Observation Hive

Most people think observation hives are a novelty, a way to attract the attention and interest of non-beekeepers, but we at Hébert's Honey Bees simply can't disagree more.

There is simply no better way for beekeepers, of all experience levels, to learn about bees than with an observation hive. You will learn more in a single season than in years of keeping bees traditionally.

Of course, that presumes the observation hive is well designed and permanently occupied.

You can't observe what you can't see, so it is crucial that you be able to observe every square inch of comb space. That's why it's crucial that the observation hive design take both ventilation and bee-space into account.

Our observation hive is designed to allow you to adjust the ventilation for a range of conditions. On hot and humid days you can open up more ventilation, or you can restrict it during cold winter nights. That way you won't lose your view to condensation buildup on Summer days, nor will you lose your colony to wind chill on Winter nights.

Moreover, our observation hive is designed with particular attention paid to bee space. There is ample room for the bees to move around on the face of the comb, but not so much that they will be induced to buildup a propolis layer on the inside of the window.

Still, being able to observe the bees is one thing, but the value of that observation is quite another. What you observe is of limited value if the bees' behavior is abnormal. That's why our observation hive is designed to be permanently occupied, year round and outdoors. This ensures that the bees behave no differently than they would in a traditional hive, or hollow tree.

Yes, our observation hive can be easily closed up and the bees contained inside. That way it can be brought indoors, or to special events, and the bees displayed for others to see. But even then what people see will be a complete colony.

It was with these objectives in mind that I designed this observation hive. Using an estimate of the comb space in the first tree hive cut-out I performed, I modeled this hive after a single vertical frame-slice of a standard Langstroth hive. This provides 871 in2 of comb-space (2 standard deep body frames plus 2 standard medium super frames), and the hinged mounting configuration allows all of it to be easily viewed.

This hive has a 1" diameter entrance located opposite an incorporated feeding port, and an easy access debris tray underneath (see below). The entrance, though smaller than usually found in nature, provides sufficiently reduced access that even a young colony can successfully defend it against robbers, and ventilation ports make up for the reduced air flow.

Aiding in defense of the hive, the ventilation holes and feeding port are fully screened, and the debris tray access is gated. This ensures that the bees' only ingress and egress are through the entrance.

The screened feeding port can be used to provide the colony with liquid in warm weather, or granules when it's cold. In either case, it is not accessible from outside the hive.

But keeping robbers out is only one concern. Many people want an observation hive installed indoors, and this one will accommodate doing so. Fit the entrance with a flexible tube leading outdoors, and the screening and gating will keep the bees confined even during feeding and cleanout.

But other animals behave differently when kept indoors, and I suspect the same would be true of honey bees. So this hive is also equipped with two fleece-lined door panels which protect the colony from radiative and convective cooling on cold winter nights, making this observation hive well suited for outdoor installation.

Hébert's Honey Bees observation hive is not yet available for purchase, since it is yet unproven. I plan to repopulate mine next month when I do summer splits (after the honey harvest) in order to test the design's efficacy. Once the design is proven it will be made available for sale here. In the meantime, like us on Facebook to follow the progress 0f the hive's testing between now and Spring.