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Ok, while I can honestly say I've never quite "got" this particular Beastie Boys lyric (I'm gonna guess it's *gasp*sexual*gasp* in nature), it's also a fairly accurate description of what the bees have been up to lately: making new comb and honey.

Sarah and I recently opened up the top-bar hive to see how things are going. The answer appears to be "very well." The bees have been busy building new comb and setting up stores of honey and pollen. They now occupy at least two-thirds of the space in their box, with fresh comb both in front and back.

Comb in hive
Comb farthest back in the hive.

This was the furthest back comb. Not much activity on this side. It was a bit more eventful on the other.

Sarah with the bees.
Bees fill comb with honey and pollen.

This side is nearly all honey. There is a bit of pollen near Sarah's finger. This is the dark patch, filled with the blue pollen of local fireweed. Most of the new comb is being filled with honey and pollen. It seems the bees are in winter-prep mode.

In cutting some cross comb we did hit a few spots that let the honey flow. We could not resist tasting and I can say, in all honesty, that it is so much better than store bought. Store bought honey goes through so much processing that it just does not taste the same. I look forward to harvesting time.

We have had quite a bit of rain lately, and I have not seen the bald-faced hornets since the last post. Even though they were killing bees, they were fun to watch. I suspect that something happened to their hive, though I was never able to find it. Yellow-jackets still fly near the hives, but I've never seen them harass the bees. They seem to look for already dead bees. Maybe our yellow-jackets are just freakin' lazy.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will go check out how the Langstroth hive is doing.

Top-Bar BeekeepingThe top-bar hive is an amazing, almost natural way to keep bees. It tries to mimic the way bees would naturally build hives in hollowed out trees and stumps. While Sarah and I have a Langstroth hive, I also built a top-bar hive and love to keep track of its progress.

There are a ton of YouTube videos out there on keeping top-bar hives, but I always like to keep a book or two around on any given thing I'm working on, so began scouring around for one on working with top bars. I'm really glad that the first book I found was Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health.

One of the things I've noticed when scouring the myriad YouTube videos on beekeeping is the prevalence of mitacides, fumigants and antibiotics used by both professional and hobbyist alike. I'm more of a fan of allowing things to progress naturally without much interference from me and a medicine cabinet load of other things. This book takes that approach.

Crowder and Harrell take you through everything you need to know about raising bees using a top-bar hive. From the various designs to the complexities of hive management, the book covers each aspect in detail. A first person narrative guides you through the trials, successes and failures the author's have personally experienced. I feel it is this story telling way of getting out information that most drew me into this book.

Les Crowder has worked with bees nearly his entire life. His methods strive to be as organic as possible. Instead of antibiotics and mitacides, he instead stresses bee health and genetics. Many bees are resistant to disease and queens from these bees can help build strong hives without the use of potential toxins.

Heather Harrell is an organic farmer and emphasizes the philosophies of permaculture, or designing agriculture to mimic that natural environment. The top-bar hive fits into this system quite nicely.

Together, they have written a book that even the novice can read and learn from. Their methods fit in with a desire to do things as naturally as possible. In a world that is seeing bees die off at alarming rates, and more indicators that this is due to a complex of issues that includes pesticides and other pollutants, it is really good to see a book that recommends natural alternatives.

I promised a post about building a top bar hive, and here it is.

When Sarah and I started looking into keeping bees, the idea was to build the hives we needed. In this case, a Langstroth hive and what we knew as the "honey cow". A little digging suggested that the honey cow was just a different type of top bar hive.

Top bar hives proved interesting to me for several reasons. First, they are simple to construct. They don't require any fancy joinery, just straight cuts fastened together with nails or screws. Second, the rounded or angled shape both mimics the shape bees naturally make comb in, and it looks nice. Finally, the setup more closely replicates a natural hive location, such as a hollowed out tree or log.

There are disadvantages, of course. With no frames, the comb is very fragile and care must be taken not to break them when lifting the top bars. They cannot grow larger than you built the hive, unlike Langstroth hives to which you can add boxes.

I found a few plans online, but ultimately wound up buying the embarrassingly named Building Beehives For Dummies. I like this book because it contains plans for several different types of hives, including Langstroth and observation hives. The hive I built is from the chapter on building the Kenya Top Bar Hive.

So let's get on with it and post some construction pictures!

The wood used in the construction was all 1"x12" pine of varying lengths. It starts with the two end pieces that define the slope of the box. In this case the top is 18" and the bottom is 5".

top bar hive construction
Top bar hive construction. End pieces.

Per the instructions, I made the sides 34.5" long. This defines the living space the bees will have. I didn't quite follow the instructions for installing them, which suggested butting up against the inside of the end piece, instead opting to screw them into the sides. Just seemed stronger that way.

top bar hive construction
One side of the hive installed.
building a top bar hive
Both sides now attached. The basic shape is there.

With all the sides attached, the basic hive is there. This will be the living space for the bees. Not shown is a mesh that is placed on the bottom to allow debris and mites to fall out of the hive and to provide ventilation.

The next step is to make the top bars. These have to be a fairly specific size. A measurement known as "bee space" determines the bars width. Bees are picky about space. Too much space, and they will build comb where you don't want it. Too little space, and they won't build comb. Like Goldilocks, they want a space that is just right. This space depends on the type of bee, but for this hive, the books suggests a bar width of 1.3".

I took another departure from the book here. The book suggests cutting a kerf down the center of each bar and slotting a piece of balsa wood in it. I'd read about a simpler method online of pasting a string down the center with beeswax. I decided to give that a shot.

building a top bar hive
Setting up top bars by using beeswax to glue down a central string.

While I made a pretty big mess, this would prove to work. It also took less time (and money) than cutting and fitting balsa wood. There are 24 of these on the hive.

building a top bar hive
The hive with top bars in place.

The next step was to build a roof. Bees do not live in this section, it is meant to assist in ventilation and provide some protection from the elements. It is wider than the hive body to allow rain to flow off and away, but maintains the overall look.

building a top bar hive
The hive with the roof in place.

The only thing left at this point was to cut a hole for the bees to access the hive and put it in place. We chose a spot behind my mothers' firewood stack that would provide quick access to our garden.

After placing the bees they seemed to take to it quickly.

building a top bar hive
Bees accessing the top bar hive.

That access hole is a bit over an inch across. If, as I mentioned in a previous post, we are being robbed by other bees, I'll need to reduce the size.

I know I posted the below picture last time, but hey, proof that this hive works!

bee hive comb
Comb and bees! Lots of capped cells. These girls have been busy!

I definitely encourage anyone interested in beekeeping to try their hand at building a hive. If I can do it, anyone can.