2018-07-01 / Up Close

What’s the Buzz?

Dustin Betz and BEEcosystem are setting a new standard for observation hives.
Will Desautelle

The honey bee contributes to almost a third of the United States’ food supply, but the bee population has been declining in record numbers over the last few years. In fact, between 2015 and 2016 there was a 44 percent decrease in bee colonies, according to the American Beekeepers Foundation.

In Centre Country, BEEcosystem’s new indoor-outdoor modular observational honey bee hives are raising the bar in beekeeping to help alleviate the pollinator crisis.

While indoor observation hives are not a new concept to beekeeping, BEEcosystem founder and owner Dustin Betz says that unlike existing observation hives that are limited by their fixed size, BEEcosystem’s modularity offers the ability to expand the interior hive space.

“The individual units that we call HexHives can connect together, so you can start with just one or two HexHives and expand it across the wall to be as large as you want,” Betz says.

While attending Penn State University, Betz spent one field season working as a research assistant at the Grozinger Pollinator Ecology Research Lab. Shortly thereafter, Betz initiated his first startup company, Green Towers, while still completing his undergraduate studies. It wasn’t until October 2014 that Betz began working on launching BEEcosystem. By the following spring BEEcosystem had built its first prototype.

Betz’s goal was to design an observation hive that is more maintainable long-term and to expose non-beekeepers to honey bees and other pollinators at work. Betz hopes those who see these hives in an educational setting can be made aware of how fragile pollinators are and learn how to help protect them from further population decline.

“The decline is more of an aggregation of a wide variety of different stressors on bees rather than a single cause, but probably the most important among those causes are pests and also the overuse of pesticides and insecticides,” Betz says.

The number one thing people can do is to be really careful about the doses of insecticides being used in home gardens and making sure that they are not being over-applied.”

Betz adds that the honey bee decline could be a bit overstated since the species used commercially today are native to Europe and Asia and not the Americas. He says that because there are numerous beekeepers who domesticate honey bees, they do not face the same dangers that other American native bees do. However, the general pollinator collapse is a serious phenomenon that requires our attention.

“The number one thing people can do is to be really careful about the doses of insecticides being used in home gardens and making sure that they are not being over-applied,” Betz says. “The other thing people can do is plant native plants that are good for pollinators, and any garden center will be able to give plenty of information on what plants are good for each region to homeowners.”

Betz says that BEEcosystem has sold more than 100 of the new modular observational hives and that the company has attracted customers from all over the United States, as well as several internationally in Canada and Europe. The growing business also sold more pre-orders this past spring than all of last year after implementing valuable feedback from customers into the new observation hive design.

“The biggest feedback that we got from our first year was that people who set them up on an outdoor wall had to open them from the back, and so you had to lift it off the wall in order to hinge the back-panel open,” Betz says. “We took that feedback into consideration, so for the 2018 hive model that we’re currently selling, they do open from the front.”

Betz is also working on an add-on product called a “super,” a device that beekeepers add to hives toward the end of pollinating season to encourage bees to produce more honeycomb at the very top of the hive.

“We want to create a super for our hives that are smaller than an additional HexHive, but that is specifically for honey production,” Betz says. “We are hoping to launch it in the spring of 2019, and it will probably be called ‘Honey Box.’”

With an increasingly scarce pollinator population today, Betz and BEEcosystem are setting a new standard in Centre County — and generating a new buzz in beekeeping. •SCM

Return to top