Much of our knowledge of the honey bee colony’s activity and life cycle is learned using observation bee hives having clear windows of glass or plastic providing a view inside the hive. Regardless of the weather, beekeepers cannot keep a bee hive open for an extended observation without disturbing the bees and adversely affecting the colony. Observation hives allow for long-term viewing with a minimum disturbance of the bees. However, observation hives are usually smaller and are more difficult to maintain than regular, full-size hives. Most commercially available observation hives hold from two to six frames. These smaller hives are more prone to starving, swarming, and being overtaken by Small Hive Beetles. Bees in small hives also have more difficulty in maintaining the hive’s temperature.
The Columbia University Beekeeping Club is considering placing a hive outside a campus building. I offered them the details of modified Langstroth hives I maintain at the Children’s Museum of Memphis. Windows in the side of one hive expose frames of comb, and windows in the rear of another allow viewing between the frames. The hives are placed outside the building as opposed to inside arrangements that use a tube for the bees to enter and exit. With any observation hive it is most important that proper bee space is maintained. In my modified hives, Lexan windows fit flush with the inside surface of the hive bodies. Quite often I see observation hives with windows covered with comb or propolis. Maintain clean windows by providing 3/8 inch spacing between the inside surface of the window and the adjacent frame. Choosing a location for placing the hive is most important. Consider the direction of the sun in relation to the hive. If the sun strikes the observation hive’s glass, the hive will likely become a solar beeswax melter, and the bees will die. I placed my Children’s Museum hives in a North-facing alcove which blocks the afternoon sun. You may view the exhibit at http://www.cmom.com/?q=honeybees.