Hobby beekeepers could have an alternative product to recollect swarms and maintain bee reproduction rates thanks to the
work of Massey University industrial design student Liam Brankin.
The 22 year-old has devised a prototype backpack he calls the Swarmstorm that uses a suction hose, similar to a
household vacuum cleaner, to suck and capture bees into a cardboard container before they are transferred to hives to
continue the reproduction and honey-producing process.
His design is part of the Exposure graduate exhibition of final year work by design, art, creative media and music
students from the College of Creative Arts, which opens at the Wellington campus on Friday. His research, which included
educating himself about the science of beekeeping, convinced him that while backyard variations of his concept existed,
there was potential to pursue a product design that helps and motivates hobbyist beekeepers to recollect bee swarms.
Hobby beekeepers typically use gloved hands to gather bees into boxes from the bush before transferring them into hives.
Mr Brankin’s design would enable them to also capture bee swarms seen buzzing in less accessible places.
“By making the recapture of swarms more accessible it improves the productivity for the beekeeper while helping the
wellbeing of the bees,” Mr Brankin says.
Swarming is biologically intended for reproduction of bee colonies with the queen bee laying a queen cell in the spring
and summer period when she recognises the hive is thriving. Once the new queen cell hatches, the existing queen will
leave with up to 80 per cent of the colony in search of a new home leaving the newly hatched queen to continue the cycle
with the remaining 20 per cent of the bee population.
In recent years the viability of bee swarms has been threatened by Varroa mites and outbreaks of American Foulbrood
Disease. The latter disease, which only affects the larvae, has been present in New Zealand the longest, is the most
widespread and extremely contagious, though efforts have been made to control it through legislation. The Varroa mite is
a more recent invader, first identified in New Zealand in 2000, though since then has proved to be menacing presence for
the industry. While not a usually a problem in a thriving hive, in autumn and winter when the bee population drops they
can overtake a hive and destroy it. The spread and mite’s impact on bee populations can be minimised by isolating
It was is one reason why Mr Brankin opted to for his bee collection containers to be made of cardboard to ensure they
were only used once and then burned to prevent any possible contamination.
“In New Zealand if any hive is found to be contaminated it has to be burnt within seven days with all the bees inside as
there is a concern with cross contamination. Any equipment used with that hive would have to be burnt within seven days
too,” he says.
His prototype design comprises an imitation polyethylene plastic shell, a cardboard form box and recycled fabric rolls
for the hose, which is connected to main box with accordion-style tubing paper. While its compatibility to connect to a
battery or power source as used by an everyday vacuum cleaner is still being researched, other hobby beekeepers have
expressed enthusiasm for its possibilities.
“I think is has great potential,” Wellington Beekeepers member and queen bee rearer Mark Grenfell says.
“Its single most important aspect is its use of cardboard which is really interesting because its disposable and could
possibly avoid contamination [of bee hives].”
Before embarking on his final year industrial design project, Mr Brankin had little knowledge of beekeeping but is keen
to try the hobby once he graduates.
“The big thing I learnt is that if you really want to get into beekeeping you have to get into it for the right reasons
and be fully dedicated.”