Lessons Learned With an Ulster Observation Hive (Part 1)

I volunteered to bring an observation hive to a pollinator panel that was held this past weekend (Oct. 7, 2018) at a local historic house museum. The observation hive was very popular with everyone there.

This series of posts is about lessons learned in populating, moving and showing an observation hive.

Selection of the Observation Hive

I started with Frank Linton’s book: The Observation Hive Handbook which gave me plenty of information about different observation hives and how to care for them. Frank also has a web site: thebeepeeker.com with more information about observation hives.

I decided that the Ulster Observation Hive would be best for my needs. I wanted something portable that can be displayed at community or educational events where a hive of live bees will help engage the public and raise interest and awareness about the honey bee.

The Ulster is a 5-frame deep nuc box, so it can be used to store and manage a small colony. There is an extension section that is latched on top of the nuc box, that provides a view of one frame on both sides. Normally the colony lives in the nuc box in the apiary, with a small opening to allow the bees to fly in and out. When refactoring the Ulster for observation, the door over the opening is closed.  One frame from the nuc is selected and moved into the observation extension. The queen is placed on that frame and the extension is closed and latched. The removed frame is replaced by a frame feeder full of water or sugar syrup.The extention is then placed on top of the nuc box, and latched in place. Now everything is portable. Worker bees can move freely between the observation extension and the rest of the hive, so the queen can be cared for, and any resources that are not on the visible frame can be carried up.

The Ulster is not the best choice for a permanent observation hive indoors. With some adaptation and a pipe to the outside, it could be set up in a permanent indoor location. However, it will require more frequent handling than some of the other observation hives. The lower four frames are not visible, and if the queen excluder is in place, the queen can only lay and move on the top frame. You would have to watch the brood nest carefully and swap frames often to give her room to lay more brood.

Ordering The Hive

I ordered the hive from Brushy Mountain on September 2 with all expectation that it would arrive well before October 7 when it would be on display. My first lesson learned … an observation hive is not a high-traffic item for a bee supplier. If you are in a hurry, call first to find out whether they have it in stock, or whether it will be back-ordered.

A week after I placed my order I received an email that the item was back-ordered. I contacted someone at Brushy Mountain to ask when they would expect to have something to ship me and they said “two to three weeks.” After another two weeks, I decided to borrow an Ulster hive from a  local bee club that I am a member of. If my hive was delivered before the presentation, I would have a live example upon which to decide what modifications might be needed to the hive as delivered. As of this writing (October 16), the hive had not been delivered and I have not received any update from Brushy Mountain.

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One Reply to “Lessons Learned With an Ulster Observation Hive (Part 1)”

  1. There is more coming … I have fallen behind in my writing.

    Sadly, my order from Brushy Mountain arrived the week before they announced that they were closing their doors on all their stores.

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