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Econooc

A conservation beehive from rewilding irish black bees made from mycelium with other repurposed and sustainable materials.

  • Econooc is a no effort conservation beehive made from mycelium that aims to engage the user.

  • How the hive works in relation to the user and the calendar.

    How the hive works in relation to the user and the calendar.

  • I did lost of user research with both scaled and full size models and material testings.

  • The calendar teaches the user about biodiversity and has seeds it in so it can be planted.

  • This board shows how the hive is assembled and how it is attached to the tree.

  • Materials were really important in this project and this is the bill of materials for the hive.

What it does

Econooc is a hive made for wild native Irish black bees. It bio-mimics the space in a hollow tree from mycelium and other repurposed/sustainable materials. This hive and calendar lets anyone have bees in their garden but also teaches them about biodiversity.


Your inspiration

I always realised I was lucky to have grown up in a house where I was taught constantly about the natural world but I didn't realise until I started doing research for this project how little other people my own age and older knew about the biodiversity that was all around them. I also learned lots this year about the Irish black bee through the association and wanted to do something to help with their conservation efforts. I decided to combine these 2 problems together and from there looked at what solutions I could use that would get more people involved. It was from those ideation sessions that the idea for a conservation hive came about.


How it works

This mycelium hive is created to biomimic the shape of a tree hollow. This shape is the perfect shape for bees to move around in a cluster during the winter months. Mycelium is the base of a mushroom and acts as a binding agent when grown on a substrate. The substrate can be any agricultural bi-product like bagasse that would normally end up as waste. Mycelium issimilar to polystyrene and also has natural substances that give the bees an extra defence against the varroa mite which carries viruses into a hive. Econooc is a segmented self assembly hive. This makes it smaller to transport, easier to grow and repair. The bottom remoulded waste plastic landing pad/ventilation hole allows the user watch the bees and can understand what they are doing from reading the calendar. The calendar teaches the user about biodiversity and how to create a more diverse garden. The lower section of the calendar is made from wildflower seeded paper which the user can plant.


Design process

I initially decided to use mycelium as a replacement for the polystyrene hives. I connected this with the idea of an easy to use conservation hive after interviewing the members of the Black Bee Conservation Group. I knew from my research that the volume had to be 40 litres and after form studies, I settled on biomimicing the hollow tree shape. Initially this cylindrical hive was on a stand but after user feedback, it was decidedly better to have it at a height. The difficulty of getting the full-scale model to that height showed the necessity for the pulley and support system. After further research on the best ways to grow mycelium in molds. I realised better practice would be to make smaller molds so I segmented it. I initially had the 2 cylinder sections in the 4 parts. The user testing showed that they were difficult to keep together while assembling so I further developed it so that it was 3 segments and that the overlap between each section was bigger and enough space to put a dowel to hold the part laterally while assembling. The feedback from this was a lot more positive. Unfortunately due to the lockdown I was unable to create my final full-scale model but I did test growing my own mycelium and tested the material with the bees in the hive.


How it is different

Although there are lots of different types for commercial beekeeping there are none that are sold for conservation efforts. On top of that, I have only every found people growing mushrooms under hives to protect the bees but there is no commercialised mycelium hive. This hive is not just about the bees either, it gets the user out planting the calendar and watching and monitoring the bees and their garden. This product is unique in that it doesn't create more waste but the majority of its material is waste material and in just buying it the user is combating the waste. The product is also very versatile. It can be used at home but it can also be used in school for education or for farmers and gardeners who don't want the effort of keeping a hive but want more pollinators around. Not to mention that every single hive is completely unique because the colours and marbling effect of the landing pads are completely unique to each user.


Future plans

My next step in this project is getting the full prototype made. Since finishing and sharing my idea with people I have gotten very good feedback and support and have a list of people who want to buy one for their garden. To get it into manufacturing I first need the prototype and then I will apply for funding. I also want to develop a bracket or stand for the hive to make it more versatile and accessible to more people. I also want to do more testing on mycelium and test it with more treatments to get a higher IP rating on it and to get the most benefit for the bees out of it.


Awards

I was awarded joint PDT Designer of the Year. This is the award for the highest Final Year Project Awards in Product Design in the University of Limerick.


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