Top Bar Beekeeping? Anyone out there using them or have interest in them?

robshepler
By robshepler on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 - 12:04pm

Greetings from New Mexico where Top Bar beekeeping gets as much attention as Langstroth. One of the things that I love about the system is that it can be made from scrap lumber and built on site.  No special parts needed speaks of resilience to me, and this is a tried and true system. If anybody has interest I would be delighted to talk about it and provide plans.

A bonus with top bar is beeswax, as honey is harvested by the crush and strain method. Cut the comb off of the bar and put it right back in the hive, no extractor necessary for a small apiary.

8 Comments

apismellifera's picture
apismellifera
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 8 2010
Posts: 58
I made my first TBH this year

I tried a couple of extra things, just for fun:

  1. One side of the hive has a plexiglass window into the hive, and I rigged up a hinged flap to keep the hive dark when not observing.
  2. I tried to make the dimensions such that I could use just the top of a standard Langstroth frame, with popsicle sticks glued into the slot as a guide. I had a bunch of old unassembled frames that I hadn't ever used for years, and figured it would be good to find a use for them. 
  3. As recommended by Les Crowder (I think) the sloped angles on the bottom insides are identical to the interior angles of a hexagon-- 120 degrees.  I've still had some problems with comb attachment but nothing too bad. 
  4. I gradually expanded the usable space inside with a movable rear wall-- worked well, the bees expanded very predictably from their initial package.

I am very curious if they will make it through the winter successfully-- there will be somewhat less honey than what I like to see in my Langstroth hives.  I'd be interested in how you configure the frames before winter-- is the cluster of bees sandwiched between frames of honey, or are there more frames on the back? 

In my TBH 2.0 I will make the hive longer than what I now have (going from about 20 bars to at least 30) and will make the observation window more rugged, easier to close off from light.  I might also be interested in a long hive, no window, just a long bin without worrying about the 120 degree angle. I think Russians did it that way traditionally. 

It strikes me that the main disadvantage of these hives is the inability to get extra frames of brood or honey easily unless your apiary is standardized on one size.  I think I would want multiple hives all using the same size frames to make rebalancing populations, requeening, etc. easier. 

One note-- the TBH has the calmest bees of any of my hives-- probably just the luck of the draw, but they still are a delight to work.

 

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 105
Top bar

Les Crowder is responsible for getting me back into beekeeping and I use his hive design, I adore the guy and would really recommend his book "Top Bar Beekeeping". I had the opportunity to sit on the local beekeeping board with him last year, he left New Mexico for Jamaica and is sorely missed!  

I have mating nucs and smaller hive boxes for catching swarms and such. All the gear is interchangeable, pretty darned important.

One of our beekeepers down here uses long lang boxes, very similar to the top bar but he runs standard frames in them. He and I both have back problems and find that the heavy lifting goes way down with this sort of system. He is also foundationless for the most part.

For winter I find that the bees set themselves up pretty well, most of the honey is stored at the back of the box adjoining the brood chamber, they tend to just work the cluster through the honey towards the rear.

Our little group down here standardized on the Crowder design and we are able to swap eggs and capped brood when need be, we have saved a couple colonies by being able to do so.

Very anxious to hear your continuing opinion on top bar!

Trun87114's picture
Trun87114
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 28 2013
Posts: 80
Warre top bar

I've done quite a bit of reading on TBH and have decided to start a Warre hive next spring.  It will be my first foray in BK.  I could be naive but everything I have read about TBH/foundationless being more similar to a colony's natural home has convinced me it is the way to go.  I chose Warre over Kenyan for the same reason (vertical vs horizontal.) Last, even though it promises to be a bit crude and messy, I like the idea of crush and strain rather than needing fancy tools like an extractor to wrap honey.  

I hope you all will continue to post here with TBH lessons as you learn them. I will do the same but not until next year.

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 105
Alternative beekeeping

So glad there is interest! This is a subject that I feel is important, if and when we power down.

I really think that hive design, most of the time is more important to the beekeeper than it is to the bees. I would love to hear of your Warre experience! I look forward to it next season.

Warre fits into the same scenario as top bar as far as I am concerned, they can be made at home without many tools. Langstroth equipment is pretty specialized and requires fancy tooling to make all of the components. Most lang gear has quite a few highway miles by the time it hits your doorstep, it is just not a locally made thing unless you are very lucky. Only a few suppliers in the US.

If you have kept bees for very long you will have experienced being short of gear at the worst of times. Tapping our foot and waiting for Fed - Ex may not be something we can do in the future. Being able to put together a top bar or a Warre your self out of scrap, might be pretty important.

I run both Top Bar and Langstroth, anxious to hear about your Warre.

Good choice Trun87114 !

SC Prepper's picture
SC Prepper
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 22 2014
Posts: 5
New to Beekeeping

I'm new to the idea of beekeeping and received Les Crowder's book from Amazon the other day. I've read it through twice now and am convinced that TBH is the way to go. My next step is to find other beekeepers in my area using TBH's then pick their brains.  I wonder if the extension service at Clemson University has anything on the website? Need to check that out.

robshepler's picture
robshepler
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 16 2010
Posts: 105
Les Crowder

I am using the Les Crowder hive design and I am very pleased with it. Les came to our area and gave a seminar to 18 of us. We formed an on line community to support each other and we have ALL had very good results. Les stayed at my house that night and we sat up until the wee hours talking about bees and what had changed since I last kept bees in the late 70's. Les was the President of the New Mexico Beekeepers Association and I got a chance to sit on the Board with him last year. He is a great guy, full of great knowledge, and many in our state adore the man. He is a great advocate of natural bee keeping and a keen observer.

I like the system because I feel it is more sustainable, the hives can be built out of scrap lumber and on the cheap. There is really nothing cheap about Langstroth, although I have those too! For the lids I am using Hardyboard with a frame, although Les just uses some old corrugated steel.

There is probably a little more maintenance required with Top Bar, be in that hive every two weeks. Adding empty bars between two straight combs will keep the NEW combs straight and keep them from cross combing.

 I love the system! I recommend it, and would love to help you in any way I can.

Rob

gpoulsen's picture
gpoulsen
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 27 2009
Posts: 20
Top Bar Tip

I have both a Langstroth and TBH hive.  I have had trouble with  the TPH with crossing from one bar to another, so thanks for the tip on adding an empty bar between two straight bars.  I'll try that next year.  I lost my TBH twice in three years, again this year.  I think the queen may have been killed both times from when I got in the hive and the comb collapsed because of crossing between bars.  I'll give it another try next year.  I only got a small amount of honey (about 27 pounds) from both of the hives this year.  It was a fairly dry summer and there is more competition in my area.  Still love bee keeping and learn new things each year.

Trun87114's picture
Trun87114
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 28 2013
Posts: 80
Bee update

Glad you revived this old thread!

I'm heading into my first winter with two Warre hives, populated from a package this past spring.  I have Carniolans and they swarmed in June.  I was able to capture the swarm and start a second hive with it.  (That sentence in no way reflects the initial panic I was in when I came upon the swarm!)

I've decided not to harvest honey this fall.  Both Warres have two boxes full of honey but with the split I want to make sure they have adequate stores for the winter.  I plan to harvest in the spring, as soon as things start blooming.   Hopefully all the girls will live through the winter.  I'm zone 6 and the only "winterizing" I plan to do is to decrease the size of the openings. 

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