When I decided on beekeeping I wanted to build my own hive. I had decided on building a Kenyan hive or a Top Bar Hive. This type of hive was designed by missionaries and aid workers in Kenya because of the simplicity of design. It is popular here because it is a much more natural way of beekeeping. Additionally, it is thought that if the bees can build their hive how they want to, then they will naturally do what is needed to prevent beetles and mites.
It only took me a couple hours to build my hive body. However, I was stuck for months on figuring out how to make my top bars. This was because my shop tools are limited. Additionally, I wanted to get the bee space right, but was having a hard time finding wood 1¼ inches to 1⅜ inches thick. I later solved my problem by buying replacement frame top bars for traditional Langstroth type hives. I could do this since the width of my TBH was the same as the width of my commercial hives. That was a happy accident, I did not know enough about what I wanted to plan it that way, but there are going to be some advantages to this later.
Top Bar Hives are Simple and Cheaper than Traditional Hives
Besides the TBH being simpler, its cheaper, and I get more freedom with design. It’s also easier to store because I leave it outside. I don’t have extra frames and boxes to trip over all winter. Collecting the honey is also simple because there are no frames so you cannot use an extractor. You are forced to either make cut comb or crush and strain honey.
Its not all fun and games though, my bee mentors (who do this commercially) are fans of Langstroth hives because of that. They are quick to point out that you get less honey with a TBH. That is because the bees don’t have the benefit of foundation. Also that each time you gather honey you have to destroy the comb. This causes the bees to have to make more comb. The process of which takes up many more pounds of honey. Of course, that is not a problem for me. I WANT the wax. Actually, I have bought several candle molds. Beeswax also makes great bullet lube for reloading. TBH comb also has to be handled gentler as there is no frame to hold it in place. If you are not careful it will break off and fall.
You Can Design Your Own TBH
In the video below I will show you my hive. However, I won’t go into details as that’s up to you. All you need is a box, a way to keep the box off the ground, top bars, and a cover to keep rain out of the hive. I used a Kenyan design with sloping sides rather than a Tanzanian hive with vertical sides. This is because I have heard the bees don’t like attaching comb at angles. This means that once you cut any attachments free it stays free.
However, even if that doesn’t work, having sloping sides works just like the slightly sloping sides of a automatic firearm round – once it begins to move out of position, you get a lot more room to work so removal is a lot easier. If the sides were vertical, I would have to worry about bumping the comb against the hive the entire time I would be lifting it out.
I wanted to Try Both Kinds
My plan was to get one TBH and one Langstrom hive and learn the differences at the same time, but due to my problems conceptualizing a solution to by top bar dilemma (actually I just got to busy and never got around to it), I ended up with two Langstroth hives this year. Next year I plan to have not only those two hives, my top bar, but also one other, either another top bar or Langstroth for a total of 4 hives.
I am told that I can expect yields of 50-60 pounds of honey from my Langstroth hives if I have a good season, and that TBH yields may rival that – but even if I get less honey and more wax – I am looking at a LOT of honey in those 4 hives. I guess I will have to do a post on how to make mead…. Gives me something else to learn about…
Experiment on Splitting a Langstrom Hive into a Top Bar Hive
One thing is that I have a short attention span (hey look at the bird…) and change my mind often as I read and learn more. With my bees I started with the idea to go all TBH, but then went with all Langstroms due to my lack of ability to figuring out how to make my top bars. My plan was to finish my TBH and begin it next year with a package of bees.
However, after realizing my bees were very strong I decided to make a split. I looked up the concept, but all I could find online about taking bees from Langstroths into TBHs were to cut out the sides of the frames and cutting the comb to fit. I decided to just take out a box and set it on top and let the bees build down into the TBH as is their natural instinct.
Both My TBH and My Langsthroth Hives are the Same Width
Luckily my TBH is the same width as the supers, so I dug down into the brood boxes, took out 4 frames of capped and open brood and grabbed as many nurse bees as I could find. I may have the queen in the Langstroth hive, and I may not – either way I am gonna trust my girls to make a queen in one of the hives.
My plan is to leave them alone for a week or two, check for a queen cell and new comb, and if they build comb in the TBH, and start laying eggs, I will then think about moving the brood box back to the original hive.
I bet somebody has tried this before, but I was surprised nobody wrote about it online anywhere. This may possibly be a bad idea, but luckily I am dumb enough to try it…. Progress is made by us lazy people trying to make life easier….
I welcome any comments from experienced bee keepers dealing with anything I can do to tweak this process to help it actually work…
Update, it didn’t work, they all went back to their old home…
FAIL Experiment with a Walkaway Split of a Langstrom to a Top Bar Hive