Thursday, May 2, 2013

Further Preparation & Why Top Bar Hives?

Before we decided to get the beekeeping ball rolling, I had never heard of a top bar hive.  When I pictured a bee hive, I envisioned the popular Langstroth style (although I had no idea that was their name at the time) - wooden boxes stacked on top of each other, forming a tower.  They are what you see in some fields around here- clusters of Langstroth hives of differing heights gathered together as if having church.

When Jamey built our first hive last year I was surprised that it didn't look like the hives I had seen.  In fact, I had never seen a hive like it ever.  I trusted he must have known what he was doing.  And, as usual, I think he did.  He chose the top bar hive for two reasons. First, he liked the fact that you can harvest the honey without an extractor.  With standard frame-style combs, most people use an extractor which spins the frames, allowing centrifugal force to remove the honey.  These extractors can be expensive, cumbersome and difficult to clean- not very practical if you're interested in harvesting several small batches instead of doing it all at once.  With top bar hives, the comb (with the honey) is cut off, crushed to release the honey and allowed to drain through a sieve.  Requiring the honey bees to make new comb regularly stimulates their wax glands (a health benefit for the bee) and cycles out old comb that may harbor traces of disease, pesticides and pests.  And, we get the added benefit of harvesting beeswax as well.  Candles, anyone?

Another reason he liked this style hive is because it is very inexpensive to make, can be made without treated wood (chemicals) and can/will be recycled if one day it's no longer in use.  But let's not go there before we've even begun!

Here are our top bar hives placed in the back of our little orchard ready for honey bees.  These hives (whose general design is originally from Kenya) mimic hollow logs.  Instead of building comb on wooden frames of foundation, honey bees in top bar hives form their own comb on the top bars which make up the ceiling of the hive when all in place.  The roofs go on over top.

The carpet underneath will keep down weeds and hopefully discourage the reproduction of small hive beetles which drop to the ground, hatch their young in the dirt beneath hives and then can crawl back up and in.  The feet of the hives will be set in cans of oil to keep ants from becoming unwelcome guests.

These are the top bars that will make up the ceilings of the hives.  The built-in ridge will point down and give the bees a guide to build on.  Brushing the ridges with beeswax will draw the bees' attention to the ridge, encouraging them to build there.  One of the tricks to master with top bar hives is helping the bees build nice, vertical combs in line with the bars so we can lift them out easily for inspection.  Spacing the bars is a technique which helps with this and I'll try to write more about that later.

The bees wax smells so beautiful- mild honey deliciousness.  My task only enticed one honeybee to come check me out.  We don't see as many honeybees around our house as we think we should- here's to hoping we can bolster the local population!

 Here is an example of a beautiful top bar comb- not one of ours since we don't have the bees yet (photo credit).

I became a bit frustrated as I read through several of the popular, recommended beekeeping books.  First of all, there were only brief mentions of the top bar hive.  Basically, they just noted that they exist.  All the remaining instructions assumed that we have Langstroth hives (which, of course, most people do).  Secondly, no space was given to the alternate approach of raising bees organically.  When addressing all bee pests and diseases, the only remedies provided were chemical in nature- antibiotics to prevent problems and medications to treat them.

I understand why most beekeepers medicate their bees.  They want to save them from what's ailing them.  They care about their bees!  I just wanted to hear the other side.  We finally found what we were looking for in Les Crowder's book, Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health.  His book resonated with us so completely, that we've decided to keep bees the organic way.  His website outlines reasons to consider the top bar hive so beautifully, I'm just going to link to it instead of trying to re-write and re-word what he and his wife have already written so eloquently.  I encourage you to hop over and read it right now.  

I know several of you are starting your bee journeys this year, too.  No matter what type of hive you have, I am so excited to have readers to learn with and from!  And I know there are some experienced beekeepers among us as well.  As I write about our experiences, feel free to share yours- no matter the shape of your bees' abode:-).

Pin It


  1. Thanks for sharing about the top bar hive. We'd like to add one of these next year. I've read some about essential oils...for beekeeping to battle the mites and disease~I'll be sure to check out the book you recommended :)

  2. Thank you for writing about the top bar hives...I've wondered about them for a while now. I have to admit that I love the design of the Langstroth hive...especially with their copper roofs (or is it rooves? lol). But the reasons for the top bar hive outweigh the looks of the traditional hives...I am off to check out the web site and put the book on hold at the library. Ya know, for future reference!

  3. If you live in an area with bears you are going to need to reinforce those into the ground somehow. Three summers in a row our hives have been destroyed by bear. Due our states laws we are unable to do anything against the bear unless he is attacking us directly.

    1. Thanks for your concern and I'm SO sorry to hear of your losses! How hard it must be to have "pests" of that size (and danger) to deal with.

      Thankfully, bears won't be an issue here (that we know of!). Skunks are our largest animal of concern- they like to nest under our house sometimes (stinky indeed)- hence the tall legs. They apparently like to stick their paws into the the entrance of the hive, alerting the guard bees who then come to the entrance and get eaten. And then they do it again and again. :-(

  4. I am sooo excited that you are using top bar hives! When we are finally able to add bees to our livestock we will be using top bar hives as well. I, too, have been frustrated about the lack of information available about caring for bees organically and in the most natural way possible. Thanks for sharing this book. I can't wait to add it to our library!

  5. I recently came across something about top bar hives and I was curious about them. I'm glad I get to follow your bee journey to see how it works.

  6. I have a very dear friend in Carbondale, Colorado who is raising her bees organically and has a top bar hive. Plesae contact me if you would like to be in touch with her.

  7. Have you been to YouTube as a resource yet? I don't have bees (yet) but want them and have found lots of great info on YouTube. It's where I learned about top bar hives. There are lots of videos on them. They might be helpful to you if the books were less than.


  8. We just visited the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and as I was leaving the vegetable/herb gardens, I saw their bee hives. They actually had two of the Langstroth style and one of the top bar hives, and I thought it was interesting that they were using both types. It definitely sounds like the top bar hives are the way to go!

  9. What a timely post indeed! We have long considered beekeeping and have been contemplating the choice of hive. Thank you for sharing....

    Yours so kindredly,
    Honey Hill Farm

  10. My hummingbird feeders were covered in bees most of the summer and fall of last year. I even put out pie tins of sugar water just for them to give the birds a chance at drinking. I was so thankful to see so many bees....they buzzed around me everytime I filled the feeders and never once stung me. I hope to have bees when we finally get our own place (renters). Jan

  11. I am new to this and read your comments on the transfer of your rectangle frames to a TBH design with great interest. I am now ordering my Nuc and will have to go through a similar process. My TBH hive are similar to those you have pictured on your site. The bee entrance is bottom right on one long side. Is the queen and the brood bars located furthest from the entry? Thank you


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

Please choose the Anonymous option if you prefer not to sign in to comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails