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OBSERVATION HIVES. HOW WE BUILD AND MANAGE OURS.
An Observation Hive with access to the outside allows you to witness, without interruption, almost all the activities of a colony of honeybees. It shows not just the individual bees but the whole population functioning together so that the student comes to realize that all of these insects together form one animal, and they see it functioning in its real environment. It is an exhibit that gives a sense of the complexity of life in a very small space. It can be the starting point for many profound discussions. We feel it is unique for this reason, and if it has been a success, it is only because we have found ways to make it a very safe and long lasting one. There are many Observation Hives on the market, many are made for one size: 1 ½ frames, 3, 4, or larger. The smaller ones have definite limitations as a colony can grow very quickly. They are designed for a short exhibit. The larger ones are often operated as the satellite of a regular Langstroth hive. They can last a long time, but are harder to manage, as they have to be moved, every time they are modified, to a safe location before they can be opened. Obviously, your choice will depend on how you are going to use your hive. We have chosen to use a modular type whose operation we discuss below. Whichever type you choose, the hive should be located in an area of low traffic, sturdily attached to the floor or wall, or at the minimum to a heavy table or platform. Sometimes because of the high location of windows and because some observation hives tend to get tall, it is necessary to build a platform around them to give complete visual access. They can face any direction of the compass, but care should be taken not to expose them to direct sunlight, as they can easily overheat. Contrary to some opinions, an Observation hive can be visible all the time, and not kept in a dark environment, without detriment to the colony. If the hive is located on the ground floor then an obstacle such as an enclosing fence should be erected a few feet away from the entrance of the hive so that the bees are obliged to fly up above, human traffic, and the beeline does not interfere with pedestrians.
1. MANAGING THE MODULAR OBSERVATION HIVE
A modular observation hive system allows units to be added or removed from a base. It has a tube to the outside, which allows the bees to come in and out. Each module is a box enclosing a deep Langstroth frame with the correct bee space around it, so that bees can freely circulate behind 2 pieces of 1/8″ glass that form the long sides of the box. The management of a modular Observation hive is similar to that of a standard hive with the important difference that the Observation hive has only one frame per box instead of ten– a much smaller population. Someone with carpentry skills can easily make these hives.
2. ASSEMBLY AND OPERATION OF THE OBSERVATION HIVE. FIRST MAKE THE BOTTOM BOARD
An observation hive is simply a hive whose individual frames are each contained in boxes with glass sides so that almost all the activities within are visible to the viewer. We will refer to these boxes as “supers” from now on. We recommend making an Observation Hive “bottom board” (really a small container) on which all the glass covered supers will rest. This is a small box , the same width and length as the supers which accommodates the entry tube, and, on the other end a port that allows occasional cleaning of the bottom board. The “bottom board” is composed of a bottom plank 18 5/8” long x 4 1/8”wide , 3/4 “ thick: the end pieces are 2 ½“x4 1/8”x ¾” notched on the top 2 corners ¾” x ¾”. They support two side pieces 20 1/8”x 1 1/16”x ¾”, notched on each end 5/16”. (An alternate way to make these pieces is to add an 18 1/2”x5/16”x ¾” length of wood with nails and glue to a ¾”x3/4”x 20 1/8” so it fits in the space of the bottom board, as in the illustration,.) Before making the individual parts, a 4 1/8” wide x ¾ “ board should be cut with 2 grooves 1/8” thick a ¼” deep. 1 9/16” apart centered on the board from which the bottom and the 2 end pieces will be made. This saves time because all the grooves are cut once. Before cutting this board into three parts: the 2 ends and the bottom board, it is useful to drill the 2, 1 1/4” O.D. holes of the end pieces. The 5 pieces are joined together with , 10, 1 5/8” drywall screws,( five on each end) that are slightly set in . All pieces that are to be attached should be pre drilled on a drill press so they attach vertically to the next piece. Once the “bottom board” is assembled, two 1/8” pieces of glass 1 11/16”wide x19”long are inserted in the grooves as shown. This will allow viewing the activity as the bees go in and out. The Observation hive “bottom board” allows all the supers to be interchangeable—just like a regular Langstroth hive. So, for example, at some point, it could make sense to* reverse the two bottom supers—which could be easily done without disturbing the entrance tube. We advise making it out of hardwood as it will carry up to a total of six supers.
3. ADDING A PREFABRICATED SUPER
Prefabricated models exist. We have chosen to use some parts of the Observation hive made by the Walter T. Kelley CO, ( the observation hive Super, Catalogue # 346-S) which we have modified for our purposes. Here is a description of their installation and the way we use it. Because it is modular, in the fall, when the population diminishes, the hive can be reduced to two or three 1- frame supers. In the spring, when it augments dramatically, three or four can be added. We never have had more than a six- frame hive. The “supers” have no bottom board and enclose only a single deep frame. When added, they increase the total space available. The cover of the first super is removed and replaced on the top of the added super. By using our system of metal or plastic “dividers”, it can be serviced on location, where it is unlikely that any bees will escape in the room. Therefore the hive does not need to be removed from its location. This saves time besides making the exhibit safer. Another advantage of this type of hive is that, because it is quite simple to take apart, and relatively light weight, it can easily be moved.
To assemble the observation hive super, Kelley’s instructions are very good and we recommend that you follow them with the extra precaution of checking the grooves cut in the wooden components for the glass before starting, to make sure that they will receive 1/8″ glass (actually 7/64″). If they are too narrow, then they should be widened with a table saw so the glass will fit, being careful to cut a bit off the outside part of the groove, otherwise cutting on the inside would interfere with the Bee Space of 1 9/16”.
They describe how to assemble the super, as well as the frame, and the foundation that they provide. All wooden parts should be glued with Titebond II or Guerilla glue. They do not provide the 2 pieces of 1/8 th” x91/2”x 19” glass, that must be bought from a local glazier. We also join the supers differently. We use a pre- drilled guide that is the same size as the bottom board without the end pieces. (18 5/8”x 4 1/8”x ¾”) It should be made of some sort of hard wood. Drilled vertically on a drill press with four 3/16th” , 1 ¾” back from the ends, and ½” from the sides. Kelley has a different system for holding together the supers, which involve metal corners protruding at opposite corners of the super. It is not possible to slip the pieces of plastic, or metal separators between the 2 units, (as we shall see a little further) so we do not use them.