Beekeeping/Top Bar Hive

Introduction Edit

Top bar hives are a style of man made beehive that is based on a cavity covered with sticks or slats usually of wood. Top bar hives have been around for centuries. Evidence of them can be found in ancient Greek and roman ruins. Top bar hives are very popular in undeveloped regions due to ease of construction with materials at hand. Top bars have recently received a surge of popularity in the hobbyist sector of beekeeping all over the world as green alternative to modern stacked white boxes seen everywhere. There are two main classifications of top bar hives the Kenya Top Bar Hive and the Tanzania Top Bar Hives.--Gary J Piantanida (talk) 18:18, 6 September 2009 (UTC)

Characteristics Edit

The two main types of Top Bar Hive in use today are distinguished by their shape and origin. The Kenyan TBH or KTBH has sloped sides resembling a trough and Tanzanian TBH or TTBH which is shaped like a rectangle. What’s the difference? It is rumored throughout the beekeeping world that sloped sides would prevent the bees from attaching comb to the side walls making it easier to work. To set the record straight these hives have been in existence for centuries and are very popular in third world countries due to ease of construction with materials at hand. In Kenya they are built from hollowed out logs cut in half, sloping the sides was an early attempt to mimic this shape with modern building materials. Most modern beehives are built square the Tanzanian version adapted the bars to more modern square building materials. Currently there are no specific dimensions. The average TBH is 4 feet long and 1.5 to 2 feet wide. The KTBH is narrower at the bottom, but no two beekeepers will build them the same. Unlike most common designs of modern hives, the top bar hive does not use wooden frames to hold the comb, it uses slats of wood, or (top bars) placed over the cavity the bees inhabit, which is also how the hive received its name. Instead of filling out wooden frames, the bees attach comb to the slats. The slat is the only means of support that comb has in a top bar beehive. Also, unlike most other hive designs, the top bar hive does not impose artificial segregation of the colony by physically dividing honey comb from the brood comb by use of separate hive bodies, divided by a Queen excluder preventing the Queen from using the entire colony to rear brood. The TBH allows the Queen access to the entire colony as she would have in a wild colony.

Advantages Edit

Top bar hives have some advantages over traditional hive designs.

Simplicity of Design Edit

Because of the simplicity of the top bar hive’s design, one can be built from readily available salvage materials. In fact the design of a top bar hive is so adaptable that boxes, 55-gallon-drums, old crates and even dilapidated refrigerators can be used to house bees. In essence, nearly any large enough container can be modified to produce a productive top bar hive. All that is required for a top bar hive to be successful are fitting top bars, a water and wind tight cover, an entrance and healthy bees. It is also important to note that the only part design that needs to be precise is the width of the top bar which will be discussed later in the book. Bees are happy to use just about any suitable cavity to establish a colony.

Price of Construction Edit

Because of the ability to design and construct TBH hives from scrap and other recycled materials, they can be built extremely inexpensive when compared to other hive designs. When choosing to purchase materials, the total cost of construction will be a fraction of what it would be to build or buy the necessary equipment to start with conventional framed hive styles, due to simplicity of design.

Ease of Operation Edit

Opening the TBH Edit

Unlike the Langstroth style of hive, the top bar hive does not require lifting heavy hive bodies full of bees and honey, commonly referred to as 'supers". A TBH is accessed by removing the cover exposing the top bars themselves. Because top bars are pushed tightly together there are no gaps for bees to emerge from, the top bars form the ceiling of the hive. Once exposed one top bar at the rear can be worked loose with a hive tool or pocket knife and lifted from the hive body now exposing the adjacent comb. The bar just removed leaves behind the gap the beekeeper will use to manipulate other bars. This bar may or may not have comb suspended from it, if it does it needs to be handled with care. Never turn the comb parallel to the ground as if you were holding a plate of food in one hand, this will cause the comb to break and fall. This comb should be placed in another hive body or on a device made to rest it on while the beekeeper continues working.

More Manageable Bees Edit

It has been said by some that manage both top bar hives and Langstroth hives that managing top bar hives is more pleasant as the bees are less stressed when worked and less likely to exhibit defensive behavior. The combs on a top bar hives can be manipulated a few at a time. This smaller disturbance means that inspections exposes and disturbs a much smaller segment of the hive at any given time. Bees in and on the unexposed portion of the hive tend not to notice the beekeeper’s intrusion and as a result seem not to become alarmed.

Comb by Comb Management Edit

The ease of comb-by-comb management is due to the horizontal nature of a top bar hive. Combs only need to be disturbed if they are specifically to be managed, this means that if it is desired to increase the brood nest, then simply a new top bar must be installed. Beekeeper can also harvest small portions of comb honey at a time, by simply cutting and removing the desired segment, and then replacing the top bar.

Storage Edit

Unlike with standard Langstroth hives, there is no extra storage, other than unused top bars, for a top bar hive. Every part of the hive may remain in or on the hive unlike the extra hive bodies associated with Langstroth type or "vertical" hives. Less storage means more places to keep bees.

Bees Wax Production Edit

Due to the nature of the top bar hives design, combs are not reused as in a framed hive. This facilitates a larger harvest of bees wax. Combs full of honey only are harvested from the rear. The wax is simply crushed by whatever means the beekeeper determines efficient. The crushed wax is then saved and rendered for sale.

Another source of wax comes from the regression process (See regression section) Through the process known as "regression" the brood nest is removed at the beginning of each season to be measured to monitor colony progress and viability for breeding. Once all necessary measurements are recorded this wax is also stored for rendering.

It is advisable to store wax removed from the brood nest separate from wax that contained only honey. The wax from the brood nest contains cocoons, pollen, and debris tracked in by the bees that contaminate the purity of the wax. The lighter in color the wax the less impurities it contains fetching a higher price in the retail market.

There are many different ways of rendering wax. The two most preferred ways are by use of a solar melter or boiling the wax in large vats of water. Both processes require melting the wax and filtering the debris and allowing it to cool in a container. Once cooled the debris which settles to the bottom can be scraped off.

Comb Honey Production Edit

The top bar hive is by design ideal for "comb honey" honey cut from and which remains in the comb and is often considered more valuable by honey connoisseurs than honey which has been extracted from the comb and bottled. If desired however, a fruit press can be used to separate the liquid honey from the wax comb, such as that produced by a honey extractor.

Natural Comb Edit

Because the bees completely build the comb with out using a foundation, top bar hives produce natural sized brood cells, which are advantageous regarding mite control. The wax is also cycled out of the hive during harvest so the hive doesn't accumulate pesticides or other contaminants.

Disadvantages Edit

Because they are managed differently to framed hives, inasmuch that honey tends to be harvested a little at a time rather than all at once, top bar hives are less attractive to the commercial beekeeper, who wants to maximize profits by minimizing time spent in harvesting. Other than that, top bar hives have no real disadvantages over framed hives, especially for the smaller-scale beekeeper. During seasons with heavy nectar flow, beekeepers may need to harvest bars of honey more often to prevent the hive from becoming honey bound.

Non-Standard Equipment Edit

There exist no real standards for top bar hives, because of this the beekeeper must be responsible for construction the top bar hive. However, the existence of standards has frozen the development of beekeeping sometime in the nineteenth century, so this is hardly a disadvantage. On the contrary, the fact of there being no standards has encouraged creative experimentation among top bar beekeepers, who many now regard as being at the leading edge of beekeeping development.

Less Honey Harvesting Edit

There is a belief among framed-hive beekeepers that top bar hives are less productive, but no evidence for this has been produced. Wax production, on the other hand, tends to be higher, as comb is not returned to the hive after extraction. This, in itself, is beneficial in terms of disease control, as no potentially disease spore-bearing comb finds its way back into the hive.

Delicate Comb Edit

Because no wired wax foundation is used, there is no reinforcement to the natural structure of the comb. This means that new comb must be handled carefully to avoid breakages.

Further Sources of Information Edit

Top Bar Hive FAQ