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John's Beekeeping Notebook

Observation Bee Hives

Observation hives can tell us a lot about what is happening in the bee yard. They tell us whether there is a nectar flow and what is happening with brood-rearing. 

I have enjoyed working with several types of observation bee hives.   The experimenting was fun, and I learned a lot about bees!   This page features movable frame hives.  The next page features natural comb hives and design suggestions.

Movable Frame Observation Bee Hives

Movable frame hives allow a beekeeper to examine and replace comb, and to medicate bees.  Here are a few designs that I have used: 

A six-frame hive is large enough to house a permanent colony, but eight frames or more would be better. A Six-frame Hive

This hive has viewing surfaces on two sides, and is two combs wide.

The hive is thin enough that brood is usually seen on the outside combs.  The queen is occasionally seen laying eggs on the outside combs during the daytime, but she is often hidden from view.

Hives with only a single comb width are great for a temporary display, but very stressful on bees.  Double or triple comb width hives allow the bees better temperature control.

The width between the glass panes in my hives is 1 3/8 inches for each frame in width, plus 1/2 inch for an extra bee space against the glass. 

A visible entrance is a nice feature to have on an observation hive because there is typically a lot of bee activity there.I took care to avoid having direct sunlight hit the hive's viewing area.  Didn't want cooked bees or melted beeswax!

The wood parts of this hive were made from cedar fence pickets.   A hinged top section allows feeding with an inverted jar. 

The entrance also has a viewing surface.

An Outdoor Six-frame Hive

Bees will propolize bee hive parts together, which can make it hard to manage.  This must be considered in hive design.This hive is viewable from inside the home, but does not need any modifications to the home for the hive entrance.  It attaches to the outside of a window frame.  This hive is also built from cedar fence pickets.

My hives that are outside in cold temperatures tend to get a glazing of propolis on the glass or acrylic viewing surface after a year or more.   I have had to replace the acrylic once every few years.

Here in Dallas, Texas, the bees overwinter very well in outdoor double-width, six-frame hives.  Winter temperatures are often below freezing, and go as low as 20f degrees for a few nights each year.  Starvation is the biggest threat.

The Dallas Arboretum Hive

There are few things more pleasing to me than to see people fascinated by the bees in my observation hives.  This makes it all worthwhile.A hive similar to the one above was arranged in a fence at the Dallas Arboretum's herb garden.

We installed it as a temporary exhibit for the Arboretum's "Insectisours" exhibit in June of 1995, and it stayed there for 5 years!  I checked this hive about once each month for possible queen, disease or food stores problems.

The bees' entrance is behind the fence, which forces the bees' flight path up and over the heads of visitors.

This hive overwintered nicely during the last two winters.


Portable observation hives are easy to build from Plexiglas and pine wood.   Twice each year, I join fellow members of the Collin County Hobby Beekeepers Association in hosting a beekeeping display at the Dallas Arboretum.  A single-width tabletop observation hive always seems to attract attention of passersby.

In the photo at left, Judy Lewis explains the foraging habits of honey bees to visitors viewing a portable observation hive.

The Dallas Nature Center Hive

Sorry for the slow server!In the early 1990's, my friend Bert Otto and I built and installed an observation hive at the Dallas Nature Center. 

This 8-frame hive is mounted on the inside wall of a barn.  The design is similar to my other double-comb width hives. 

This hive was maintained by Bert until he left Dallas, and then by another beekeeper.  However, the hive did not have any bees in it when I last visited.

The good looking guy in this photo is me.  The guy on the left is Bert.

More observation bee hives: Natural Comb Hives ]  

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John's Beekeeping Notebook  http://www.outdoorplace.org/beekeeping/   Content from John's Beekeeping Notebook may be used for any non-commercial purpose except internet duplication, providing the source is acknowledged.  Created by John Caldeira, Dallas, Texas, USA    john@outdoorplace.org