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I'd appreciate a reality check from you folks who have experience managing permanent observation hives. I've kept bees for many years, but my only experience with an OH is use of an Ulster for giving presentations.

What are the major down sides to having an outdoor OH with combs that are not easily interchangeable with the Langstroth equipment in my apiary? I'm in the preliminary design stage for a large (on the order of 6.5 feet wide, 4 feet tall) single comb-width outdoor OH. I'd prefer not to use removable Langstroth frames. I believe the potential maximum 25 square feet of comb in the OH compares favorably with a Langstroth hive with about 26 deep frames.

Is management of an OH so challenging that I'll forever regret not using removable frames in the OH?

Here are the potential problems I can think of - none of which are insurmountable; are there others I haven't considered that would be a major problem?

- makes it harder to introduce queens (important but certainly not a major problem)
- can't bolster OH by adding brood from other hives (important, but I can still shake bees from other colonies into the OH)
- makes swarm control very difficult (I think I'm okay with this - if I pay attention, I'll have a good chance of catching any swarms)
- can't use the OH as a nuc to support production hives (don't care)

thanks for your insight!
 

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all frames must be removable for inspection purposes
Thanks, davemal, for that important point. I've thought of that rule and think it is inapplicable in this case, though I haven't researched the question yet (does anyone have a definitive answer?). If I were building a double comb OH, the frames absolutely would have to be removable, in order to inspect what's going on between the two combs. In a single-comb configuration, there is zero utility in removable combs for inspection purposes, since the entire comb may be observed through the glass.

Since the glass on this single-comb OH will be removable, I would argue that taking both windows off is the equivalent of taking a frame out of a box and setting it on a frame holder. Thus, I suppose the rule davemal cites would be satisfied in this case.
 

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Thanks, davemal, for that important point. I've thought of that rule and think it is inapplicable in this case, though I haven't researched the question yet (does anyone have a definitive answer?). If I were building a double comb OH, the frames absolutely would have to be removable, in order to inspect what's going on between the two combs. In a single-comb configuration, there is zero utility in removable combs for inspection purposes, since the entire comb may be observed through the glass.

Since the glass on this single-comb OH will be removable, I would argue that taking both windows off is the equivalent of taking a frame out of a box and setting it on a frame holder. Thus, I suppose the rule davemal cites would be satisfied in this case.
You might be correct. State inspectors might have a different take on it, though. When a MD inspector comes by my apiary (they are not required to give advance notice) to inspect (often with a sniffer dog) I think they expect to be able to remove any frame they feel the need to in order to check for AFB. Inspector will smell. Inspector will do rope test. It is often times not just a visual that is used when inspecting. Doing those two tests would not be possible with a drop-in inspection because it would require the beekeeper being home and prepare for the inspectors arrival by opening the hive. But this might be a non-issue. There are lots of OH out there. I manage two 3-framers at local nature centers. No inspector ever comes by there probably because the nature centers do not register the hives so the state has no idea they are there. And all OH designs would fall into the same category of having quasi-removable frames, wouldn't they? Bottom line for me is I have no idea of what the State thinks of OH hives! :)
 

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State inspectors might have a different take on it, though.... Inspector will smell. Inspector will do rope test. It is often times not just a visual that is used when inspecting.
That's the kind of practical advice I was hoping for - thank you! I hadn't considered state inspectors or inspections for AFB - and you've reminded me how important it is to know what a hive smells like during an inspection. I think removal of the glass will allow proper inspection for brood disease, but I'd have to make a point of smelling the exhaust from the ventilation ports in order to read the various clues I normally pick up from smelling my hives during an inspection.

My state doesn't require me to register my hives and the bee inspector shows up by invitation only (at least for sideliners like me - he might treat the commercial folks differently), so unannounced inspections aren't an issue unless I take the OH across state lines or my state's law changes.
 

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Where are you located at? The temperatures in winter could be an issue if you are located where it gets cold. The bees will only be able to form a thin cluster which will not provide the necessary heat retention without some assistance on your part. If you live where small hive beetles are an issue or wax moths are really bad, you may seriously regret not using removable frames. The number of bees in your hive will fluctuate and with your hive being that wide they will eventually end up with comb that is not always covered with bees. When that happens, well, you know what small hive beetles and wax moths do. They are not a problem for me with my large OH because: 1. It is inside and I have a screened area where the entrance tube meets the hive so the odors leaving my house are limited enough that I have only had 1 small hive beetle ever find its way into any of my OH hives. With your hive outside, lots of beetles and moths will find it. 2. I am using fully drawn plastic comb. So, SHB and wax moths can’t do any real damage anyway.
As far as managing OH hives being difficult, that depends. The margin for error is pretty small and they can be wiped out pretty easily. But, if you know what you are doing and do everything properly, they can be easier to manage in many ways than a traditional hive.
If I might make a suggestion for your consideration, you could make custom frames specifically for your OH or take whatever frames you like to use (with or without foundation) and cut the ears off of them so they can all be set against each other without any space between them. (Off hand, I can think of a few ways you could then mount them in an OH.) It would give the comb a lot of strength as well as making it so that, if the need arises, you could remove a section of comb without damaging the rest. It would also make it so you don’t have the danger of the entire comb breaking off and falling to the bottom of the hive causing a serious disaster. It is just a thought; you might have another vision in mind though.
 

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If you live where small hive beetles are an issue or wax moths are really bad, you may seriously regret not using removable frames. *** I am using fully drawn plastic comb. So, SHB and wax moths can’t do any real damage anyway. *** If I might make a suggestion for your consideration, you could make custom frames specifically for your OH...
Thanks, ffrtsaxk - this is really helpful.

Wax moths and hive beetles both are potential problems where I am. I'm hoping that screens on the ventilation ports and a small entrance (like enough for two or three lanes of traffic) will help keep them out. But, you make a good point about population fluctuations causing some comb to be uncovered and it is almost inevitable that a SHB will slip past the guards. I'll have to give this some more thought.

Regarding permacomb - There are significant potential advantages to permacomb in an OH, including the ones you mentioned. But that stuff is way expensive and I'm unsure how well bees tend to use it. I know most of my bees are reluctant to draw on plastic foundation unless I paint wax on it. Do you find the bees use plastic comb without issue? Or do you have to coat the comb in beeswax some how (or use another strategy) to get them to use it?

I like your suggestion about making custom frames- it addresses some other concerns I've been working out as well. I could build frames wide enough for plastic foundations to fit into grooved side bars and tall enough to fit three or four foundations in the frame. I could put ears on the top bars to maintain bee space between the frames. This could be done with perma-comb as well.
 

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Thanks, ffrtsaxk - this is really helpful.

Wax moths and hive beetles both are potential problems where I am. I'm hoping that screens on the ventilation ports and a small entrance (like enough for two or three lanes of traffic) will help keep them out. But, you make a good point about population fluctuations causing some comb to be uncovered and it is almost inevitable that a SHB will slip past the guards. I'll have to give this some more thought.

Regarding permacomb - There are significant potential advantages to permacomb in an OH, including the ones you mentioned. But that stuff is way expensive and I'm unsure how well bees tend to use it. I know most of my bees are reluctant to draw on plastic foundation unless I paint wax on it. Do you find the bees use plastic comb without issue? Or do you have to coat the comb in beeswax some how (or use another strategy) to get them to use it?

I like your suggestion about making custom frames- it addresses some other concerns I've been working out as well. I could build frames wide enough for plastic foundations to fit into grooved side bars and tall enough to fit three or four foundations in the frame. I could put ears on the top bars to maintain bee space between the frames. This could be done with perma-comb as well.
You’re welcome. I used to use wax foundation years ago, but my bees are all on Permacomb and Honey Super Cell and they all use it just fine. I did an experiment in my OH once where I coated some frames with wax and left others un-waxed. The bees didn’t seem to care either way and used both just as readily. I do run it all through the dishwasher before I use it though. I got some Honey Super Cell in black once that looked like it had some sort of release agent residue on it, so the dishwasher eliminates the possibility of that being an issue. I also don’t give my bees a choice by mixing wax comb and plastic comb. That could result in bees choosing one over the other.
 

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I've kept several different observation hive designs (year-round) through the years, and the Ulster is BY FAR the most trouble-free. I use a medium frame design, and keep a couple extra pollen and honey frames on hand, for feeding in the spring. It is so easy to install, remove, and inspect. I've build a feeding bottle adapter that fits inside the upper chamber. Typically I'll put older (3+ years) queens in it because they usually lay eggs at a slower pace. All my gear is medium frame, so moving resources around is easy. It gets used year-round for display events.
 

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I've kept several different observation hive designs (year-round) through the years, and the Ulster is BY FAR the most trouble-free. I use a medium frame design, and keep a couple extra pollen and honey frames on hand, for feeding in the spring. It is so easy to install, remove, and inspect. I've build a feeding bottle adapter that fits inside the upper chamber. Typically I'll put older (3+ years) queens in it because they usually lay eggs at a slower pace. All my gear is medium frame, so moving resources around is easy. It gets used year-round for display events.
Nice! reminds me a bit of an old time shoe shine stand;) Just read a suggestion in a 4 year old thread here to use a 100% VSH queen in OB hives since they build up slower than the 50% you would want in a production hive. No idea where you get them...
 

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How big is he glass piece? Safety Plate required? Hinged? Environment - Where are you? Moisture control and convection currents? Not much of a clustering ability is offered so how will bees maintain brood temperatures and RH. I would think you are seriously affecting their abilities to manage their survival environment. There are reasons for multilayer comb arrangements that are not answered by a single layer. So this presents quite a challenge to understand all the requirements and design a single layer with what I think would have to be a active environmental control system. Personally, if I were the worker honeybee, I would abscond. Good Luck
 
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