Observation hives are fascinating and fun – watching “the girls” go about their business can capture your attention for hours. They’re also a great educational tool to help beekeepers to share their knowledge at schools, fairs and lectures.
I Googled “Observation Hive” and came up with 138,000 results. That looked promising.
When I actually started culling through the top tier pages, I found there were remarkably few designs that really grabbed my eye or stood out as something I might want to buy or build myself.
Form vs function
A beekeeper friend who also happens to be a skilled woodworker, has built a few observation hives over the years including a beautiful five-frame indoor hive made of cherry, with brass hardware and raised panel doors to shut out the light. He’s also built a couple of portable observation hives from oak that we use at our booth in the local agricultural fair each fall.
I have to admit, I fully expected to see a bunch of these “cabinet” type hives, either for sale or as woodworking plans, but many of the designs I’ve come across are more rudimentary – placing function over form – which isn’t really a bad thing.
The most interesting style I discovered, and one that makes a whole lot of sense, is the Ulster observation hive.
It’s an attactive design that would be perfect for watching the girls at home and easy to take on the road for educational purposes. It’s essentially a modified top that fits on a five frame nuc box. The centre frame is raised up to be displayed between the glass sides, allowing all the bees in the nuc to move freely throughout the space.
An Ulster observation hive would be the perfect solution for our beekeeping organization, since the fair runs a full week, and separating the queen and a couple of frames from a member’s hive for a week is less than ideal for the health of the colony.
Beehacker.com has a very good article and photos of how to build an Ulster observation hive. You can even download a 3D SketchUp model to see how it’s made. When I’m ready, this is what I’ll be building!
Here’s another great picture essay at The Bees that shows the details for an Ulster observation hive to fit medium frames.
Other observation hive designs
If you’re looking for inspiration, designs or plans to build your own, here are some examples:
Looking to Buy?
If you’re not a woodworker and are looking to buy an observation hive here are a few possibilites:
One thing’s for sure – observation hives add to the fun and entertainment of keeping bees – just ask Perry.