I first heard of "aquarium hives"—ones that have clear acrylic or glass sides for viewing the bees—from Angeline LeLeux, who writes the blog In Her Field. She recently profiled Northern California beekeeper Charlotte Pannell, who's been running bees in the aquarium hive pictured below since 2006. It's a top bar hive, which means the bees build comb on bars of wood that run the short way across the top of the hive.
Charlotte says she doesn't really manage the hive. "It's my show-and-tell hive," she says. "Since the bees attach the comb to the sides of the hive, it makes a big mess to try to pull out the comb."
She lets the bees pretty much manage themselves, and says that they do pretty well. The first colony she kept in this hive lasted about 2 years, but she lost it over the winter. She captured a swarm to replace it.
The hive has an open screened bottom, and when closed up, just looks like a box. But the front panel slides away, and you can see the whole colony through clear acrylic sides.
The comb is connected to the sides of the acrylic. The dark amber cells are full of honey. If you look closely, you can just see some bees in there on the face of the comb. Pretty cool, huh?
Charlotte doesn't take honey from this hive, although it is set up to allow a honey super on top. "I'm into keeping bees for the environment. I'm not really into honey—I'm a brown sugar girl." Would she recommend this kind of hive? Charlotte, who first experienced beekeeping with her parents, and has since introduced her own kids to the gentle art of bees, smiled and said, "I would encourage anyone to do any kind of beekeeping."