How to get free media coverage for a bogus beehive design

model beehiveI started getting questions about this “urban beehive”  early in November.  I thought it was fairly obvious that it was a gimmick–a PR op by a company that wanted to get some free press.

And yet…it has become the story that will not die:

“The extraordinary contraption hangs inside the house and features see-through materials so you can watch the insects at work.  Separated into two parts, a flower pot and entry passage sit on the outside wall and the hive hangs indoors. Owning one means doing your bit for the environment – since honey bees are key pollinators – and getting a handy supply of very fresh honey….

The removable glass case even cleverly filters light on a special ‘orange’ wavelength, which is used by the insects for sight.  Called the Urban Beehive, the design is part of a new project by Philips called the ‘Microbial Home’.   

Today, I found an article in the UK Mail–not a good major newspaper, but still a major newspaper, printing the entire press release unchallenged.

I expect better from professional journalists.

I was able to find out this product was vaporware in less than 1 minute. It is, as Patsy says in the Holy Grail, “only a model.”
What ever happened to finding at least one–ONE!–secondary source to comment on something? Every story that I have seen so far has printed the basics of the Philips Press Release with pretty photos. And NONE of them seems to have had the thought:

“Hang on. Perhaps I might ring up some beekeeper chappie and ask him about the feasibility of this beehive?”

Yes. That would be a good idea.

Since there seems to be a lot of coverage about this thing, and I fear that the earlier bump of coverage is about to be repeated, I thought I would take some time to point out that this hive will not be coming to a store near you. Ever.  Philips introduced this as part of a design contest called “Microbial Home.”

Their designers came up with some pretty crazy ideas about what the home of the future would look like–including a creepy diagnostic bathroom tool that will analyze your feces and saliva, and something called “bio-light”, a methane digester that looks like a molecule with nipples. (The digester is where the feces and saliva go after the creepy diagnostic bathroom is done with them. I still don’t know why there are nipples, though.)

None of these, including the “Urban Beehive”, are real products. They are entirely conceptual, other than the pretty plastic model made for the Design Show.

WHY did so many media outlets that should know better unquestioningly tout this story, completely unchallenged?   I wish I knew the answer.   Even if this beehive did exist, it would be a very bad idea, indeed.

blueprintAs best I can tell, this indoor hive is what you get when you build a hive based on information about bees that you got entirely from Sports Illustrated.
It is nice and shiny….and shows a complete lack of understanding of how bees live their lives.

First of all, the purpose of a bee hive is to make more bees.  The honey is stuff that we steal from the bees.  That’s why they get so cranky about honey harvesting–we are taking the food away from the mouths of their children. Literally.

This hive has no place for bees to lay eggs and rear their young. You’ll end up with brood mixed in with the honey and pollen stored in the hive.  Which means…you are going to get a lot more protein and fiber in whatever honey you manage to extract than you might be comfortable consuming.

But hey, bee brood is actually delicious, and eaten in many other countries. So perhaps you will boldly go forward with a plan to extract honey. That’s going to probably destroy all your larvae. Whoops, no more bees.

This design for smoking the bees doesn’t really solve the problem that to get at the honey you have to remove the cover completely…while the hive is inside your house.  While bees that are smoked are pretty mellow, they do still move around, and quite a few will escape.  If you have Junior playing around the area, or a curious cat, this will not end well.

The sealed nature of the hive will make it nearly impossible to look at your bees and see how they are doing. A tremendous number of things will kill bees:  Foulbrood. Nosema. Tracheal Mites. Varroa Mites. Hive Beetle.  And that’s just the short list!  Regular inspections are needed for the health of your hive. With this hive, that means taking the cover off the hive and removing comb with bees on it to look at it inside your home. I’m sure nothing could go wrong with that…..

The hive itself is tiny.  That means that it will probably be generating swarms on a regular basis, as the hive grows and has nowhere to expand. I’m sure your neighbors will be just fine with swarms of a thousand bees or so landing on their balconies.

A major issue for bees is regulation of temperature and humidity within their hive. If it gets too hot, they will ‘fan’ at a hive entrance to create a sort of air conditioning.  The tiny entrance to this hive means that will be impossible.  Because the hive is inside, it will be at room temperature–which may not be the temperature the bees want it at.  They also won’t get cold and slow down for winter, since the temperature will be mostly constant, and the artificial lighting of the room will mimic the long days of summer.  It’s difficult to forage for pollen and nectar in winter!

I’ll toss one more objection in to this by-no-means comprehensive list of why the hive design won’t work: bee space. That phrase will not mean much to you if you haven’t worked with bees before. Bee Space is a special measurement–3/8ths of an inch, or slightly less than one centimeter.  Anytime there is a space in a hive bigger than 3/8ths of an inch, bees will fill up the gap.

This photo shows a nice example of how bees will build additional comb to fill in gaps, or to brace comb that might be getting a little saggy because it’s full of heavy honey.  This is exactly what would happen in the “Urban Beehive”.  The second you tried to open that hive, you’d have angry bees and comb spilling out all over your floor.

I honestly don’t know if the bees would tolerate horizontal comb in the Philips design–they usually build vertically.

Having said all this: If you want to raise bees, and have your own observable bee hive, that can be done! Just not with this design.

Bees are incredibly complex animals, and you shouldn’t just decide to get a hive like you might decide to get a puppy. They need special care and feeding.   There are usually beekeeping classes offered by gardening groups, extension offices, or your local university. Setting up a hive is not cheap–take the time and invest in learning how to take care of your bees. You’ll fall in love with them once you have them.

14 thoughts on “How to get free media coverage for a bogus beehive design

  1. Exactly. Beehives are not toys, nor are they pets. The best thing to compare a bee hive to is chickens in a coop. They’re domesticated animals housed and bred and used by humans for a particular purpose, they have special needs, diseases, parasites, and will attack people if harassed. Whoever designed this thing obviously knew nothing about honeybees. It would be like if someone designed a farm for dairy cows but didn’t know a damn thing about dairy cows. “Wait, you mean they make a lot of poop? And I have to vaccinate them and treat them for parasites? And I need to actually /sterilize/ the milking machines?” Idiots.

  2. I’m not sure the journalists at the Daily Mail count as professional journalists. They are notorious here for rewriting interviews to suit their purposes. Most of their news “stories” are about celebrities going shopping in skimpy outfits.

    Thanks for confirming that this hive will not ever be going on sale! I had worried that a few misguided people might buy one.

  3. I wonder if I would’ve fallen for it? I think the bit about smoking the place up, opening the hive and removing honey with full confidence that none of the bees would be anywhere other than still in the hive… may have rang alarm bells.

  4. Ah BugGirl, but it is so pretty and elegant and comes with its own flowers and pollen so the bees don’t have to forage in dangerous places! Besides, it is every bit as functional as the Filtering Squating Toilet design.

    Personally, if it were affordable, I would have bought an Urban Bee Hive for fun, but the lack of any shopping cart or price tag was a bit of a hint (not to mention the other products in Microbial World). I’m not sure why you think a journalist would ruin a good story with fact checking (is this one of those triumph of hope over experience thingies?), but thanks for ‘vaporware’, a term I somehow missed, but now will treasure and abuse.

  5. One solution to this whole problem is to stock the artificial, built-to-look-pretty-but-not-to-be-functional hive, with little robot bees. Then they could be programmed to behave the way that the hive designers want them to, and not the way actual bees would behave.

    Oh sure, it would be wildly impractical. But not as impractical as *having an open beehive in the middle of one’s house, as one hacked away at burr and brace comb to try and “harvest honey”!*

  6. Ah, thank you for writing this wonderful essay of Why This Can’t Work, as it has saved me the time of having to explain it to the numerous excited friends who are sending me these articles. Oddly, the loony Philips design reminds me of Ernst Jünger’s 1957 story The Glass Bees, which described in detail little robotic bees that created honey in mechanical glass hives. Those, too, were elegant conceptual designs predicated on inaccurate information of how bees actually produce honey.

  7. Was the “bio-light” nipple question rhetorical? If it wasn’t I think the nipples are the necks of the different bottles that compose it. I also think that the first photo is a side-view where the said nipple/necks can be seen.
    Great hoax slaying by the way!

  8. As a dog trainer, I’d be happier if people didn’t decide to get a puppy like they “decide to get a puppy.”

    They are rather complex little creatures themselves, no?

    Alas, my impressive collection of epi-pens and a stern allergist have proclaimed that there will be no beehive — slickly designed or no — for me.

  9. I truly feel for you. The only thing more aggravating than the number of news outlets and blogs repeatedly reprinting this press release as a real story is the number of people who actually get upset when it’s debunked. I had the same exact issues as you did (in my case, former beekeeper, as well as dedicated hunting wasp enthusiast), and I can’t tell you the number of times I received a snarky “Well, I think it’s cool,” as if approval from a know-nothing automatically neutralizes any legitimate questions about its viability. That’s not even counting the number of hipsters who act as if any serious critiques of the idea is somehow an attack on urban agriculture. And so it goes.

  10. I agree Paul. I was accused of not being forward thinking when I mentioned that the design was absurd and that they should check with a beekeeper to learn the reasons why it was impractical. I actually kind of like the idea of bees swarming in the homes of these “forward thinkers” homes.

  11. Great work! I knew this thing was rubbish. It just doesn’t make sense to keep bees in such a device. I told my wife that the designers must not have consulted a single beekeeper when coming up with this thing. I was having a hard time taking it seriously and cringed every time I saw a new site with the article. I did share several links on Twitter, not as an endorsement but more as a conversation starter. Most of what I heard back was that folks would love to try one. I’m sure if they ever go to market with the thing they’ll make a decent amount of money on it. However, I’m sure this design wouldn’t meet the “movable frame” requirement here in North Carolina. And I have a feeling that any experienced beekeeper in the vicinity of a building full of these would suddenly find himself very busy collecting absconded swarms.

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