Natural comb hives let me watch honey bees build comb like
they do in the wild. The bees' amazing engineering skills can be seen in these
hives. If I ever find bees in the wall of my house, maybe I can cut the wall
open and add a window!
These photos show a simple half-log hive.
To start this colony, a swarm of bees were confined inside for several days and fed
to encourage comb-building. The entrance to the outside is at the bottom of the
The front is made from acrylic window
Methods of feeding and medicating bees needed
to be considered in the design of these hives, and many areas require a permit for
non-movable comb hives.
While natural-comb hives give plenty of
insights on bee behavior, they do not give as much control as movable frame hives to
inspect and replace comb.
As this colony grew, a little comb-honey super
was added on top!
idea came from some old beekeeping books that showed bell jars placed on
top of a bee hive for honey storage. Here, I obtained a plastic bell
from a garden supply store, and stocked it with a queen a about one pound (1/2
kg) of bees. The bees did the rest.
This hive is designed for only a
single season display. One highlight of this hive is that the queen laid
eggs on some cells near the glass, so the developing larva can be
observed. Some drone larva can be seen towards the bottom of a middle
frame in this photo. This is rare!
The entrance on this hive is
detachable, so many different observation hives can be attached to this window
The Science Place Hive
In 1991 I had the pleasure
of working with Science Place Museum on an observation beehive project. Science
Place Museum is located at Fair Park, Dallas, Texas and is visited by many children
and their adult companions.
We wanted a "natural look" to the
hive to be consistent with the nature theme of the room and its other exhibits.
During the second year, the bees completely
filled the hive with comb.
The feeder jar can be seen at the top of the
After a few years, a close-up camera and video-viewer was added.
It also has a microphone so people can hear the buzzing bees. A beautiful
honeycomb window treatment has also been added!
We built the top entrance because bees
naturally head towards light when exiting the hive. The bottom entrance makes it
easy for the bees to remove the dead and debris.
Swarm control is difficult with this hive
design, although we have successfully introduced new queens.
I enjoy talking about the bees with visitors
when I inspect this hive each month.
Hive Design Considerations
The designer of an observation hive has many
options. Some things to think about:
or temporary - A permanent observation hive requires more attention than a regular bee
hive. The bee population is likely to explode beyond the capacity of the hive in
spring and summer, so the beekeeper may need to remove brood frames to weaken the colony.
The hive may also need more feeding in times of dearth, since the bees may
not have enough storage space for honey.
or natural comb - Movable comb is easier for management of colony size, disease and honey
stores, but seeing the bees do their own thing in a natural hive is such a joy!
and medicating capability - Unless the bees have enough space to store honey for the
winter, they are likely to need more feeding than a regular hive.
control & ventilation - If the hive is an indoor hive, it is best NOT to have any
ventilation into the room. By using outside ventilation only, the bees will know
more about the outside temperature and the hive will not have any "wind tunnel"
effect created from air pressure differences.
- Almost anywhere that is not in direct sun light will suit the bees nicely.
A place allows for a very short entrance tube or direct access to the
outdoors is best. It is not necessary to cover the hive to make it
dark, except to make
it easier for the bees to find the hive exit.
entrance - Bees
tend to move towards light when leaving the hive, so access to the outside should be
in the same direction as the strongest light. The exit is best
placed at the END of the hive, to make it easy for the bees to find their
way out. Exits can be from the top or bottom of the best lighted end
of the hive, depending on design. An exit at the top end makes it
easiest for the bees to find their way out, but an entrance at the bottom
makes it easiest for the bees to clean debris from the hive.
Entrances in the middle of the bottom can make it hard for bees to find
their way outside.
A very short entrance tube or direct access to the outdoors
makes it easy for the bees to make many trips during good weather, and
allows good air exchange so the bees become more aware of outside
conditions. Avoid long entrance tubes, since these stress the bees.
- Capability to remove debris from the bottom of the hive is a nice feature to have,
especially if location of hive entrance makes it hard for the bees to remove their dead.
The bottom of the hive that uses a movable drawer "debris dungeon"
concept will permit feeding of bees as well removal of debris.
The glass will need replacement too, so I design hives that allow the
glass or Plexiglas to be pried off and replaced. The simple "channel"
concept for holding the glass is avoided, since the glass would be nearly impossible to
remove after the bees have propolized it to the hive.
(bees can sting!!)
of the design chosen, the bees will provide the entertainment!
hives have an interesting history, too.