This written about 25 years ago, I think...
I've used a variety of observation hives, including a 1 frame 'portable', a 2 frame not quite so portable and a 4 frame vertical. And I agree with Kerry Clark - the 4 frame was withoutdoubt the best for a permanent location. The 2 framer I only ever used as temporary - run out and grab a few frames, one with honey, one with brood. Find the marked queen to put on it. And brace it well in the car (it was perspex...).
One design (Russian?) that always intrigued me had one or two vertical frames (one frame wide, that is), then a strip of queen excluder, then, effectively, a 4 frame nuc fitted on top. The 4 frame area was closed in (not glass) and acted as a reservoir for bees/honey that allowed the unit to be more permanent.
Two choices for how you fit the glass/perspex - 'onto' the surface (using clips, called 'mirror clips', I think,
to fix the glass/perspex against the surface). Or sliding the glass/perspex into a groove from the top of the observation hive (only really possible with perspex). Latter gives less air leakage around the edges - I found the bees didn't care for that (lots standing facing the draught at the edges).
Make SURE you have adequate means of dealing with condensation - build in HEAPS of mesh, etc, even if you have to keep it covered.
But I found no trouble with 25mm (1in) square of mesh at top and bottom of hive. Especially just after installing, you'll be amazed at the moisture given off.
Perspex tended to craze after several years, not being as sparkly clean as when first made. Glass is easier to write on - its neat to circle eggs, and date them, watching the development.
If for a permanent location, you can have heaps of fun designing entrance ways that allow you to 'draft' individual bees into side chamber, where you could, say, mark them or remove pollen, etc. And you can by having a wide entrance, arrange to have incoming bees going down one side and outgoing down another:
.colony -----\ <---incoming
. \ bees
. ---> \-------------------------
For a unit that you'll be moving alot, or if it will be worked regularly, work out a way of easily closing off the entrance and being able to take the whole unit outside - much better than trying to do bee work inside a classroom, for instance.
Design some sort of feeder system, too, for a permanent unit - they'll need a lot of babying along in most locations. You may need to top them up with bees/brood. And in a good season, they'll be able to generate more swarms than you'd think possible!
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