Beekeeping forum: Building a top bar hive

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Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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dave
Aug 17, 2012 10:08 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

We've been beekeeping with traditional (Langstroth) hives for a few years now and have been interested in the top bar approach for some time.

The idea is that the hive is a single V shaped horizontal box. "Bars" are hung on the top of the box and a cover is then placed. These bars have no foundation. The bees build their combs straight down from these bars. Because there is no foundation, you don't use an extractor to get the honey. You simply cut the comb from the bar and then there are many ways to process that comb of honey.

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These boxes can be as simple or complex as you'd like, and anybody could build one. The big downside that I can see is that you can't add supers to expand the hive. In other words, once the hive is full, there is no chance of expanding it.

I can easily see having 5, 10, or even 20 of these topbar hives spread around the property.

There is a document that describes a very simple and easily built top bar hive at the barefoot beekeeper's website.

Also, TJ Carr, a beekeeper in Albuquerque, has posted amazingly detailed and professional plans for what looks like the ultimate top-bar hive, complete with a window so you can watch the bees at work! Links to download his plans are:

Description of the plans [PDF]
The plans [PDF]

TJ's hive looks beautiful and I'm planning on making one (or more) for ourselves this winter, so I can have it ready for the inevitable springtime swarms!
[Last edited by dave - Aug 17, 2012 10:10 AM (+)]
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Name: Margaret
Delta KY
I'm A Charley's Girl For Sure
Forum moderator Charter ATP Member Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Beekeeper
Seed Starter Permaculture Region: Kentucky Garden Ideas: Master Level
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Mindy03
Aug 17, 2012 10:14 AM CST

Moderator

Thanks for posting this Dave. I know there's a few people interested in top bar hives.

Keep us posted next year on how they work out for you.
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Aug 17, 2012 10:14 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

I sure will!
Name: Jerry
Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: Texas Beekeeper Bee Lover Region: United States of America Plays in the sandbox
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jamyers59
Sep 13, 2012 6:11 PM CST
I took these photos of Fred’s first Top Bar hive he and Mike built. I don’t remember the reasoning behind all of the bottom vent holes. The stand is a recycled mount for those whole street mailboxes.
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In these two pic's you can see the comb being built out from its very beginning at the top bar.
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Can you find Fred?
Up to my elbows in the dirt while being on top of the dirt is a great day!
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Sep 13, 2012 6:16 PM CST

Garden.org Admin

Fred surely knows what he's doing but I've never seen so many holes in a hive. I'd be worried about robbing but I guess that's not a problem.

I really like those windows people put in their top bar hives. Do these windows get covered when the hive isn't being observed?
Name: Margaret
Delta KY
I'm A Charley's Girl For Sure
Forum moderator Charter ATP Member Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Beekeeper
Seed Starter Permaculture Region: Kentucky Garden Ideas: Master Level
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Mindy03
Sep 14, 2012 6:39 AM CST

Moderator

I'm surprised the bees haven't covered some of those holes up. When my husband put extra holes in some of our hives for ventilation during the summer they covered up all but two of them.
Name: Jerry
Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: Texas Beekeeper Bee Lover Region: United States of America Plays in the sandbox
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jamyers59
Sep 14, 2012 1:02 PM CST
The window does have a cover. Also, all of the round holes you see along the bottom are on both sides and are covered with wire screen.
Up to my elbows in the dirt while being on top of the dirt is a great day!
Name: Jerry
Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: Texas Beekeeper Bee Lover Region: United States of America Plays in the sandbox
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jamyers59
Sep 17, 2012 3:14 PM CST
The bees have begun to cover over some of those holes with propolis. Haven't heard from Fred in a while...
Up to my elbows in the dirt while being on top of the dirt is a great day!
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Sep 17, 2012 4:03 PM CST

Garden.org Admin

That doesn't surprise me. My understanding is that they like few holes and use the few that they have to control ventilation. Too many holes is probably too hard to keep the air flowing the way they like.
Name: Jerry
Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: Texas Beekeeper Bee Lover Region: United States of America Plays in the sandbox
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jamyers59
Feb 26, 2013 11:09 PM CST
This hive was based on TJ Carr's plans I believe. Since moving back to Houston, I'm considering the TBH when I can get back into keeping hives. I would think that a TBH in Texas would need to be wider and shorter to help with heat issues...Any comments on that idea? Also, I would like to learn more about the Warre hive if anyone here has any experience with them.
Up to my elbows in the dirt while being on top of the dirt is a great day!
Name: Margaret
Delta KY
I'm A Charley's Girl For Sure
Forum moderator Charter ATP Member Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Beekeeper
Seed Starter Permaculture Region: Kentucky Garden Ideas: Master Level
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Mindy03
Feb 27, 2013 8:22 AM CST

Moderator

Jerry Dave posted the link to the TBH pattern he used in General Chat

http://www.biobees.com/

Hopefully, he'll come by later and discuss the TBH hive with you. We don't have them here so I don't know enough to be of any help to you.

Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Feb 27, 2013 8:33 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

My TBH is finished and ready to go and I am awaiting a swam to put it in. I've seen the warre hives before and they are neat but I'd probably prefer a TBH because of its simplicity.
Name: Randy and Edie
North Central TX (Zone 7b)
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ranedie
Aug 5, 2013 2:14 PM CST
Our old (and barely used) TBH on the right & new one on the left. The new one is based on a hot weather design by Jacob Klingensmith from the Ploughshare school at Homestead Heritage near Waco Tx. He's the head beekeeper & instructor for their school & cares for over 80 of the community hives they have.

When we first met Jacob, much of our research & the hive that we built had been based on "The Barefoot Beekeeper" & the information at biobees, most of which originates from a much cooler UK climate. As we discussed all that, we learned that over the years, he'd looked at & used all of the various designs out there, & finally tweaked his own design which is essentially shorter, wider, & longer than most TBH's with end only entrances. The shorter wider design tends to minimize or eliminate failure at the comb to bar attachment in extended hot weather. Placing the entrances on the ends allow for a handy & very convenient place to hang the feeder, or refill it w/o disturbing the bees.

Because our bait hive swarm arrived right after meeting him, & before we'd been able to build a new one based on his plans, we settled for a pre-cut kit he had available & assembled & painted it ourselves. The old one actually did house the new swarm for a short while before we got the new one ready, but they're doing very well 4 months later. The old one has turned into yard furniture while we figure out what to do with it...
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[Last edited by ranedie - Aug 5, 2013 9:15 PM (+)]
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Name: Margaret
Delta KY
I'm A Charley's Girl For Sure
Forum moderator Charter ATP Member Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Beekeeper
Seed Starter Permaculture Region: Kentucky Garden Ideas: Master Level
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Mindy03
Aug 5, 2013 2:59 PM CST

Moderator

Thank you for sharing these pictures Ranedie.
I've never seen a topbar hive in person so these are very interesting to me.
Am I correct that the sides are sloped? Do you check them from the side instead of the top?

In other words tell me more about this topbar hive Please
Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Aug 6, 2013 6:51 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

ranedie said:over the years, he'd looked at & used all of the various designs out there, & finally tweaked his own design which is essentially shorter, wider, & longer than most TBH's with end only entrances. The shorter wider design tends to minimize or eliminate failure at the comb to bar attachment in extended hot weather. Placing the entrances on the ends allow for a handy & very convenient place to hang the feeder, or refill it w/o disturbing the bees.


This is very interesting to me. Thank you for sharing.

If I know Homestead Heritage, eventually they will publish this as a book that can be purchased, and if they do I'll be delighted to get it. In the meantime, I may just try to head out there and see if I can meet with Josh myself.

By the way, Welcome! @ranedie. I'm going to be speaking at the McLennan County master gardeners meeting on September 11th.
Name: Randy and Edie
North Central TX (Zone 7b)
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ranedie
Aug 6, 2013 11:38 AM CST
Might not need to wait for the book, as Jacob actually has much of this info available on the Ploughshare site at [url=www.sustainlife.org]www.sustainlife.org[/url]. Also some excellent basic beekeeping videos in addition to detailed hive plans, material list, & assembly instruction in both .pdf & video. We got an Expo special price package so not sure what the plans only part might come to.

We met Jacob at the Self Reliance Expo in Arlington Tx last spring and when we later drove down to his workshop to pick up the hive kit, we spent an amazing hour on his porch just talking about stuff & wound up with a mini education on all kinds of things. We really liked his approach that he was just doing what he finally worked out that gave consistent results for this environment, and he had no apparent interest in getting into debates on all the various methodologies out there...

And P.S. Thanks for all the warm welcomes from everyone!
[Last edited by ranedie - Aug 6, 2013 1:51 PM (+)]
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Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Region: Texas Master Gardener: Texas Permaculture Raises cows I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Garden Ideas: Master Level Beekeeper Garden Sages Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
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dave
Aug 6, 2013 12:24 PM CST

Garden.org Admin

Fantastic, thank you so much for sharing this. I'm off to check this out. Thumbs up
Name: Jerry
Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: Texas Beekeeper Bee Lover Region: United States of America Plays in the sandbox
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jamyers59
Jan 8, 2014 9:44 AM CST
Mindy03,
In response to your question of Aug 5, 2013; The top bar hive is indeed sloped on the sides. The width of the top and bottom as well as the overall depth of the box are varied according to local weather considerations. Warmer climates dictate wider and shallower hive boxes than would be acceptable in a cooler climate for the reason Dave mentioned. The TBH boxes are opened from the top as the cover simply is lifted off of the box.

Ranedie,
Am I seeing "Starter Strips" of wax in a dadoe at the bottom of those top bars? That's a neat touchI've not seen from anyone else! I tip my hat to you.
Up to my elbows in the dirt while being on top of the dirt is a great day!
Name: Margaret
Delta KY
I'm A Charley's Girl For Sure
Forum moderator Charter ATP Member Hosted a Not-A-Raffle-Raffle I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Beekeeper
Seed Starter Permaculture Region: Kentucky Garden Ideas: Master Level
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Mindy03
Jan 8, 2014 11:53 AM CST

Moderator

Jerry thanks for stopping in and answering my question.

Hope everyone's bees are doing well through this cold snap.
Name: Jerry
Rio Rancho, New Mexico (Zone 7b)
Region: Texas Beekeeper Bee Lover Region: United States of America Plays in the sandbox
Image
jamyers59
Jan 9, 2014 9:20 AM CST
It's been too long since I visited this site. It's just been rather nutty of late. I'm looking for a spot of land now so I can begin setting up beds for our veggie gardens and flower beds. I don't have enough space here for more than 6-8 potted plants. THEN I can get to building a handfull of TBH's. It aint easy keeping all them women supplied with all the flowers they require on a daily basis...
Just curious...Are there any beekeepers out there who want a Top Bar Hive and don't have the time or equipment to build their own?
Up to my elbows in the dirt while being on top of the dirt is a great day!
[Last edited by jamyers59 - Jan 9, 2014 9:39 AM (+)]
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