Building and Maintaining Part 5: Measuring Temperature; Introducing Bees in an Observation Hive; Adding Bees to an existing Hive; Servicing the Hive; Absconding vs Swarming; Emergencies; Decoration


Measuring temperature is then very important when managing observation hives. Just placing your hand over the bees in the brood chamber is a quick way to check the hive. If it feels warm, it’s a good sign. It means the correct brood temperature has been reached. In cold weather if there are no hot spots, on the other hand, it could be a bad sign, or it may mean that since the queen has stopped laying, the cluster may have gone cold for a while. The temperature must be rechecked. If after 24 Hours there is no change, then there may be a problem.. It usually means that the hive is not getting enough food, because normally most of the heat comes from what is generated from digestion of honey or sugar syrup. Sometimes the hive is just momentarily cool, so be careful not to rush to judgement. Make sure that there is an adequate food supply, and that it is getting to the bees, then wait a day or 2 and test again. If there is still no results, then shake some sugar syrup through the screen, and see the bees react and warm up. If they do not move, then you can assume they have died.
In warm weather, if the temperature goes above 94°F (34 °C) then the hive needs to be cooled by a fan, but this is not frequent.

There are devices that are very useful in measuring temperature in the observation hive. They are easily available on line , or in retail stores like Home Depot. The less expensive ones are fine for our purposes:To locate where and how much of the brood area shows heat. A laser infra red thermometer is in the form of a pistol that aims a laser beam on any surface and then gives you the temperature of that spot. The laser gun can also be used to measure other temperatures for comparaison purposes.
For example:
1. Temperature outside the brood area

2. Temperature in the room where the hive is located.

3. The outside ambient Temperature

It should only be used by the beekeeper, the teacher, or someone responsible on very limited occasions while managing the hive, because the laser beam can be dangerous to eyesight


A Laser Temperature gauge


There are different ways to do this: capturing a swarm; buying 1 lb. of bees and a queen; we prefer getting an already developed frame of brood, and adding a queen.This is a relatively simple operation: Get 2 healthy brood frames from a beekeeper, in exchange for two of the new ones that you have assembled. Place them in the supers, or the one above. buy a queen (I prefer to pay a little extra for a “hygienic” one) put her within her queen cage in the third super above and let the bees do the rest. The “hygienic” queens are an alternative to adding chemicals to protect against various problems like align center or various viruses. We never add any chemicals to our hives.
In recent years because of pesticides and the varroa epidemic, finding healthy frames of bees have been more and more difficult.
Unless you have a good source of healthy bees , we recommend you start your own, regular full size deep Langstroth hive with package bees that you mrdicate before hand. First with oxcalic acid when they are in their “phoretic” STAGE i.e. the colony does not have brood yet, and only the adult bees have parasites, then use formic acid when they have brood.


After trying traditional methods, like the newspaper method, with rather mixed results, we have found an excellent procedure to achieve this. From any hive take a frame of brood, mainly sealed, remove all the live bees by brushing them off, and insert it into an empty super. Keep this super well insulated before introduction into the hive. Then place it above the existing brood area of an observation hive. Even after introduction, be careful to keep it warm. It is a good idea to put some insulation on it until it gets populated with bees from the brood chamber. The bees will readily accept the newcomers and the population will increase.
In recent years 2015, 2016, it has been increasingly difficult to find frames that have not been weakened by varroa and pesticides. So we have changed our strategy of always working uniquely with Observation Hives, and getting frames donated by others. Now, we recommend, starting your own, regular deep super Langstroth hive with some package bees and first testing them by the confectionate sugar method: (F]Powder Sugar Roll For Varroa Mites on Honey Bees. – UGA CAES With this method, the affected sugar coated bees can be returned to the hive and survive. Other methods, using alcohol, for example, means that the selected bees for the test will die automatically. If the bees are infected significantly with varroa, and if the hive has not yet developed brood, and the bees are in their “phoretic” stage, then using oxcalic acid, squirted with a syringe between frame is a good way to start medication. ( see instructions on applying this treatment) Once brood has developed then it is advisable to use formic acid.
After a couple of weeks have gone by then it is possible to start an observation hive with new healthy frames from the Langstroth.
This said, once the observation hive is established, every effort should be made to keep it going, as opposed to destroying it and putting the bees back in the larger hive, just for convenience. Our experience has been that small colonies can be made viable, and therefore should not automatically be destroyed.


The hive should only be serviced i.e. reduced or increased in size by the beekeeper and her assistants. No one else should be in the room while this takes place. Although our system is very good, it is not perfect. Occasionally, in the process of working the hive some bees do get into the classroom. Initially , if there is a sudden disruption, and bees start coming out in numbers, like the top cover suddenly coming off, they will sting the person managing the hive, who is the closest. Most of the time, though, because they are attracted to light, (they are phototropic,) they will head straight to a window and/or to an electric light. If, in daylight you turn off the electric light, they will all end up on the window. At this point you can either let them out if the window can be opened. Or you can kill the few individuals by crushing them on the glass because it is unlikely (unless they are foragers) that they will ever be able to find their way back to the hive, and they cannot survive long outside of it. At this point there is no danger that they will attack you as they are still trying to reach the light.


Absconding. When a hive absconds, most or all the bees leave the hive in a mass. This may happen for several reasons, but for observation hives it is most likely that the hive has suddenly become too hot over a long period of time, and their traditional strategies of bearding, ventilating, and water evaporation do not work. Once they leave the hive, they act like a regular swarm and send scouts to find a new location to move to. In this operation they leave few bees behind—maybe just a few hundred. Swarming.It is amazing to think that a small hive of 7000 bees would swarm, but it does. This is because when the small space it occupies is overcrowded, since honeybees cannot, like other eusocial insects augment the space available to them, the population must divide: half or more of the bees must seek shelter elsewhere. Like any hive, they will start forming queen cells. If it is an emergency situation, where a queen has inadvertently been killed, the (queen) cells will appear on the surface of the brood comb. But, normally, swarm cells appear at the bottom of a frame, Which is often a harder place to see in a modular observation hive that we use. The same techniques to stop swarming that are used with larger hives apply here also.

1. Introducing drawn comb above the brood frame.

2. Reversing bottom and top brood frames.

3. Least useful, adding a frame of undrawn, new foundation above the brood frame.

If there is a possibility that queen cells exist, then the supers with brood should be taken to a safe place, and after putting on protective clothing, they should be examined and, if found , they should be destroyed. Unless you decide to breed a local queen. After swarming, half  to a quarter of the population, a substantial number to the eye, should remain. Even so there should also be a noticeable change in the overall number . The new queen will be hard to find at first because she will not be marked, but keep looking, In the beginning she may be small and puny, but later within a week, as she  starts laying, she will be fat and massive. If you start noticing eggs and larvae, no need to look anymore, even if you do not see her, she is there. The important thing is not to panic and rush to order a new queen, because if you do, she will invariably be dispatched by the present occupant.


In the sixteen years that we have had the hives, we have never had a situation where a major glass break occurred. Should it happen, the first thing to do is to get the people away from the hive, and then out of the room. After that, the door of the classroom should be closed until the beekeeper arrives to deal with the situation. A prearranged protocol should be set up, like a fire drill, to move the students to a safe location. This is because the bees will take a defensive and attacking stance right next to their home. Further out they will fly around confused and head for the windows and the light.


On the hive,apart from the glass, most of the surfaces are untreated wood. After a while they tend to get dirty and not look very nice. Just to make this a pleasant spectacle for everyone, it is a good idea to paint everything that has a raw wood surface, either with a transparent finish like polyurethane, or some lively colors. DO NOT paint any surfaces that would be inside the observation hive.


Open super with unpainted interior

Open super with unpainted interior


In the summer when the school is closed or, at the beginning of the warm season, the hive needs to be moved. The process is the reverse of the installation mentioned above. The hive should be kept upright as much as possible when traveling. It should be kept in place using the insulations as cushions against say a heavy toolbox, or with bungee cords. It should be moved at least two miles away to avoid having the foragers return to their original sites. If this is not possible not all the population will be lost probably (at the most a third) because the house bees have not been oriented to the old location. Another option is to place an obstacle like plant stems in front of the opening which will force the foragers to re orient themselves to that particular location.


In our case we have had a strict division of labor. The beekeeper has taken full responsibility for the hive, to relieve any pressure on the teachers (who already have a heavy work load). Another option is having a teacher,or someone else, who is particularly interested in the bees; take over the job of managing them. The work entailed, once the hive is set up is relatively simple and not time consuming. Depending on the circumstances (where the school is located) Classroom Hives may be able to give a course of instruction to those who are interested.


align center removing old comb , if necessary, wax and Propolis build up, the frames. the supers with the glass removed can be dumped in a container filled with denatured alcohol. We have found this to be successful in decontaminating for AFB. It is sometimes useful to plunge a super with it’s glass in a warm tub, as hot as you can make it. The glass will loosen up and can be taken out easily. Then the frames should be sorted out:

1. Brood frames that are three years or older should have the comb removed.
They can harbor bacteria.

2. All others, particularly if they have drawn comb should be kept. For the
bees, it is a big advantage not to have to draw out new comb. Wax is After-
nsive. It takes six parts of honey to make one part of wax.

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The information provided in this Instruction Manual is provided solely for the user’s benefit, so users should read the Instruction Manual fully and carefully before building an observation hive and follow the instructions provided in their entirety, as failure to follow the instructions provided could result in injury to you or damage to your property. Children should always have adult supervision when interacting with an observation hive. This Instruction Manual is provided “AS IS,” without representations or warranties of any kind. Every effort has been made to make sure that that the information provided in this Instruction Manual is accurate and up to date, and Classroom Hives Inc. is not liable for any damages, direct or indirect, arising from the user’s use or misuse of this Instruction Manual or the information provided therein.”

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