Top Bar Bee Hive

by Daisy

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I remember the family beehives from childhood– smoldering cotton sending puffs of smoke from granddad’s smoker, jars of comb submerged in amber, chewing the honeyed wax like gum. I always knew I wanted to continue the tradition but I thought living in a subdivision meant no bees for me.

I was happy to learn I could have a couple of hives even in the ‘burbs. No, I haven’t asked city hall. Sometimes a person just assumes the best about one’s municipality ;). What I mean is, beekeepers have had good success in urban and suburban areas.

The next obstacle has been expense. Upwards of $200 for a basic hive and equipment and bees. I could buy a lot of local honey for that. I could build my own hive, but plans for traditional hives were daunting. I wasn’t sure my skills or my shop would be up to the challenge.

While nosing around the web I found something called a “Top Bar” beehive. The plans were simple and the philosophy was right up my alley–“whole-wheat bees” as someone characterized them when I described Top Bar, or Warre beekeeping, “natural beekeeping.”

I’m no expert on the subject by any means, but the basic tenet seems to be that if you let the bees form their comb freeform in their own way, more or less, and intervene less in the lives of the bees, the hives will be healthier and more resistant to pestilence. Healthier hives=less fuss for the keeper.

I am still learning about this method and about bees in general. This is my first foray into beekeeping and I have no idea whether I will have any success or not, but I have hopes.

The first step for me is building the hive. While there are all sorts of possible ways to use this method, from flowerpots to 50 gallon drums, I followed this basic plan.

Here’s our hive:

Inside are the moveable “follower boards” which allow the keeper to make the size of the cavity inside the size he/she needs:

It is a basic box with sloped sides. The sloping is apparently not essential, but it’s said to help discourage the bees from forming extensive comb attachments to the sides.

These are the top bars. The one on top is shown upside down so you can see the beeswax-filled kerf which is supposed to give the bees a place to start building their combs:

I went to a meeting of my local beekeeping association and to my surprise my neighbor across the way was there. Yep, he’s a beekeeper. He keeps it quiet. The things we do in the suburbs. I guess we need a secret handshake.

Now all I need is some bees. My neighbor says he will try to catch me a swarm. Keeping my fingers crossed.


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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah June 3, 2009 at 6:41 am

Oh I can’t wait to read more about this!

beth June 3, 2009 at 11:41 am

Interesting article. Artificial bee hive looks good

ivorysoap76 June 3, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Thanks, beth!

ivorysoap76 June 3, 2009 at 2:30 pm

It’s exciting!

bcteagirl June 8, 2009 at 3:33 am

I really want to read more about this, good idea! I had been thinking along the same lines and was wondering how to go about it 😛

TL June 8, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I was glad to know it existed. Seems like a very cool way to bee.

Julie June 10, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Hey! I just added a Kenyan Top Bar Hive to my 1 old skool Langstroth. Now just waiting on a wild swarm to fill it! Yay for natural bees!

TL June 11, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I hope I get a local swarm, too. I’m not keen on the cost of shipped bees.

angie August 27, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Well are the bees working? Can’t wait to see.

Tomato Lady August 27, 2009 at 5:04 pm

angie–No bees yet. Will have to wait until Spring. I was too cheap to buy a package of them and my beekeeping peeps couldn’t get me a swarm. I’m patient, though. Looking forward to it!

Kenny December 14, 2009 at 10:13 pm

ive built 3 TBH’s this Fall and will fill them with local bees from a beekeeper in my area this Spring..he also breeds hygenic queens at his lil apiary in Chapel Hill, NC….The Hives were easy to build with the use of a table saw to cut the bars..the rest was dne with hand toold and a skill me if anyone wants a hive built…i can send pictures

Tomato Lady December 15, 2009 at 8:37 am

Kenny–Nice. What kind of plans and wood did you use?

bill lester February 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

#12 kenny, any info would bee great, just starting first time this year, have 3 packages comming in april, and would like to do a top bar hive on one, i have reg hive sets commng soon for remainder, I have read a least one artical on top bar, and it sounds right to do

Dean Cochran May 11, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Interesting…but as an FYI, the first Google ad that popped up when entering this website was for getting rid of insects using Terminix! Whoa, really? That is just wrong, Mr Google Ad person!

Tomato Lady May 11, 2010 at 9:13 pm

DC–Yes, they try, but it can be humorous sometimes. Tyson ads on the backyard chicken posts, etc.

caitlinvb March 10, 2011 at 9:14 am

I have been stalking your blog for a little while – and I just embarked upon building my own beehives, mostly inspired by you ladies. The idea of keeping bees had been floating around for a while, but you ladies definitely pushed the notion from a dream to a plan! Thanks! And I linked this post in my blog post about it….

hampers April 1, 2011 at 10:43 am

Beekeeping is becoming a bit of a rage these days. I just saw on another blog from Germany how they have made a simular hive from plastic and steel legs. People are putting these hives on the roof tops of city living areas. Wild.

Jeff April 13, 2011 at 8:19 am

Was just wondering how your hive is working out? I have been wanting to do this for a couple yrs. now. I will at least build one this spring, don’t know when I will get bees though. I wonder if I can attract bees to my hive, I know the chances are probably small. I live on a small farm in Kansas, and we have timber around us, and see honey bees around our fruit trees and garden quite often. Hope everything is working out for you.

Tomato Lady April 13, 2011 at 9:14 am

Jeff–I wish I had better news, but my bees absconded last Fall. We had been having drought conditions so they were probably a bit stressed, then the phone company moved the hive without my knowledge. I think that put them over the edge. I’m looking to get a swarm this Spring and hope for better luck next time. As for attracting a swarm, I had no luck that way, had to get a package. It’s probably, as you say, a small chance that it would happen naturally, but I’ve heard it’s possible. Good luck!

Vince Dobson March 9, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Too bad about the phone co. moving them. Their stupidity in not understand the ways of the bees and that the only way to move a hive (unless you are only moving it 3 or 4 ft max) is to do it at night when the bees are home because when they come home and their home is not there, they do not know what to do. They should have asked you to move it if it was in the wat.

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