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 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:-).