Beekeeping Basics 101 – Top Bar Hives

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Beekeeping Basics 101 – Top Bar Hives
By Howard Peterson

Of the various types of manmade beehives available for beekeepers, the Langstroth hive is the most prevalent in the US. However, another style more common in Africa is starting to make inroads in North America: the top bar hive.

Unlike Langstroth hives, which are modular, stackable units, the African style usually consists of one box and do not allow for stacking. They also have no frames. Instead, they generally have slats of wood that sit freely atop an empty box and lie flush against each other, like more closely aligned bars on a xylophone. These pieces of wood are what the bees attach comb to. The bars can be pulled out individually (if the bees have not cemented comb to two adjoining bars, in which case both would have to be pulled out).

There are a couple of disadvantages to this type of hive. One is that you need far more ground space in order to get as much honey production as you can get with a Langstroth hive. Langstroth hives build ‘up,’ since the boxes can be stacked vertically. Top bar hives build ‘out,’ since they require completely horizontal spaces on which to put more boxes for honey production.

Another disadvantage is that once a bar has been pulled off the hive with comb attached, it usually has to be replaced with a new bar, and bees will have to redo all their work in building the wax comb.

However, there are several advantages to this type of hive. There are no lifting of boxes, only pulling out individual small bars of wood to which honeycomb is attached. So if you are not particularly strong, this is ideal and requires much less physical strength.

Bees are typically easier to work with in these hives, because bees are not alerted as readily to the presence of the beekeeper. The human can simply pull out a bar with honeycomb attached, rather than having to disassemble several boxes in order to reach all the honey. Because of this, there is simply not as much opportunity for bees to notice the intrusion of the keeper.

For those who want to harvest wax along with the honey, top bar hives are good as well. Beekeepers who want to use wax for creating candles or other substances can make good use of this type of beehive. They are also less expensive than Langstroth hives and easier to put together.

Do you want to build your own beehive using low cost materials? Get this great construction guide with a step by step process here. If you can put up a set of shelves, then you can make a serviceable beehive.

If you do decide to go with a top bar hive, it is recommended that you build bigger rather than smaller. Many first-time beekeepers start with a smaller version, but there is no room for the colony to expand, so the hive lacks stability and the numbers to survive occasional hazards like particularly cold winters or the intrusion of a predator like a skunk or bear. There is also the threat that if the bees become crowded, they may swarm in order to find better living accommodations.

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