Horizontal Top Bar Beehive Update

by Daisy on 05/31/2010

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Last year I built a Top Bar Beehive and waited impatiently for a swarm of bees to admire my construction and lay claim to it.

Well, I didn’t really think that would happen (???), but I was hoping to get a call from the local beekeepers association with a swarm but it never materialized.

I didn’t want to let this spring go by with no bees, so I purchased a 3# package of Italian bees from an apiary and installed them about a month ago.  I’ve been watching them travel in and out of the hive with interest and this morning finally went in for an inspection.

Here I’ve removed the roof and exposed the bars underneath:

My neighbor, who has been a traditional beekeeper forever, built a hive like mine and said his bees built comb perpendicular to the bars, so I was concerned mine might try to do the same thing.

I was very pleased to see this:

And this:

Isn’t that a pretty sight?  Clever things.  Look at the lovely white cells ready to be filled with honey.

That was the outermost bar.  Here’s one further in:

Worker brood. (Thanks, Anna.) And some honey.

Same comb, closer up.

I didn’t use a smoker and I didn’t need one.  The bees were docile and went about their business for the most part.  The hardest thing was getting the bars back in place without squishing any bees between them.  None of the comb I inspected was attached to the sloped sides of the hive.  I used a knife to unstick between the bars, but there was minimal attachment there.

I’ll be back in a few weeks to check on their progress.

If you are unfamiliar with “natural beekeeping,” here’s a good place to start for an overview:


Look in the left-hand column under “Read” and click on “An introduction to Natural Beekeeping.”  It’s a brief and easy-to-understand free summary.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Ecologystudent May 31, 2010 at 7:59 am

Nice! I’ve been wanting to make a top bar hive and start keeping bees, but one thing or another has prevented me. All that honey just looks so yummy.

Jennifer May 31, 2010 at 8:39 am

Wow, looks great! We built a top bar hive this year and bought bees. The beekeepers association said it would be fine to put them in when we did, although we questioned that it was too cold. everyone said it would be fine. They didn’t last more than a couple of days and we lost the whole hive. Very frustrating! I am glad to here yours is working and I am going to show my husband how a successful one looks. If we don’t get a swarm this summer, then we will order bees again next year.

Frugal Kiwi May 31, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I’ve just moved to a house where I’m able to keep bees, so this is excellent and timely information. Thanks very much!

Tanya Walton May 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm

this looks great…i love bees and this is one thing i would love to have but my hubby really doesn’t like bees so i don’t think it’s anything I’ll ever get!! Can’t wait to see the future pics.

Tomato Lady May 31, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Jennifer–Sorry about your bad luck. You may have seen this video, but in case you haven’t, it might be helpful for your next lot of bees:

JoAnn May 31, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Yours is the 3rd blog that I am following that has new bees. It looks like so much fun. Hoping I get to have at least one hive one of these days. Now off to bookmark the link. 😉

JavaLady May 31, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Awesome honey bees. My grandfather , and his sons, used to run an apairy in central Lousiana. I remember riding bikes with my cousins, and we’d go riding through the bee yard. The honey bees would land on us, then fly off in about a second or two. It was scarey at first, but no harm was done. It was a messy job processing the honey. You go girl !!

AuntiePatricia May 31, 2010 at 10:40 pm

ivory, i don’t see your third photo. i want to see it! i love your farm in the suburbs. lovely. 🙂

Alice May 31, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Hi TL, This is wonderful news for you to find your hive thriving and so productive. It looks amazing and seems like you’re doing a great job. So many bees have died off in the past ? years that farmers have been having a hard tome with their crops. I hope some can read and see your post and gain the confidence to try beekeeping themselves. I’m happy it is working so well for you. Can’t wait to see pictures of the honey.

Tomato Lady June 1, 2010 at 12:29 am

Auntie Patricia–Yes, I don’t understand what’s going on with that picture. Sometimes I pull it up and it’s there, sometimes it’s not. It’s always on my edit page, so I’m not sure what to do. It isn’t very exciting, just a pic of the frame in the next shot before I removed it from the hive.

Anna June 1, 2010 at 5:52 am

I’m so glad you’re posting about your top-bar hive! We started with a traditional Langstroth hive last year because we got the hive and all the fixings free through an extension service grant, but I’ve been curious about top-bars.

One note, though — your photo of “capped and uncapped honey” is actually capped worker larvae. This is a good thing — you want your hive to grow fast, and that means laying lots of eggs and raising lots of offspring. If you look closely, you’ll probably see tiny eggs and larvae in the bottom of some of the uncapped cells, and if you hit it on the right day you can actually see the new workers eating their way out of their cells!

Tomato Lady June 1, 2010 at 6:53 am

Anna–I was wondering about that. I’ve heard the larvae caps are “khaki colored” while honey is white. I thought perhaps the color on my photo was a little off since I could see honey in some of the uncapped cells surrounding the capped ones. Thanks for the info!

Anna June 1, 2010 at 7:52 am

They’ll sometimes store honey right by the brood. To me, the giveaway isn’t the color, but the texture. Capped brood is a bit rough with a matte finish; capped honey is wax, so it’s smoother.

Tomato Lady June 1, 2010 at 9:08 am

Anna–Thank you. I’m excited about the brood. I’ll go in and revise the post. I would love to see them at the eating out stage.

Diane June 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I am green with envy! Your hive and bees look beautiful. My DH built me two top-bar hives for Xmas and a couple weeks ago (the first really warm weekend here) we got at least half a dozen swarm calls. We went and picked up two swarms that weekend (no smoker needed for us either) and the bees hung out for a few days, then moved to the outside of the hives (despite being sealed in) and eventually both hives swarmed off and vamoosed. I was crushed. We think something must be up with the hives the bees don’t like (My theory is it’s my hubby’s darn stinky sealant), so we will hopefully rebuild and try again. *sigh* I really want bees!

KeLLy Ann June 1, 2010 at 7:35 pm

ooh, We were just talking about bee hives yesterday. I live in Louisiana and I really want to do a hive. You’ve inspired me to keep at it and start doing research and such.
wow, I’m excited for You.

Rhonda June 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I really enjoy this blog. I read an article in Mother Earth News about top bar hives and have wanted one ever since.

Barbara J June 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm

We’ve been keeping bees for 2 years now in a Langstroth hive, but my husband REALLY wants to try the top bar hive, too. One thing I wondered about the top bar is how you can go about excluding the Queen from some of the bars so that you have some that have just honey and no brood (in the Langstroth this is done with a Queen Excluder that she can’t pass through, but the workers can) between the Bottom Hive and the Supers/Shallows. I would love to know how you’re doing it — the comb looks gorgeous and the girls are looking happy. We had Italians last year but they didn’t winter through. I think we wound up with Carnolians this year. Have fun with the honey — I guarantee it will be the best you’ve ever tasted.

Tomato Lady June 3, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Barbara J–My (incomplete) understanding of this is that while mixing occurs, the brood tends to be concentrated in one end of the hive, with progressively less further out, leaving some combs of honey only in the end opposite the brood nest and this is what is harvested. I have also heard that the bees do this more consistently as the hive becomes more established (experienced). More experienced HTBH folks may have more to add.

Joy K. June 6, 2010 at 10:14 am

How exciting! We had a swarm of bees move into a tree just at the side of the front “yard.” (It’s not exactly a yard, but sort of a yard-equivalent).

I love watching them whizzing around in the hot afternoon sun.

Marion June 3, 2012 at 9:41 am

im curious as i just checked my top bar -and the bees are biuilding a lovely comb perpendicualr to the bars….? what to do?
thanks downtown bee host

Daisy June 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

Marion–Here’s a forum discussion about a similar situation: http://www.beesource.com/forums/showthread.php?253500-How-do-I-correct-comb-nearly-perpendicular-to-the-bars
Sounds like it’s been done before, although I’ve never tried it myself.
You might try posting your question at beesource and biobees.com. They have a lot of experienced TBH’ers. Good luck and please let me know what you decided!

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