First TBH Unveiled!

Woots and huzzas, I’ve completed my first ever Top Bar Hive.

After much reading and some floundering, supply hunting and bunches of bad weather, I’ve managed to get together an acceptable first try. Even while building it, I could see improvements in either my methods or the design I was coming up with. I should point out that I based this TBH on a bit of a mash-up of both the Phil Chandler and Carr & Bradford designs, with a bit of tweaking of my very own sort. So if there’s much that is wrong or “not really awesome” about this, I’m most willing to take the blame.

I expect I’ll be building more in the future and they will get better and better as I go.

All right, here’s the first, overall shot:

My First TBH

General composition: The long wall sides are 12″ x 1″ x 36″ pine, the end pieces are found plywood. Bottom board is cedar, as are the other unpainted pieces. Painted in a cheap $6 mistint exterior latex at the local hardware paint department. All screws are deck screws save for the ones holding the plastic to the thin roof sheets.

TBH1_11The roof is a fully sealed piece so no bugs should be able to get in, either from the hive below or just flying bugs sneaking in from the sides. The plastic corrugated top, screwed onto the thin plywood base, will protect it from rain. The roof section is also fully sealed, or at least as much as screwing and gluing bits of wood allows. Bees and other bugs should not be able to enter the roof cavity. Although I’m already thinking the whole thing is a tad heavy. I’ll need to rethink how I build this next time; perhaps a hinged affair.

The 36″ length, I’ve come to note from much interwebs reading, is probably on the short side and may lead to bees swarming much faster as they fill up this space quicker. So I’m going to add onto a list of things to change for the next hive: go with a 48″ wide hive. The hive has been placed is a low traffic spot in the yard so it’s easy to get at without being in the way of anyone. And I’ve also made sure it was very level to avoid off-kilter comb.

Looking at the Top Bars themselves…

TBH1_12

At this point, Ive set it up with 20 bars, each 1 3/8″ and several ¼” spacers. The dark green bar in the centre is a follow board and feeder combo. Going left from the follow board: a spacer, six bars for brood area, then alternating spacers and four bars for honey stores, for a total of 10 bars for the new hive. I also have a ¾” spacer at the very end which will be lifted to make a little space for prying bars out. Not sure if a normal ¼” spacer would do just as well. There is an opening for the bees on the bottom left of the side wall.

To the right of the follow board, I’m storing another 10 bars and a few spacers for future use and, at the end, another follow board but without feeder, to switch out with the feeder board, should that be needed. As the bee population expands, the feeder/follow board and existing bars will shift to the right and new, empty bars will be added to the accessible area to provide more brood and food space.

Let’s look at that feeder (click the images to see full size).

TBH1_50 TBH1_51 TBH1_60 TBH1_63

There are two 3/8″ holes in the follow board that access the feeder built on the other side. The feeder box is a little smaller than the actual follow board to ensure there is no rubbing against the sides or bottom. The inside space of the feeder is 2″ wide although I’m not sure how much syrup it will hold. The interior has been generously coated in wax to make it all waterproof. I’ve added a little of the 1/8″ grating as a ladder for the bees to avoid drowning; I will probably readjust the shape/angle. The cover for the feeder simply sits on with the rabetted piece fitting into the feeder box snugly while still making the removal very easy for filling.

I was pondering making some sort of pivotable doors for the entry holes so it would be easier to close up the feeder than to switch it out for the plain follow board. More though required there.

TBH1_26 TBH1_22

I have attached a 1/8″ bug screen to the bottom and the cedar plank cover closes it all up tightly. I’ve recently been seeing a number of posts and discussion for and against the use of a screen bottom so I’m really not sure whether it should be left open and closed for winter or closed all the time except for cleaning. I’m still not sure what route to go here. But I can go either way simply enough, whether there are bees inside or not.

TBH1_49

The Top Bars are all of the same width and length (in my case, 17″ long) and I’ve glues & nailed some triangular wood starter strips I made. I’m thinking I’ll go with somewhat heftier strips next time, there are about ½” high at best and look a bit undersized. I’ve also painted the starter strips with beeswax to give the bees a heads up on making good, straight comb. For the next hive, I think I’ll also cut a divot on each end of the bars so they sit on the edge of the side walls a little better. I think just a small grove will help them stay in place and not slip  out of line so easily.

TBH1_19

TBH1_36 TBH1_32 TBH1_34

On the back side, I’ve also drilled three holes, according to some of the TBH plans out there. As this supposedly would encourage the bees to build brood in the centre and honey stores on the outer ends, I’ve now decided to use the outside holes on the opposite side as the main entrance. I might have to add a second hole for each ends if it seems the bee population explodes and in and out traffic is too heavy. I’ve made these little swinging gates for the entrances should they need opening or closing. We’ll have to see if they work OK; I’m more worried the wood will split and break than anything else, although being cedar they should take the weather OK.

One thing I did not do that I now wish I had is build in an observation window. As someone on the Beesource Top Bar forum pointed out, being able to easily see inside is probably more important for us newbees since we don’t really have much idea yet what goes on inside. So put that on the list for hive #2, too!

Well, that’s pretty much it for the Grand Tour of this first TBH. I’ve already put about a cup of 1:1 sugar syrup (with a splash of lemon juice) into the feeder and dropped in a q-tip dipped in lemongrass oil to see this sort of “staging” of the bee house will attract some interested bees. Since it is now the beginning of July, I’m not entirely sure the possibility of a swarm is terribly high but at least I’m pretty much ready should there be some bees looking for new real estate.

Anyone out there who has thoughts, ideas or suggestions on this current or future TBHs, please feel free to post a comment.

 

Some Beekeeping Online Resources

The world of beekeeping may have a lot of books available for resources but the internet has a massive abundance of beekeeping sites to help you out with your budding apiary.

To say I’ve checked them all out would be a vast understatement; there are countless forums, personal homepages, equipment suppliers and group/association pages out there to be visited.

BEEKEEPING WEBSITES

In no particular order, I’ll jot down a few that I’ve run across so far and hopefully this will help get those who are curious gobbling up the endless advice available out there.

The first I’d point you to is Michael Bush’s “BushFarms/Bees” site. Mr Bush has three books published but, as he readily states himself, they are the gathered info available for free on the website. Mr Bush is a proponent of both the Langstroth and Top Bar style hives and has sections specific to both. He also has a very extensive amount of info on general bee rearing. For beginner beekeepers like me, he details some of the processes a novice may want to step through, albeit based on the Langstroth hive system. But as I note, past the physical aspect of the hives, the general beekeeping info is useable by all.

Learning Beekeeping.com

A very personable beekeeper who shares his experiences is McCartney Taylor over at LearningBeekeeping.com. His personal focus, aside from obviously helping new beekeepers learn, is Top Bar hives and assisting people in less developed countries set up viable beekeeping ventures. It follows that much of what he teaches are things one can do at a lower cost, since communities he helps out are largely poor and use resources at hand. He too has a well-stocked YouTube channel, OutOfaBlueSky.

Another large website, this one decidedly geared to Top Bar hives, is BioBees.com, set up by Phil Chandler in the UK. Phil also has published a set of plans/instructions for building your own Top Bar Hive which you can download as a free PDF here. These are the plans I used, in part, as a base for my first hive. There are also lots of videos in Phil’s YouTube channel, BioBees. Phil has a podcast on iTunes called “The Barefoot Beekeeper” which is updated semi-regularly. Phil also hosts a Top Bar forum called the Natural Beekeeping Network.

Speaking of TBH plans (TBH = Top Bar Hives)… I also used these Plans for a Proposed Standardized Top Bar Hive and Notes on these TBH Plans, both by T.J. Carr and John Bradford, which I have added right here on BeesAbuzz. There are other plans available on the web, for free or to buy. There are also places that sell pre-built Top Bar hives which are great and basically ready to go, but at a pretty steep price. Not only is a wooden Top Bar hive heavy, it’s also bulky and the shipping alone will add a fair bit to the cost. Keep in mind that this style of hive is used in third world countries because it can be built using locally found supplies and know that, unless you happen to have the pocket change available, you can build one yourself for $50 or so, sometimes much less.

Last for this list (otherwise it would easily go on for eons) is 200 Top-Bar Hives: The Low-Cost Sustainable Way, a site run by Dr Wyatt A. Mangum who has, as one might guess, over 200 Top Bar hives and has been working bees for over 25 years. At that quantity of hives – most of which are spread out across the countryside pollinating farmers’ fields – he has a somewhat less finicky outlook on hive building and gets down to the basics pretty fast. He is a well regarded expert and has a book “full of innovative & creative beekeeping and rock-solid fundamentals”.

FORUMS

If you want a place to discuss beekeeping, there are plenty! Aside from the Top Bar specific one mentioned above, a good one I’ve been reading is at BeeSource.com/forums. There is a section there specifically for Top Bar Hives but a huge list of other sections and topics, including a section about more natural, non-chemical based bee management (Treatment-Free Beekeeping).

And of course, Google is your friend (for some things…) Check the search results for Beekeeping Forum and you’ll probably find one dedicated to your general area.

ONLINE STORES

Then there are the equipment purveyors. There is a fair selection of equipment available on Amazon and eBay, if you are so inclined. A very short, non-exhaustive list of dedicated beekeeping suppliers in the US include:

  • Mann Lake in Minnesota
  • Brushy Mountain in North Carolina, a site worth visiting if for no other reason than their educational (free online) video collection.
  • Dadant & Sons Ltd. of Illinois, running since 1863, is the oldest apiary suppliers in the USA and the folk behind the equally long-running American Bee Journal (actually, since 1861 so two years older).

This is just a tiny sampling of equipment sources out there. A Google search could likely reveal suppliers more local to you.

LOCAL CLUBS & GROUPS

Most large areas and many smaller ones will have local clubs where neighbourhood beeks gather to share ideas and support. This is where a new or interested beekepers can get help and perhaps find a mentor they can shadow for a bit before jumping into the hobby or business with both feet. Keep in mind that many such groups are already well settled in and probably aren’t specifically geared towards Top Bar Hives, having grown up in Langstroth culture for ages and ages. You will still be able to absorb tons of useful general beekeeping info and may even find another TBH enthusiast to hook up with.

Once again, Google is a good source for locating a group local to you. Go to their meeting, see what they’re about.

 

I’ll update this page as I run across more helpful resources. Please feel free to add your own suggestions via the comments below!

Some Beekeeping Book Resources

As I’ve researched beekeeping in general, then focussed more directly on Top Bar hives, I’ve checked out and read a few books. I’ll list below a few I’ve found interesting and useful or that seem recommended by more advanced folk.

For general beekeeping, meaning books that deal wholly or primarily with the standard box-style hives (Langstroth, Warré, National, etc.) there are a plethora of books available, some that date to the early 1900′s and a couple from the 1800′s. As with many topics, however, there are many viewpoints on what works best and what doesn’t so even though one author suggests doing [some particular thing] a particular way, it doesn’t mean that is “the” way. Other authors often find alternative methods of doing the same thing.

In fact, it’s a common view in beekeeping that “if you ask 10 beekeepers how to do something, you’ll get 15 different answers”. This should be taken not as confusion but as the idea that there are multiple ways to get a specific result, with most things able to work by various means.

That said, here are a few good general beekeeping books you might want to check out. Note that Amazon very often has a “Look Inside” feature so do make use of it, as well as reading the reviews. (Click any of the book covers to visit your local Amazon site.)

Pro Tip: If your non-USA Amazon site doesn’t offer “Look Inside” for your chosen book(s), just  replace the “.ca” or “.co.uk”, etc., with “.com” to get to the book’s USA page. The US site seems to have countless “Look Insides” that other country sites do not. This applies to pretty much any book topic, not just bees.

GENERAL BEE BOOKS

The following books may refer exclusively or mostly to using the box style hives. The basic beekeeping info, however, should be useful to most everyone. Things such as bee hierarchy and pest control will pretty much apply no matter the author’s preferred  hive style.

[easyazon-image align="none" asin="0470430656" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51hDV3b5qiL._SL160_.jpg" width="127"]  [easyazon-image align="none" asin="1592536077" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51rR6nbNeDL._SL160_.jpg" width="128"]  [easyazon-image align="none" asin="0801476941" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/518DMVLdmjL._SL160_.jpg" width="124"]  [easyazon-image align="none" asin="1933958944" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51PS29%2BYm7L._SL160_.jpg" width="116"]

TOP BAR BOOKS

Some of the available Top-Bar hive books tend to consider this a more natural or organic method of beekeeping:

[easyazon-image align="none" asin="1603584617" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51pdQwa3y-L._SL160_.jpg" width="107"]  [easyazon-image align="none" asin="0865717206" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51bbVLTIDhL._SL160_.jpg" width="133"]  [easyazon-image align="none" asin="1409271145" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fsBUmWb6L._SL160_.jpg" width="113"]  [easyazon-image align="none" asin="1614760640" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41qjQ2k%2B3%2BL._SL160_.jpg" width="105"]

Check out other possible titles on your local Amazon website: Top Bar beekeeping

Intro Post

Hi, I’m Paul and I am setting up a new bee colony here in the central area of Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

As of June 2013, I am a total newBEE just about to start-up a Top Bar hive. I’ve been researching beekeeping for a fair while now and after much consideration, decided to go with this type of beehive over the more typical Langstroth style that is the standard here in North America.

As an aside, I should also note that none of the photos in the main page header are of me or my setup; they are pics of top bar hives I found on the webs and I’ll switch these out as I get my own hive(s) going. The photos do link to the respective websites, however.

Some of you not yet familiar with the beekeeping lingo may well be saying “What the heck are you talking about?!”

Here is a photo of a typical Top Bar hive:

Top Bar Bee Hive

As you can see, it is basically a long trough that you place top bars on and that the bees will build their free-form combs from. Not shown: a cover of some sort goes on top to shelter everything from the elements.

Although it is handy to make it out of wooden boards, it could in fact be made from anything: a woven basket, a Rubbermaid plastic tote, an old filing cabinet, basically anything where you can lay some bars on top. Of course, the wooden box means you do control some aspects like the length, width and depth, the wood is a bit better at insulating during winter, etc.. This design has been around, in one form or another, for thousands of years. Though it does allow some production of extra honey, it is generally not used in a more commercial setting as it isn’t really designed to entice the bees to overproduce.

And what is a Langstroth hive? That’s what most people think a modern beehive looks like:

From DavesBees.com

This design has been around for about 150 years. It is the defacto hive type used by commercial beekeepers as it uses standardized (for the most part) parts such as boxes, frames, screens, etc.. The bottom, larger boxes are the brood area where the queen bee lays eggs and the larva develop into full adult bees, and the shorter boxes on the top are where the bees put the honey they use for food and expect to store for overwintering. However, they typically don’t get to use most of this stored honey as it is taken away by the beekeepers; they may retain a small amount and get fed a sugar and water solution instead. There are other, similar styles of hives, mostly seen in the UK such as the National, Warré, WBC or Dadant, all of which use the stacked box idea.

Why go with the somewhat less common Top Bar style?

It evokes a more natural method of bee handling, leaving much more of the “keeping” up to the bees themselves. There’s much less stuff to buy or worry about (frames, boxes, foundation, etc.). Bees form their own comb as they see fit, with the slightest of guidance.

The whole thing is one level so there’s less heaving and hauling of boxes full of bees and brood or honey comb.

Its cheap: you can set up a Top Bar hive for $50 or so, much less if you have the wood laying about already, where a Langstroth style really requires purchasing all of your hive parts, costing a couple hundred dollars or more. If you had a pretty well stocked woodworking space, nonetheless, you could certainly make your own box-style hives and frames.

That said, I am creating this blog to document my own setup as I go from totally green noob to, hopefully, a somewhat competent and experienced beekeeper or “beek” as they are known in bee land. I hope the process is at least interesting, somewhat entertaining and also educational, even if only from seeing me stumble as I learn.

Please enjoy and feel free to add your own comments to any entry.

Running a Top Bar Beehive

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