Observation Hives: A Walk Through Time

Dating back to ancient times, there has always been a fascination with honey bees. Hieroglyphics from early Egyptian culture have portrayed images of what many believe to be clues that beekeeping existed even in the ancient Egypt.

Thomas Nutt Observation Hive. Photo Credit: The Hive and All Its Wonders 1851

It is this fascination that continued throughout history and, many years later, encouraged the construction of observation hives. In 1830, Thomas Nutt constructed an observation hive with a central box for brood rearing surrounded by two boxes in which bees could store honey. For feeding purposes each box a hollow floor with drawers for sugar syrup.

In the mid to late 1800’s glass was introduced to bee hives and Langstroth hives were adapted with glass paneled sides that allowed for observation. Partial wood frames were also placed inside of glass encasements to allow bees to build more natural comb. The purpose of the wood inside the glass was to keep the bees from building on the actual glass and obscuring visibility.

Langstroth Observation Hive. A Practical Treatise on the Hive and the Honey Bee (Langstroth 1857)

In the lab we have a wooden, four frame observation hive with glass sides. It can be easily rotated to see both sides of the frames. We often show it for events downtown, open houses, and other special events. The queen is marked so that she is easily visible and viewers can gaze at the bees going about their business as though no one is watching, busy cleaning, capping brood, caring for young, bringing in pollen and making honey.

A friend passed along a very interesting article on the topic of indoor bee hives just the other day that got me thinking about observation hives and just how far they have come since their first debut so many years ago.  Phillips is in the works of introducing an “Urban Beehive” as part of their Microbial Home plan which is a push toward sustainable, eco-friendly homes where “household waste is used to fuel other households.” One side of the hive hangs on the inside of a wall while the other side, complete with a flower pot, hangs on the outside. The Urban Hive has frames for the bees to build comb and even a pump for smoking when the hive is open. Phillips feels that watching the bees through the orange tinted plastic will have a soothing effect; and of course installing one in your home will help to increase honey bees and pollination and owners can have their personal source of fresh honey.

Urban Hive by Phillips

It seems like an interesting idea, however there are many things to still consider: practicality, the teensy issue of price, how your neighbors will feel with bees hanging out on your house, and as one reviewer said, “There’s nothing like having 50,000 bees in your house with only a thin plastic cover over them. What could go wrong?” Complaints such as bees need be handled and worked and one cannot simply pick a hive and see it flourish without doing anything were also voiced. Keeping bees is a little more complicated than buying an Urban Hive and suddenly having honey. These are a just a few of many outcries against the idea. Still, others thought it was a brilliant plan and while in theory, a beehive in every home would be a wonderful way to boost pollination and prevalence of honey bees, maybe it should be a hive for every household, not necessarily inside every home. Maybe it is safer and more practical to just have a conventional observation hive with the understanding that keeping bees takes work. Work that is, in my opinion well worth it and rewarding, but not without ease and even sometimes frustration.  It will be interesting to see the progression of the Urban Hive and when and if it does become available to the public. It seems we have come a very long way from the days of Thomas Nutt.

Want to check out the Urban Hive for yourself? Click Here!

Maybe it is a better idea to stick with these…


Written By: Jennie Stitzinger

Jennie Stitzinger has written 56 post in this blog.

In the summer of 2010 I walked in to the Penn State Agricultural Sciences building to inquire about a job a friend had mentioned to me. I was a poor college student, I needed to pay my summer rent, I was offered the job and I took it—I had no idea what I was in for. Fast forward a little over a year and I was kneeling on rocks and mud, in the cold, northern California rain, surrounded by dairy cows and hundreds of hives while Africanized bees were pinging off my bee suit. With a degree in Community Development from Penn State University, I never thought in a million years I would be working with honey bees upon graduation, but I guess life sure has its surprises. Now a member of the University of Maryland Diagnostic team, I work on many different aspects of BIP and the National Honey Bee Survey. Whether it is field work, traveling, report writing, crunch time projects, or larger missions, I am most likely working on it. What is my favorite part of the job? Working on an awesome project that has impact and is helping beekeepers around the country, learning more about honey bees than I ever thought I wanted to know, and giving me experiences I never thought possible.

  • http://www.backyardbeehive.com James Wilkes

    I believe in a “hive for every home” and have a business model that I am using to make it happen! It can be replicated most anywhere, especially in an urban/suburban setting. Check out our web site and email me with questions.

  • Giovanna Strowbridge

    Environmentally friendly (also eco-friendly, nature friendly, and green) are ambiguous terms used to refer to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies claimed to inflict reduced, minimal, or no harm at all, upon ecosystems or the environment.;”

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