June 6, 2019
Sending off the first BeeKeep prototype to our apiary in North Carolina felt like sending your first-born off on a journey alone — would it be OK in transit? Would it arrive safely? Will it like its new home? But all was well, and Jim has already begun confirming the particulars and brainstorming ways to make it better.
What do we need to learn from testing?
We may be strategy experts, and Mitch, an engineering expert, but Jim, he knows honey bees. He’s already asking the right questions about how bees will behave in relation to the device and the right specificity of questions to ensure that we know our test data is in fact moving us forward.
- How will bees learn how to enter and exit?
- Will bees come to the feeder when there’s a reward solution alone?
- Will bees come to the feeder with a dye and reward solution? (The dye, by the way, is so we can determine if and how well the bees are coated by the wick.)
- How much of the bees’ bodies will be covered by the dye
- Will the dye stay in place as bees exit?
- Will we see bees with the dye return for additional foraging?
The goal of the first set of tests was pretty straightforward: to determine whether bees will enter the feeder at all, and whether or not the dye is deposited on them.
The inevitable hurdles of testing
One thing we will always contend with is nectar flow. It’s one of the variables we can’t control but will have an absolute impact on the bees and their interest in the device.
Another is, unfortunately, rain. And North Carolina had ongoing rainstorms during our first round of testing. Despite the frustrating stop and start, Jim reported that the bees swarmed around the sugar solutions between storms! This was a great start.
Our next learning curve
A liquid solution, which seemed like the ideal choice, was proving to be a lot more troublesome than we had anticipated. First of all, liquid sugar is prone to spoilage. That’s not good for the bees and wouldn't be good for our customers.
We need a solution that stays fresh.
Second, the circular opening is hard for honey bees to enter. Who knew? And the bottle mechanism is awkward with the wick – and speaking of the wick, bees hate touching it.
So, that’s a lot. But with every stumble, we learn a crucial piece of information so that we can revise, and try again. And again, and again. No good product comes into being without iteration, trial and error.
Square entrance and thick solution. Got it.
Round two of testing
As we gear up for the second test with Jim, we’re making little (large) changes based on Jim’s report from the first go-round.
Mitch designed a second prototype with a square opening and sent it over.
And, upon learning that bees dislike (intensely) getting their feet wet (come on, that’s kind of adorable, right?!), we have to design a way to get the reward solution to the bees without forcing them to walk through any puddles on the bottom of these bee boxes.
And by “we” we mean “Mitch.”
60 days till winter
We’ve set up an account so Mitch can overnight new prototypes and supplies to Jim, because time is of the essence now. Every day that passes we’re closer to the end of testing season. We only have about 60 days until the bees cluster in-hive for the winter, ending our tests until next spring. That’s a lot of time to lose.
We can fill the winter days and months by getting the website set up, crafting a social media strategy, looking into vendors, and thinking about packaging — but only if we know we’re on the right track.
And that requires some successful tests.