We installed a beehive!

The bees need us!

The use of lawn chemicals, agricultural practices and pesticides, clear-cutting of natural environments for shopping malls, subdivisions, highways, and other encroachments have all combined to put the feral honey bee population worldwide under great duress. As well, global warming resulting from the use of automobiles and other factors are having a definitive impact on honey bee populations, locally and across the globe.

The media's horrid depictions of honey bees -- of the overly hyped Africanized type -- has certainly put our sweet, gentle little pollinators in a bad light among many in the general public.

Given these factors and many others, our approach with the observation hive is to help inform the our community about the lives of honey bees, the beneficial roles they play (both direct and indirect) in the production of the food humans consume, and how nature has fashioned a wonderful insect that aids humankind in so many ways.

Honey bees are marvels of nature and Ellwood Thompson's observational hive provides an opportunity for many to see and experience them live and close-up. Seeing the inside of a beehive is a facilitating, cathartic experience for many. You can visit our observational beehive in our bulk department.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an observational beehive?

A professionally engineered enclosed unit that allows honey bees to thrive in an environment so the public is able to experience “observing” the inside of a beehive. In installing the OH, Ellwood Thompson’s and East Coast Honey have taken great care to ensure proper care of the honey bees in ways that are sensitive to the bees so that the they can be enjoyed by store patrons.

How long can bees live in an observational beehive?

Just like in a “regular” bee hive and in the natural environment, there is constant turnover in terms of honey bees in a hive. To clarify, during the summer, the Queen lays 1,500 - 2,000 eggs per day to build up and replenish the workforce of bees in the hive. This will be the same with bees in the OH resulting from how it is carefully constructed and the care we will take with the bees. Additionally, honey bees only live about 40-45 days in the summer, no matter where they live -- in a hive, an OH, or in the natural environment. Over the fall and winter months, honey bees live much longer due to inactivity.

What goes on in an observational beehive?

Exactly the same things that go on if bees were in a hive or in the natural environment. The Queen lays eggs, eggs hatch, and honey bees perform certain tasks during their lifespan with the final days of their lives collecting nectar and pollen, bringing it back to the hive so the hive can both thrive and survive.

How many bees are in one observation hive?

The number varies based on the time of the year, stage of development the hive is in, and other factors. Typically, when a beekeeper starts a hive, such is done with about 12,000 honey bees and a fertile Queen. In the height of summer, a very active hive often contains up to 80,000 honey bees.

Where are the bees from?

In the mid-Atlantic states, beekeepers actually purchase honey bees from producers in Southern Georgia.

Who takes care of the bees?

The staff with East Coast Honey has primary responsibility for installing the OH, acquisition of the bees for the OH, “growing” the bees in terms of the number of bees that will initially go into the hive, and ongoing care and maintenance of the bees and OH. (FYI: As part of the care and maintenance of the OH, we will regularly remove it from the store, conduct a full inspection of the bees, clean the glass all to make sure the honey bees are healthy and doing well in the OH.)

Where do the bees go to forage for food?

Out in nature. Thanks to the wonders of nature, honey bees are very, very proficient at foraging and finding the resources (pollen, nectar water, etc.) needed to ensure the hive thrives and is successful.

The folks with East Coast Honey have been beekeeping for over 10 years with a number of beeyards in the Central Virginia area. Interestingly, based on their experience, honey bee colonies and hives in the city/urban areas often do substantially better than some colonies in rural and outlying areas.

How do the bees come and go?

Tom Brickman, Ellwood Thompson’s contractor, has helped to create a space for the bees in the store. The space includes a three inch tube that extends to the outside of the store (it actually faces Walgreens) through which the bees will come and go as they please.

How far do the bees travel?

As with honey bees in the natural environment or a beehive, they typically forage 3 - 5 miles from the hive to find the resources they need to survive. Again, hives “in the city” do substantially better than many colonies in rural areas. They should be more than fine in the area where the store is located.

Are the bees safe?

Interestingly, honey bees are NOT interested in humans at all. Their TOTAL focus is finding nectar and pollen to collect and take back to the hive. Proven over and over again, what we share is when/if a honey bee comes near you, stay very calm, don’t get nervous or anxious. The bee is just doing its job looking for pollen and nectar.

In fact, a honey bee might land on your arm (or somewhere else), roam around for a bit then fly off when it realizes that you are NOT POLLEN OR NECTAR. Once most folk realize this honey bee behavior, they actually enjoy the experience of watching a honey bee check them out then fly away, on its way find what it is looking for.

By understanding what the honey bee is doing, staying still and very calm, having a honey bee “visit” you for a moment or two is a very interesting experience and quite calming for many.

There are no “killer bees” in Virginia or in the eastern part of the United States. These bees are very calm, gentile, and a joy to work with and be around.

Does the observational beehive produce enough honey for people to use?

Not typically. To produce enough honey for consumption, the OH would have to grow to 3 to 4 times its size, with the addition of more boxes where the honey bees store honey. The primary purpose of an OH is simply to share with the public the experience of seeing honey bees close up,” in person” and in their natural environment.

What do you do when you take the hive to have it cleaned?

When we do a thorough cleaning, all of the frames (the wooden structures on which honey bees build comb) are removed from the OH and placed in a "regular" hive for a day or so. The OH is then thoroughly cleaned inside and out.

We take the time to carefully scrub the plexiglass of any wax, propolis, and other buildups which is always created by honey bees.

After a day or so, the honey bees are placed back in the OH to get them ready for reinstallation in the store.

Where do the dead bees go?

As is the case in the natural environment, dead animals and insects become food for other animals and insects.

In the OH, dead honey bees are hauled out of the OH by other honey bees and discarded outside. Honey bees are fanatical about the cleanliness of the hive. Once dropped to the ground, typically, ants, other insects, and birds have a tasty meal allowing them to have nourishment to sustain their lives.

In and of itself, nature is absolutely amazing. It's humans that cause so much tumult in terms of nature's balance.

How many bees are in our hive?

To provide a point of reference, when we started the hive in early April, the package contained about 12,000 honey bees. From there, with proper care, an abundance of nectar and pollen available down South, the Queen began laying eggs in helping to build the workforce needed to grow the hive.

In a "regular" hive (not an OH), in the height of the Summer a typical hive often contains upwards of 60,000 - 80,000 honey bees with many boxes stacked on top of each other to accommodate the proper growth of the hive and production of honey stores.

Because the primary purpose of an OH is not necessarily growth, our goal is to maintain it to contain about 20,000 - 25,000 bees. That way, it is very manageable in terms of moving it in and out while providing a very nice visual experience for observers.

Do keep in mind, the OH contains nine frames of bees - three on each row and you can only see the three on the front.

Because of how it is very carefully managed, an OH does not produce much honey at all.

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