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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As a beginner and weekend beekeeper I can hardly resist opening up my (for now only) hive every week. I plan on doing at least one split and catching a few swarms next spring and was considering getting an observation hive. The ones I've seen sold here in Portugal are not particularly interesting so I was thinking of building my own. Here's the plan I've come up with so far:

- Building a 6 frame single wide in 3widex2high configuration that I can set on a table
- Put plexiglass on both sides
- Set it on a table and hold it down with a sort of A-frame style support on both ends
- Cover it with some kind of waterproof tarp (if I put it outside)

I've used Google sketchup to get a rough model of what I'm considering:

Here's what I'm still debating:

- The correct inner spacing glass-to-glass. I've check Michael Bush's website on this and is 1 3/4'' (roughly 45mm) the correct measure or is that something else?
- The space should I leave around frames so that they won't propolize small openings or build burr comb in large ones.
- Figuring out how to make the plexiglass easy to remove/clean. Gluing the plexiglass on all sides to metal L frame and then using some pins to hold the frame in seems like a good idea[1]
- Setting the hive inside or outside. I have a small shack I'm considering turning into a beehouse that I could house the hive in and make dark most of the time so I wouldn't need any covering on the hive. But for ease of manipulation I think I'd prefer to just set it outside on a table and cover it somehow.
- How to deal with ventilation/opening. Would a large hive-size opening at the bottom be enough for ventilation or would a top entrance definitely be best?
- Where to put a feeder and of what type. I'd probably be feeding honey if anything at all. I've considered just having the bottom of the hive have a ridge on both sides so that I could just dump a thin layer of honey all over the bottom and let the bees pick it up.

Any thoughts would be much appreciated


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133 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I've been hoping to get an observation hive at some point. The precision required is above what I'm going to be able to accomplish on a first try, but I'm sure my third observation hive will be amazing. :D

I believe that the "bee space" is considered to be 1cm (close enough to 3/8" to make no difference). That means you'd want 1cm on each side of the frames. However, apparently Michael Bush has found from experience that brood can't always emerge with this spacing. His suggestion of 1 3/4" sounds like a great place to start to me!
Just so we're clear that's the interior measurement glass to glass including the frame width, right?

You can keep the hive inside and run PVC pipe from the entrance to the outside, but you'll probably want some sort of double gate so you can shut the bees in the hive and keep more bees from getting in through the pipe when you take it outside for manipulation. Overall, outside is probably easiest, and you should be able to cover it with wooden boards or some dark plastic without too much trouble.
I have an old building I can use so I've decided to put it inside. It will be easier to setup cameras to film it and I can just open it up right there with no issue. The only problem I see is bees getting out while I manipulate it and then not being able to navigate back in once I close it up. Maybe having a second small entrance that I can plug/unplug would be good for this purpose.

I'd definitely use only one opening. You'll want to make sure they don't overheat, so be careful about dark covering in direct sunlight, but as long as the hive doesn't experience direct sunlight, the bees shouldn't have too much trouble regulating temperature.
One opening on the top with PVC piping to the outside should be enough. I'll have to come up with some kind of mouse guard for the entrance but that should be easy. Is a ~2inch PVC pipe enough of an entrance? Even if it has some hardware cloth as a mouse guard?

I'm not sure what to suggest regarding feeding. With such a small hive, it's probably easiest to simply give them a partial (or full) frame of honey when they need feeding. If you don't have one handy, you could simply pour honey or thick sugar syrup into an empty drawn frame for feeding. Ultimately, they'll have so little room, I suspect you'll need to remove honey more often than you feed them.
I think the simple solution of having a small "pool" all along the bottom that I can poor honey/syrup into should work fine. The hive bottom is going to be ~120cm long by ~4cm wide so with a 1 cm depth I can get around half a liter of honey/syrup hopefully without the bees drowning in it. I can setup some kind of entrance to be able to use one of my bigger feeders if needed. Not needing to weatherproof it makes things simpler.

I think it's best to consider the observation hive as expendable. You have a decent shot at keeping it alive for a few months, but it's probably not going to last a cold winter and you'll get best results if you rotate in interesting frames from other hives.
Our winters are rarely ever cold. I just did some analytics on our weather data for another project and the three winter months (Dec,Jan,Feb) average only ~30% of the time below 45F (either night time or colder days, haven't checked). It rarely ever goes below freezing either. And since I'll be keeping the hive inside a building the worst of the cold shouldn't really get to it, although it won't have direct sun either. I figure I can use it as a nuc that I can keep a particularly detailed eye on. I wonder if an observation hive would be a good fit for queen grafting.

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
This is my observation hive. It sits ourside my dining room window. It has an upper entrance, a feeder jar slot and a screened bottom. It can hold either deep or medium frames. It is two frames wide, by 2 frames high with deeps, or2 frames wide by 3 frames high with mediums.
It looks great. A couple of questions:

- How does it open/close?
- How do you cover it?
- What kind of glass are you using? does it stay that clean all the time?
- You seem to have some cross comb going to the glass, is the bee space too large? How much space is there glass-to-glass in total? How far apart are the frames set?

My only real issue with this hive is that the queen is frequently between the frames so she is not always visible, nor the brood, etc between the frames.
Yep, this is why I wanted to do a single wide. I figured I had the space anyway so might as well maximize it's learning value.
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