When I first started researching beekeeping, I was drawn to top bar hives. They are easily built out of salvaged material, don’t require lifting of heavy honey supers, and you get more wax. However, in experimenting with both traditional box hives and top bar hives this year I am having some problems working a Top Bar Hive (TBH).
My TBH gets a lot of grief from professional beekeepers. Apparently I am doing it all wrong. My bees are making a tremendous amount of comb and honey, but my measurements are not conducive to getting them to put the comb on the bars.
Granted, my problems with working a Top Bar Hive is entirely my fault. I did not ensure that my hive was perfectly level. This caused my top bars to slide toward one end of the hive. Which, in turn, caused the bees to build comb that spanned more than one bar.
I tried to fix this by inserting spacing brads inside the top bar so as to keep the bars from sliding. However, when the bars were full of comb, the weight caused the frames to shift. This caused me to lose a lot of comb inside to hive, or to have the bees build comb that was built at angles to the bars.
I decided to regroup so I ended up transferring my comb out of my top bar hive and into a Langstroth hive (that’s a different article).
The plan is to rebuild my top bar hive and redoing the experiment. Particularly because I like the fact that I get to crush and strain my honey. Which to me seems easier to clean up (no extractor to wash). Additionally, the crush and strain method yields a lot more wax.
I will give you some observations with my limited experience with top bars….
The comb/frame connection is fragile. You can get away with “flopping” your wired frames or empty comb on top bars around. If you are not careful to keep the comb orientated perpendicular to the ground comb will break off the bar very easily. This will happen if the comb is ever lifted anywhere near parallel to the deck.
My bees took to the top bar very quickly, and seemed to fill out comb very rapidly.
I did notice that with my particular hive that the bees did not tolerate the hive being open as long as my bees in the Langstroth hives did. I think it is because the entire hive is exposed at the same time. Typically when working a commercial type box hive, the majority of the hive is sheltered by the boxes above them. This means only one or two boxes are exposed at any one time. This is not a scientific observation, more of an anecdotal view of mine.
I find it easier with a TBH
This type of hive seems much easier to work. I don’t have to worry about honey being extracted out of old brood comb, or age of frames, as each time honey is extracted the wax is extracted. Consequently, each year’s honey is on fresh wax. I don’t have to buy new foundation, or spend time wiring foundation. Each year I just stick in a new top bar and be done with it.
If you want to work bees in top bar hives, and are okay with not getting as much honey as you would in a typical Langstroth hive, then I go for it. The only real suggestion is one that I stumbled upon accidentally. Which is to design your top bar hive so that the top bars are the same size as commercial frames. That way you can buy your top bars from traditional suppliers as replacement frame parts. If you want to transfer your bees or brood you can stick a top bar inside of a box hive, and start a top bar inside a Langstroth hive if needed.