeeping, by starting a new colony, and helping fight the good fight for our pollinators allies everywhere.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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