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the evolution of urban beekeeping – now you don’t even need a rooftop!

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Though our recent adventures in beekeeping ended in disappointment, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t still on the lookout for another honey-making alternative. After spotting this Urban Beehive from Philips on Uncrate we decided to take a closer look. The company known for its innovative lighting is now tackling another modern living project, the plight of the honey bee.

Part of the Microbial Home Probe, (which means it’s not for sale, just an idea at the moment), the urban beehive has two parts: an entryway and a flower pot on the outside, and a glass vessel containing honeycomb frames on the inside. The glass shell filters light to let through the orange wavelength which bees use for sight. The beekeepeer could access the honey with a simple pull of a chord. The hive can also be opened for inspection — though you’d need a smoker and an open window so you don’t fume yourself out.

If we lived in beautiful, glass walled apartment building in Manhattan — say one overlooking the High Line — we’d volunteer to test this out for real. It’s an intriguing concept, and one that is worth exploring. Something tells that bees may not keep the glass quite so clean (would they even like living in a glass house?), and one little flower pot may not work as a welcome mat — but still it has us buzzing.

Read more about the urban beehive concept at Philips.

we tried it: simplisafe home security system

Background: Ever since we have moved out of the city and into a house in ‘burbs, we’ve been thinking about getting a security system. Somehow in the city, where our apartments usually had only one point of entry and the buildings often had doormen or security, we didn’t worry about burglary that much. But out here in our own freestanding house, not only are there three doors, but lots of windows that are easily reachable. We have already taken some measures to securing our home: We have installed exterior “spy” cams we can turn on when we’re away. They’ll alert us every time a UPS man drops a package off on our front door! We also have a dog: despite his adorable looks, our labradoodle Cupcake does emit a rather fierce “warning” bark when strangers approach. Most security systems sound like they will be more trouble than they are worth. They cost hundreds to install, require expensive monthly fees to keep active, and will add an extra layer of complication to our lives. That is what we thought anyway, until reading about SimpliSafe on Apartment Therapy — which highly recommends it for apartment dwellers — we decided to give it a try on our small house.

The Lowdown: The first thing we noticed about SimpliSafe (we ordered the Classic) is that it took longer to unwrap it from the packaging than it took to install the entire system. Ours came with a base station, a wireless keypad, a motion sensor, 3 entry sensors (+ we ordered a couple of extra ones), an extra siren and a smoke detector.

After it arrives, we registered the Base station online. Then, you can either program the system via a web site or by using the provided USB key that you plug into a computer that will walk you through set up. The USB key is basically the size of a small memory stick and also serves as a portable on/off switch if you want to put it on your key chain. (Note: We found it to be slightly on the cheap side and wished they made a smaller, more high end one that wasn’t plastic — perhaps aluminum or a carbon fiber?)  The system is totally customizable so you can decide which sensors are active when you are away or at home. Pressing the Panic Button for two seconds will instantly trigger an alarm. You can also set the panic button to trigger a “Silent Panic” alarm if you want to pretend you work in a bank. If you are subscribed to alarm monitoring, the police will be dispatched. However, you’ll want to use the silent alarm setting with caution, as you will not receive a call from the monitoring center prior to police dispatch.

For ours, we chose not to use the panic button because we could imagine our little girl pressing it just for fun.  If we decide to add it later we can do it via a drop down menu in our account settings. You can also add other elements to the system a la carte style:  They make a water sensor, freeze sensor, and a Carbon Monoxide Sensor. You can even add extra key pads if you would like a second one by a back door or upstairs.

If one of the sensors is opened when the alarm is on, the base station will beep and ask you to enter your code (in effect, telling whoever just entered that there is an alarm system activated). If you don’t enter your code in time (you can determine how long), the system will send a signal to SimpliSafe’s 24/7 alarm monitoring center and a siren goes off. It uses the same cellular technology that’s in your cellphone: a system SIM card that is activated when you subscribe to the alarm monitoring service. You can customize how long you have to enter your passcode and you can also enter up to 5 different passcodes and a separate passcode to use if an intruder is forcing you to turn off your alarm and they will immediately send the police.

The motion sensors are supposed to not be triggered by pet under 50lbs but our small dog triggered it one day when he jumped up on the back of the couch. We just moved the sensor to another location and have not had any problems since.

When you go away from home, you activate the away mode — all sensors are on. You can place the system in the “home mode” if you want to deactivate motion detectors but keep the windows and doors armed. Everything is customizable so you can decide what you want on and off.

The price of the smallest system is $229 and monitoring costs between $15 -$25 a month depending on if you want to control it via a mobile device.– compared to other systems that are similar that cost about $1400 to install and $45 a month for similar services.

The monitoring comes in three different price plans:   “Standard” $14.95 for just monitoring service. “Alert” $19.99 monitoring service with text alerts if sensors are triggered.  “Interactive” $24.99 monitoring service with text alerts if sensors are triggered.  You can also receive secret alert texts which can be set to monitor sensors that are not meant to detect a burglary but meant to keep track of other things, such as a liquor cabinet door or medicine cabinet being opened. Good for houses with teenagers, perhaps? But not for us.

Or you can choose to have no monitoring plan at all and the system will still blast a siren if the sensors are triggered. The burglars won’t know if police are on the way or not but they won’t stay long to find out if the siren is blaring.

Still Curious: For more detailed information, visit SimpliSafe’s website here where you can review all the options and watch some helpful videos. If you have any questions about our experience, leave a comment here and we’ll do our best to respond quickly!

25 days of gift ideas: a chic jar for your honey (+ how to adopt a hive)

As you know, we are honey enthusiasts here at Shelterrific. Even though our own adventures in bee keeping have ended in disappointment this year, that is not going to stop us from supporting the beekeeping community. We love seeking out small-label honey, and have gathered a collection of from our travels. (The most recent? Honey from the Grand Wailea in Maui!) How to serve and present this sweet golden syrup is always a dilemma. Jars get sticky fast, and it’s always a challenge to get the last bits out of the bottom. That is why we are swooning over this Hive Honey Jar from Biodidactic via Etsy. The jar is beautifully hand crafted to allow for maximum dipping, and the dipper is made from Maplewood. It’s a splurge at $98, but something to treasure. Make the gift even more meaningful — adopt a honey bee hive and gift it to your loved one! One of our favorite upstate bee emporium’s, Bee & Hive in Rhinebeck, is offering “hive adoptions” on its website, Bare Honey. Currently taking orders for the 2014 season, this is a great program for anyone who wants to learn about honey farming, but can’t have a hive of their own. You’ll learn about the hive, have the opportunity to visit, and get a few jars of honey to savor and share each year. $95 at barehoney.com.

could you live in a $25,000 micro home?



We often dream about packing it all in and heading to the hills or treetops to live in a small kit house. From our reseplace, we’ve found they usually require some serious dough in the end, and can end up costing as much as buying an already existing home and sprucing it up. Ian Kent hopes to change all that by introducing Nomad Micro Homes — small, DIY dwellings that only cost $25,000. While not exactly the kind place you could live in all year long (unless perhaps you were a desert dweller), the Micro homes could be great weekend getaways, guest houses or even artist or writer studios. According to the founder, if you can put together Ikea products, you can put together one of these houses in one week. (Though, if you’re like us, your Ikea skills are not so great.) With their minimalist lines and high ceilings, it’d be easy to imagine spending some quality time inside one of them. Visit Nomad Micro Homes for more information.

adventures in beekeeping: and then there were none…

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this post, dear friends. A bee-apolocypse has hit our our beehive; it has collapsed, disappeared, extinguished. All that remained were a few die-hard stragglers, a pile of bee corpses, and a nearly empty hive with nothing but yellow jackets and wasps slurping up the little sweet stuff that remained.

As you may recall, not long ago we decided to collapse our two hives into one. One hive was just not producing enough filled honeycomb to survive a winter, while the other seemed to be thriving. That appeared to be a success, and when we last checked on them a few weeks ago, two levels were jam-packed with bees and there was a lot of honey. Not much of it was capped off though, so we were a little concerned that they only had a few weeks left to make some more supplies and food for the winter. To help them along, we added a shallow pool of sugar water on top. There was a screen inside of it, which is supposed to prevent the bees from falling in and drowning. To make it a little easier for them reach the water, we propped open the top of the hive with a little stone, so they could easily exit from the top and the bottom.

When we arrived to check on them the other Saturday, three weeks had passed and we could tell immediately something was wrong. It was a bright and sunny day but from the distance there didn’t see to be much activity coming in and out of the hive’s front door. As soon as we got closer, we immediately noticed that all the buzzing things weren’t honey bees at all, but rather yellow jackets. The shallow pool was empty of sugar water now, but there as a thick layer of dead bees inside. Either they drowned or engaged in a battle. But the hundred or so bee bodies in the pool didn’t represent the thousands that should have been remained in the hive. As we cracked open the top level, we knew immediately. The bees were gone. File after file was was dry of all honey and pollen. A scattering of yellow jackets swarmed greedily around.

We’re not sure what went wrong, but we have a few hypothesis.

1. Leaving the top of the hive open allowed predators to move in. Still, a yellow jacket is usually no match for a honey bee hive.

2. Too many drowned in the pool, leaving the hive week. They fled because of that.

3. It’s a bad place to put a hive. Perhaps our tiny 1/3 of an acre plot is just not conducive for honey bee hives. It’s on the edge of the woods, and maybe the feral critters and flying things are just to many. Who knows.

4. We don’t tend to the bees closely enough. Two, sometimes three, weeks pass between our visits to the hives. Perhaps that is leaving them alone and unattended too long. If we were there monitoring things more closely, perhaps we could have changed its course.

5. Or, is this a classic case of hive collapse that we have been reading about with worry?

Needless to say, losing the hive is devastating. Not only did we invest a lot of money and effort into the endeavor (about $500 or so total), but we loved the way having a hive enriches our lives. Isadora and her friends are eager pupils. We were fantasizing about what we could label our honey in the springtime. All for naught.

Of course we’ll continue to study and support local beekeeping efforts, but I don’t know if we’ll make the attempt to house our own again. Perhaps we can find someone with a farm or just a robust garden that would welcome us planting a hive on their property.

Please let us know if you know of anyone in Columbia or Green counties who might be game to try this adventure with us next year.

Sniff.