Can I keep BEEcosystem in a high-rise apartment or upper level of a multistory building?
Yes, absolutely! Bees are not afraid of heights. Rooftop beekeeping is becoming an increasingly common practice in many urban areas, and bees will navigate normally to hives kept at higher elevations. Any standard sliding window will work for installing the non-invasive window unit connection.
If I setup my BEEcosystem hive indoors, is it secure? Can the bees escape inside?
The BEEcosystem hive includes multiple features that make its setup for indoor applications more secure than any other observation hive we know of that has come before it; however instructions must be followed carefully during setup and care taken throughout the hive’s ongoing life.
Bees enter and exit an indoor BEEcosystem hive via an entrance/exit tube that routes the bees to the outdoors. This tube fits snuggly into a pre-cut gasket (hole) in the window unit, which is comprised of a durable insulating foam block that can be cut-to-length to fit into any standard sliding window (either vertically double-hung or horizontally sliding)—this is very analogous to putting an air conditioning unit into a double-hung window, except much smaller and lighter weight.
When deliberately moving the hive or by accidental disconnection, any time that the entrance/exit tube is removed (either at the hive attachment point or at the window unit attachment point), a spring-loaded safety hinge automatically closes off at the window unit (so bees cannot enter from outside) and/or at the hive itself (so bees cannot exit the hive into the indoors). This simple failsafe helps to ensure that bees do not enter an indoor space.
Sturdy construction and oversized latching mechanisms are designed to make the BEEcosystem hive as resistant to breakage as humanly possible for a wood product. However, a hive body that is full of beeswax, especially when filled with honey, can be very heavy. BEEcosystem hives must be mounted onto a structural stud, never just into loose drywall—BEEcosystem’s design allows for modular expansion in part because the hive’s dimensions correlate to the standard “sixteen-inch-on-center” stud arrangement such that each HexHive box center is 16 inches from the next adjacently attached HexHive box center. Stud-mounting (or otherwise adequately supportive wall structure, such as masonry) is required in order to create modularly-expanded BEEcosystem setups that include multiple HexHives.
What if my bees sting someone?
Honeybees are non-aggressive, and will typically only sting when defending their hive or deliberately provoked—stings are even rarer when bees are flying outside away from their hive.
That said, if you know that you have a child or neighbor with a severe allergy to bee stings, we encourage you to exercise caution and obtain their explicit approval before installing a hive. Under no circumstances can BEEcosystem, LLC or GreenTowers, LLC be held liable for bee stings. Customers, as beekeepers, bear the responsibility of consulting and complying with any local or state regulations and ordinances pertaining to beekeeping.
Is beekeeping legal in my area?
Even in dense urban cities, rooftop beekeeping is becoming increasingly accepted, so when regulations exist, they tend to favor the local beekeeping community. However, some local municipalities and state governments do regulate laws pertaining to beekeeping in specific areas, and customers should review any local regulations, laws, or ordinances that might exist in their area before purchasing BEEcosystem or beginning beekeeping in a new area.
What if my bees die, or my colony swarms and leaves the hive?
During the winter months, even in many moderate climates, honeybee colonies become quite dormant, and will be visibly less active. This is a normal part of their life cycle, slowing their metabolisms and conserving energy throughout the winter months when they cannot fly to forage for pollen and nectar, and must rely solely on their stores of honey reserves for calorie intake.
Colony Collapse Disorder presents a serious and ongoing problem in many parts of the world, but BEEcosystem customers can become a part of the solution: creating more localized honeybee genetic diversity, and getting more people (especially young people) interested in beekeeping can help. Even expert beekeepers can often experience a loss of 1/3 of their colonies each year due to CCD. This means the death of any given single colony it is not a failure as a beekeeper—but a small part of helping to make a difference by being a beekeeper. BEEcosystem colonies that fail can be re-started like other hives the following season with the installation of a new nuc or small hive colony or a queened package of bees sourced from a local breeder.
While generally not desirable to beekeepers, split swarming is a natural reproductive process, and can happen for a number of reasons—these include the congestion of available brood space where the queen runs out of room to lay her eggs, a colony that perceives their queen to be weak or failing, poor hive ventilation, and even genetic factors. Swarming can be discouraged through hive management, including providing adequate space for a colony to grow before they need it (by adding another HexHive to your BEEcosystem) and by destroying swarm cells. If a colony does swarm, its chances of producing a large honey crop are diminished—but on the plus side, swarms that successfully establish elsewhere (or are captured by a beekeeper) to create a new hive, will add honeybee genetic diversity to the local gene pool.
BEEcosystem Hive Maintenance & Care
All BEEcosystem customers will be provided with a downloadable PDF ebook that provides a crash-course on the basics of beekeeping—while not required for success, first-time beekeepers will always benefit from having access to another more experienced beekeeper! If your area has one, we always recommend that you consider joining your local Beekeepers Association or Guild! There is a tremendous amount of knowledge, resources, and support to be found throughout the beekeeping community, and practically all beekeepers enjoy sharing their passion and experience with new beekeepers. Becoming a part of a local beekeeping community is a fantastic way to learn more quickly, gain camaraderie, and multiply your impact.
We will be continually expanding this FAQ in particular into the future, and adding more subdivisions for specific hive maintenance questions—for now, here are some basics on BEEcosystem care:
Install: BEEcosystem hives include step-by-step instructional materials to guide you through the (honestly not-so-difficult) process of “installing” your first bees in your BEEcosystem hive. Unless you are transferring your colony to BEEcosystem from an existing nuc or established hive, you will start your BEEcosystem hive from package bees. A standard 3-pound package includes enough bees to start a new colony in the spring, and typically consists of a shoebox-sized screened box containing ~10,000 worker bees, 1 newly-mated queen (packaged in her own separated internal “queen cage”), and a temporary/canned sugar solution for in-transport feeding.
Package bees can be purchased online from a variety of honeybee breeders that ship nationally throughout the US, or purchased directly from a local beekeeper—NOTE THAT PACKAGES ARE MUCH MORE AVAILABLE AND AFFORDABLE IN THE EARLY SPRING, so it is strongly advised to find a source and preorder your package bees as soon as possible in the previous winter! Bees purchased locally are usually considered best, since they don’t have to go through the stress of being shipped through the US Postal Service, and they benefit from a local breeders’ specific stock and genetics. (If you are having trouble sourcing your bees locally, let us know, and we can recommend a breeder who sells online and ships package bees nationally.)
Your package bee supplier will provide more detailed instructions; but in a nutshell, once you have your package bees, you simply remove the metal feeder can to open up the package; quickly uncork and gently poke a little hole through the “sugar-candy” fondant plug on the queen cage using a blunt needle or similar thin object, so that the queen cannot yet escape, but has a head start chewing through all the fondant candy to release herself into the colony—be very careful not to harm your queen when poking open a starter-hole in the fondant candy, as she is the most important part of the whole package of bees! Next, shake your bees into the hive—unless you are a very experienced beekeeper, you will want to wear protective gear during the installation. (Pro tip: it often helps calm the bees to have a 1:1 sugar solution prepared ahead-of-time in a spray bottle—if you spray the worker bees down through the ventilated sides of the package before opening it, your bees will be too busy licking one another clean to worry about flying or aggravating you.)
Once your new colony is in the hive, make sure that your queen cage is positioned so that the workers can chew through the remaining fondant “sugar-candy” plug in order to free the queen, and can also attend to the queen through the screened side of her queen cage.
Some bees will always fly during installation—simply close up the back of the hive, brushing bees inside so that hopefully no bees are harmed in the closing of the hive. You can choose to leave the hive out overnight right where you did the colony installation, cracking open one side vent just enough to allow the straggler bees to find their way inside the hive—regardless, your hive is now ready for installation. You attach/check/adjust the wall-mounted setup before you do the package installation to minimize disturbance to the new observation colony—place the HexHive on the wall mount, and connect the crawl tube to the window unit if you are installing indoors. Last, we recommend you continually feed 2:1 sugar solution for a at least the first few weeks if colonies are starting from scratch in building their beeswax comb—workers produce the wax from special glands, and it takes a lot of calories for bees to produce wax!
Continued feeding: At times when the natural nectar flow is low or a colony just needs a seasonal boost, honeybees like to be fed sugar water as “freebie” calories. Basically, this is a simple syrup made from a mix of 50%-75% sugar by volume. BEEcosystem’s convenient hive-top feeder allows feeding to be done easily even indoors, by preparing your sugar solutions right in standard mason jars. Simply heat the water and then agitate/shake to dissolve granulated table sugar, and always make sure to let the solution cool to room/ambient temperature before feeding to bees; poke just one hole to start in the lid of the mason jar (*the more sugar-saturated you make the solution, the slower you can help it to flow) and invert your mason jar overtop of your BEEcosystem hive to begin feeding. Refill/replace mason jars as needed for continual feeding. Fondant candy, pollen pucks, and other protein supplements can sometimes be fed from the top feeder, but typically are more easily introduced via sliding up any of the four side-ventilation screens.
Honey Harvest: BEEcosystem honey is harvested raw as unprocessed cut comb. If you are a first-time beekeeper who has not consulted someone with more experience, we recommend that you wait until the end of your second season to harvest any honey—this gives your colony time to strengthen and establish itself throughout its entire first season. Overharvesting can be a devastating rookie mistake, as bees will sometimes starve over the winter even if the beekeeper attempts to take corrective actions through feeding.
If your BEEcosystem hive consists of more than 1 HexHive unit, you may have chosen to install a queen excluders to keep brood comb outside of your honey-only HexHive. However, this excluder should be removed during overwintering to allow the cluster to move over any remaining/unharvested honeycomb. If this does not apply to your situation, you can readily identify honeycomb from brood comb by a quick visual inspection. Capped honeycomb is white, and appears relatively smooth across its surface, whereas capped brood comb ranges from more of a yellow to a brownish color with individual caps that bulge out a bit over each cell.
To harvest, as with all other open-hive maintenance, you will need to open your BEEcosystem hive outdoors, and you will likely want to wear standard beekeeping protective gear (a veil) and will need a smoker and hive tool. Whether you remove a whole top bar frame of capped honey, or just a small section, you can simply cut the honey away with a sharp kitchen or pocket knife. Once you’re done, close up your hive and put it back on the wall-mount, re-attaching to the additional HexHives if your BEEcosystem hive consists of multiple. (If you were using a queen excluder and this is your only fall harvest, always remember to remove the excluder before overwintering.)
Honeycomb can be processed in several ways, by crushing and straining, uncapping and dripping, and other methods. However, honey can also be enjoyed raw as cut-comb! Beeswax is edible, and the honey also dissolves from the wax readily in hot beverages like tea and coffee. Enjoy the fruits of your labor – or rather, the complex monosaccharide sweetness of your bees’ labor!