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
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
This hive has viewing surfaces on two sides, and is two
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
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
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
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
The Dallas Arboretum Hive
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.
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
The Dallas Nature Center Hive
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
The good looking guy in this photo is me. The guy
on the left is Bert.