A Taste of Top Bar Hives
By Camilla Bee, Editor
While most readers of this publication work “standard”, Langstroth hives, more and more folks are working top bar hives (TBHs). We’re discussing them again now, as this is the time of year when many folks are considering how they might expand their apiary next year, or are pondering beekeeping for the first time.
There are many differences between Langstroth and TBHs. Many beekeepers who like TBHs offer a variety of reasons for doing so, a key one being that the bees in it seem happier. Happier bees are not only easier with which to work, but they seemingly make more honey.
There is a wealth of information available on TBHs. Because they’re non-standard, there are lots of different styles, plans, and types. Due to their increasing popularity, Kelley’s offers one model, as shown in the photo.
TBHs are definitely worth considering. Following are some pros and cons.
- Less expense: no frames, foundation, covers, bottom boards, etc.
- No storing hive bodies when not in use; there are no hive bodies
- Happier bees, many claim
- Less heavy lifting: a huge advantage for all of us who don’t like what a filled honey super weighs
- Higher “way cool” factor: bees build comb in these lovely circles and loops. Many TBHs have built-in observation windows
- More wax: for every bar of honey harvested,there’s also an entire bar of wax that was crushed in the process but is now available for a variety of purposes
- Fragile comb: it cannot be easily examined or manipulated like the comb in frames, and bees tend to attach comb to the structure
- As noted above, bees tend to attach it to the structure, so more monitoring, correction and comb destruction may be required to keep comb freely movable
- Less knowledge and expertise available from other beekeepers, but that’s changing
- Because comb doesn’t conform to a standard,it is hard to swap resources between TBHs
- Bees have to rebuild comb each year if bars are removed for extraction. Of course, there are advantages to replacing comb, and some TBH beekeepers feel bees build their own comb faster than from foundation…
Reader Roberta, who works several TBHs, shared some insights from her experiences: “I use a follower board to keep the hive compact and to give the girls kind of a pattern to follow so they will hopefully build the comb straight. I have also been experimenting with different methods of encouraging them to get the comb straight.
I feel the bees tend to be nicer to deal with any time the hive has to be opened, at least my girls are (am I prejudiced, or what?)
After watching the honey man struggle with the heavy supers full of honey, I’m glad that I chose TBHs. It is a bit of a mess in the kitchen to get the honey processed, but if one had enough hives to warrant a honey house/room, it would not be such a chore. Maybe someday…
My suggestion for anyone considering beekeeping is to find a local club or association and to join it. I have found that beekeepers are free with information and most willing to share their knowledge with ‘newbees’. Don’t forget to read, read, and read. There is tons of information out there. Utilize it; sort/sift through it and find what works for you… Beekeeping is an evolving experience.”
Reader James, a relatively new beekeeper, hesitated to give advice because his beekeeping experience thus far may be summarized as:
- I didn’t kill the bees and
- I didn’t kill myself.
Salute James! That’s certainly commendable!
James did however share a key insight from an experienced TBH beekeeper buddy, with regard to the straight comb-building issue: “leveling the hive body in all three axes is critical, since the bees will build comb perpendicular to the earth without regard to the box that surrounds them.”
What are your experiences and challenges with TBHs? We’d love to share them with our readers.