Ulster Observation Hive Project

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10 comments to Ulster Observation Hive Project

  • The following is an email I recently got in part:

    “We recently got a new Ulter Observation Hive and I am at a loss as to how to paint it, or whether to paint or stain it. Can you help me? Is your hive stained? Do I stain all of the outside surfaces. Do I paint just the solid part of the hive – not the sliding panel that hides the glass?

    Sorry to be a nuisance, but I am not sure if the paint I use (primer/paint in one) is the right medium to use.

    Love your website.”

    Here is my reply:

    There is only one rule for painting simple hives or observation hives: do not paint the inside where bees come in contact or on wood-to-wood surfaces. Other than that, it is all personal preference. A lot of beekeepers – myself included – regularly visit the “returned paint” section of The Home Depot. Home decorators will purchase a 4 oz sample of green pastel paint only to return it! But you and I can pick it up for 75 cents and it will cover a stand, hive body, medium super, and telescoping cover.

    Hives that sit outside all year should use a primer plus three coats of paint. If you want natural wood, use marine spar varnish with a UV additive.

    My Ulster Observation Hive is used mostly for travelling so it is an indoor hive. I covered it in an acrylic varnish for several reasons:

    1. it is low VOC. That means that the carcinogenic solvents like tolulene found in fast dry oil varnishes will not reside in your hive or harm your bees
    2. acrylic varnishes are a lot better than they used to be. They are long lasting, look good, and clean up with water!
    3. it shows the wood off. In a world with too much plastic, I value solid wood.

    I don’t stain my pine hives but you can if you wish. In that case, you may need to use a pre-stain conditioner – which is a weak penetrating varnish – to insure that the stain is absorbed evenly. Or use a gel stain. I like the natural wood and know that it will darken over time.

    I hope this helps.

  • bumbl

    I just got one of these, hoping to share inspirational honey bee lore and general good will towards honey bees throughout my school. I am perplexed at the operation of this hive. I thought it a temporary home that I could place some bees in and trot them off for a showing to some students for a day or two. I keep getting conflicting answers as to how this should be accomplished.

    Any suggestions would be most helpful!

  • Bumbl,
    Observation hives can be ‘permanent’ indoor hives or temporary traveling hives. I put quotes around ‘permanent’ because I do not believe that bees flourish in hives containing less than 5 full deep frames. I don’t know what effect the light has on their hive life. I find permanent observation hives to be depressing – like poorly kept zoo animals.

    So I use my Ulster Observation Hive for temporary exhibits – typically a couple hours or a day. With a feeder frame filled with water, my Ulster Observation Hive would be ok for a couple days. The bees will have water and can drop a bunch of detritus through the screened bottom board.

    Before I take the observation hive on the road, I simply rob 5 deep frames out of an existing hive. It is usually not my most productive hive and never during a nectar flow. I am usually in too much of a rush to search for the queen. I try to pick a good looking frame containing a concentric pattern of brood, pollen, and honey to put on top of the observation hive. Kids love to see baby bees being born.

    Be sure to keep your hive out of the sun or a hot vehicle. Indoors, you will be amazed to feel the heat given off by the glass itself.

    When I return the bees to their hive later in the day, they show no gratitude what so ever – especially the half colony without a queen. But I know that will pass and that I was able to share a very special hobby and an important cause with a lot of people.

  • ki2002rom

    Mr. Beehacker,

    Am not a wood worker but know enough to assemble hives/frames with the nails and glue. Would you be willing to package and ship the components for your Ulster type observation hive? Am willing to pay in advance for this and shipping via either a mailed check, money order, paypal or other means if you prefer. Thanks, Karl 586-XXX-XXXX Michigan

  • Karl,
    Thanks for the complement. I would love to build the wood parts for you but I really cannot afford the time. However, the great thing about open source designs (like this one) is that you can take it to any woodworker in your neighborhood and get it built. Support your local economy and reduce your carbon footprint, eh?

  • Wannabee

    Thanks for all of the details; you’ve created quite a beautiful hive!

  • Johno


    Do you have photos of, or can you better describe, how the entry plug stays on in your build? Also, I was unable to find the 613/7 SS, Optional Retaining Pin (qty 6, US$0.76 each) on the website you gave and was wondering what they’re used for or what they look like.

    I am getting ready to try your design with red cedar and may add slide in panels to black out the upper section when needed. Thank you posting the details on this topic!

    Much appreciated!

  • Johno,
    The optional entry plug is one piece of two parts. One part is the plug itself. The hole needs to be filled up or the bees will fill it up. The other part is a plate that is held to the outside of hive body with two screws. The plug is glued (and/or screwed) to the plate.

    The retaining pin is a (pointless) wire safety pin. But you can just as easily use a normal safety pin or even a piece of wire and twist it so that the latches cannot accidentally be opened (by curious youth).

    Red cedar sounds great. Be sure your blades are sharp and cut on the good side since redwood and cedar splinter easily.

    Send me a picture when it is built so I can post it on the blog.

  • Johno

    Project is going slow but no mistakes so far. I do have a couple of questions about the dimension listed in Sketchup though. The 2″ rectangular cutout in the top cover doesn’t jive well with the 1 3/4-1 7/8 inch glass spacing you mentioned in the description. I’m also trying to figure out the correct dimensions for the notched frame cutout on the side pieces at the top. Would it be possible to talk with you by phone?

  • piercepresley

    Two thoughts occur to me regarding the lexan sheet: it could be tinted red, so the bees wouldn’t be disturbed by the light; and you could apply a thin layer of Fluon (liquid teflon, basically) to make the bee space in that direction less critical.

    And a third, more general one: I’m gonna make one of these.

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