pretty bee header

We created the World's first tweeting bumblebees, and now we've won the Internet of Things Award (Environmental) 2012! Thank you to our readers for your votes!

Introduction

Our Bumblebee nesting project started in 2011 as a bit of conservation to help the declining bumblebee population by encouraging one (or more) to nest in boxes in our garden. We discovered it's not easy, and our project quickly evolved into an ongoing and intimate study of these amazing creatures, which we are sharing here for the benefit of all. 

Amongst our unexpected successes are: 

  • A short clip in the film "Britain in a Day" by Ridley Scott (Broadcast by the BBC in 2012)
  • Featured in Wired Magazine for creating the World's first tweeting bumblebees
  • Winner of the Internet of Things award 2012 - Environmental Category
  • Oldest recorded age we can find of a worker Bufftailed Bumblebee - at 103 days

We've discovered, observed and collected a sizeable amount of real-world data, still being analysed and written up (Overview here). Additionally,

  • We've sourced several live colonies from commercial providers and have been looking after numerous disabled bees indoors.
  • We've learnt to recognise individual bees, spot specific/individual behaviour patterns
  • We measured efficiency and can predict some of their behaviour triggers. 
  • We have some CCTV cameras pointing at the nestboxes and inside
  • You can also follow BeeBoxALula on twitter where our bumblebees tweet live for themselves!

Insights

We're also using tech to monitor the lives of our bumblebees - visual, audio, temperature, sunlight, weather. We can see how the environment impacts their behaviour and understand, capture and share the marvels of their secret lives.

As a species under great threat, we've brought the critical study of Bumblebees into the Multimedia age and revealed intriguing and new insights based on direct observation.

You might want to start with our project summary or project motivation.

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Going crazy with expanding foam again!

Here's how I made a shelter for our forthcoming Koppert Bumble Beehive box.


For farmers Koppert recommend a simple sheet of polystyrene foam with a brick on top to hold it down - but to me this seems a bit cheap and cheerful and not necessarily well engineered against bad wind and rain. So, I wanted to do something a bit more creative and potentially robust. 

Having quite successfully made my fake "grass hummock" last week out of expanding foam I decided I could use a similar system to create a protective cover for the new beebox nest. I've been thinking about the design for quite a number of days and it seemed this would be simple and fairly cheap to do. I don't have any wood-working or metal-working equipment (or skills!), so this is a simple solution; even a child could do it. 

However, the structure needs to be more robust than the pure foam structure I created for the "hummock" - as it pretty much rests directly on top of the existing box. However, this structure cannot rest on the box; but more importantly, it must be very resistant to weather - especially the wind which can be very strong here. It would be a complete disaster if it was able to blow over. So, some requirements for this:

  1. enough strength to support being weighted down - e.g. with bricks
  2. ability to mount some brackets, which is necessary can be fixed to the garage wall
  3. overall enough structural strength to hold together even if flexed and blow about

My solution is actually to build a skeleton within the structure with some chicken wire; line this with plastic to ensure excellent waterprooofing; and then apply the foam to this structure to create the overall shelter. 

The steps are outlined below. 

step 1 - measuring out the chicken wireThe chicken-wire is easy to work with - I just measured it to twice the size I needed. 

step 2 - heavy duty plastic folded into the chicken wireThen folded the wire with some heavy duty plastic (you could cut up a bin bag) sandwiched between.

step 3 - creating a folded template over an existing boxThen I folded this over a box that I had checked, double-checked and triple-checked was big enough to cover for the size of the beebox PLUS the bricks it will sit on PLUS room to open/shut the bee entrance control PLUS an overhang to provide shade over the front of the box. It pays to do the arithmetic up front!

step 4 - applying expanding foam to the structureThis actually took two large cans of expanding foam. It's quite tricky to do the sides as it can drop off - so you have to be patient and work in small blobs. That's why the surface looks the way it does. 

Notice also the brackets that are wound into the chicken wire. These provide a future option to tether the shelter to the garage wall if needed. 

step 5 - painting in a light stone colourThen I painted the shelter with some cans of plastic spray paint. Really quick and easy to do. We chose quite a light stone colour which blends against the garage fairly well. 

step 6 - cover installed in location with a "test box" underneath on greased bricksThe greased bricks are to keep the beebox off the ground and prevent ants and insects from being able to crawl up into it. For this reason the beebox should touch any plants or other objects. We also have an ant-trap right next to it. 

I'm testing the shelter for a few days with an empty box inside. If it remains there safely through any blustery weather, I'll be happy. So far so good. For now the shelter is held down with two bricks on the purpose designed "feet". It's actually very stable like that.

view of the box cover with the video camera mounted about itI've also mounted a video camera over the box. At this stage I don't know if it will be possible to get a camera inside the koppert box, so we've put a camera over it. We'll put plants and pollen on top of the shelter that will attract the bees and we'll be able to see them going in and out of the entrance. The camera is all set up and tested and we can view it on the main TV in the house.