The top-bar hive concept is probably thousands of years old, starting as baskets with sticks across the tops and graduating to more substantial materials as time and available resources progressed. The modern top-bar hive maintains its heritage as a low-cost, easy to construct hive. It is in used primarily in non-industrialized or impoverished locations, but is growing in popularity in the West as part of a more natural approach to beekeeping.
The simple design of the top-bar hive allows for the re-use of common materials such as old fencing, packing
crates, drawers, wooden boxes, etc. As long as it can be made weather tight, defensible from the local pests and supports bars being placed across the top, just about any (non-toxic) material will do.
There are several sites that offer either plans and/or operating instructions at no charge. Here are a few links:
I have a Kenyan top-bar hive. I must admit that I didn’t build mine, I bought it from Custom Woodkits International (http://www.customwoodkitsinternational.com). Its about 4 feet long and has 30 bars, an observation window and screened bottom.
The stand that it is on was built by my 16 year old son. I got this hive because I wanted to experiment and see how it compares to my Langstroth hives. In particular I’m interested in seeing if the bees are healthier, more productive and over-winter as well in a top-bar. Since I do not move my bees from yard to yard or crop to crop, the relative immobility of top-bar does not concern me. I also believe I’m going to find the management of it a bit easier, no heavy honey-supers to move!
My hives are named after great queens. Since the design of this one has its origins in Africa, I’ve named it Cleopatra.
It was a beautiful spring day and the girls were out in force. I watched them working weeping cherry blossoms for about and hour or so. It seems they came in waves…one group after the next with a lull in between. I guess a field forager would communicate to the hive the bounty to be had in my garden…convincing a group of her sisters to follow her to the cherry blossoms. The bumble bees were also working the blossoms as well as those of the andromeda (which the honeybees didn’t seem to work at all).
I snapped a few pics of the activity (really could use a macro lens to do them justice).
Finally finished weather-proofing the new hives. The fumes were so bad that we brought them outside so that the basement could be aired-out. I think they look great sitting out in the snow. Gotta bring them back in however since I didn’t paint the wooden areas of the roof, and haven’t built the stands yet. Just a month to go until spring, and then in a couple weeks I’ll pick up the nucs in New Jersey. Can’t wait.
Here are a couple of pics. The langstroth hives are all set (well, mostly), the Kenyan top bar hive is disassembled on the table…waiting for warmer weather to finish that one. A few facts about the hives:
- The langstroth hives are all 8 frame mediums. They have screened bottom boards (IPM) for better pest management. The photo shows them with 5 supers on as well as a hive-top feeder. They will ultimately rest on stands 20″ above the ground (we have pesky skunks around here who love bees)
- The Kenyan top bar hive (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Top-bar_hive)
holds 30 bars and has an observation window…great for watching the girls busy at work. It will rest 20″ above the ground also. The vast majority of people build these types of hives themselves. I am not quite that handy, so ordered mine from Custom Woodkits International, my son put it together for me in no time.