Top Bar Hives

Top Bar Hives
Why Top Bar Hives?
By Michael Bush Copyright 2005-2012
Why Top Bar Hives?
• Horizontal—no lifting boxes
• Natural comb—no contaminates and natural
sized cells
• Can easily do natural spacing—1 ¼” bars
will result in smaller cells
• Easy to work—minimal area of the colony
is exposed
• Cheap to construct—no critical dimensions
other than the width of the top bar
• You can get this with a long box that takes
Langstroth frames.
Horizontal Hives
• Can use deep frames without cutting down
• Can reduce or eliminate the amount of
honey supers lifted on and off to get to a
brood chamber to inspect
Natural Comb
• No Contaminates
• Natural Cell Size
• Can do Natural Spacing
Wax is a sponge for many chemicals
• Many of the acaracides used are lipophilic
(love oil) and they absorb into the wax.
• Many of them are already contaminating the
foundation we use
Clean Wax
• Natural comb is really the only way to get
clean wax in your hives
• The beeswax supply is contaminated and
foundation, right out of the box, is
contaminated with fluvalinate, coumaphos,
amitraz and other lipophilic pesticides
Contaminated Wax
Causes infertile queens
Causes infertile drones
Causes frequent supersedures
Natural Cell Size
• The only way to get natural cell size is to let
the bees build their own cells without laying
out the pattern for them—in other words
“foundationless” beekeeping
Using Natural Cell Size Against Varroa?
Either cell size helps with Varroa or it does not
• If it does, you have helped the Varroa problem
• If it does not,
you have
not hurt the
Varroa problem
Cell Size and Bee Size
• Standard foundation has been upsized
• That upsizing has caused a bee that is 150% of
it’s natural size
• The fact that upsizing foundation makes a bigger
bee and that we now have upsized is well
documented by Baudoux, Pinchot, Gontarski,
McMullan and Brown.
A couple of References
• Recent: The influence of small-cell brood
combs on the morphometry of honeybees
(Apis mellifera)--John B. McMullan and Mark
J.F. Brown
• Historic references are listed here: see near
the bottom of the page (including a link to the
above paper)
What is natural cell size?
Reasonable Assumptions
• Can we assume that the bees know the answer
to this question?
• Can we assume if we let them they will answer
the question?
• Can we assume that doing what is natural for
them is the most likely correct size for cells?
You can get natural comb
without a Top Bar Hive
Foundationless Frame
Foundationless Frame
Natural Comb Spacing
• Natural comb spacing contributes to natural
cell size
• Bees naturally space brood 1 ¼”
• Spacing combs further apart leads to larger
Easy to Work
• Less exposed bees
• Don’t overestimate this—a Langstroth is
not difficult to work but with very hot bees
a top bar hive may become less defensive.
Cheap and Easy to Construct
• No Critical dimensions except the width of
the top bar
• Langstroths require more precision to build
Kinds of top bar hives
•Kenya top bar hive (KTBH)
–Sloped sides for less stress on the
•Tanzanian top bar hive (TTBH)
–Square sides for ease of manufacture
• Myth: Top Bar Hives are more natural
– They can be, but you could make a Langstroth
be just as natural
• Myth: The shape is more natural
– Bees seem perfectly happy in anything from an
old dry car gas tank to the soffit of a house
Reasons you might not want a
Top Bar Hive
• Limited space requires the space be
managed more carefully which requires
more frequent interventions
• If your only reason for wanting a TBH is
natural comb, you can do foundationless in
a Langstroth
Reasons you might not want a
Top Bar Hive
• If your only reason for a TBH is to get a
horizontal hive and less lifting, you can just
build a long Langstroth.
Typical Mistakes
• Buying a deep Langstroth nuc to install in a
Top Bar Hive that does not take Langstroth
frames (they probably heard or read that
nucs are better)
• They hang the queen cage, to “be safe”
rather than direct release and that messes up
the first comb. One bad comb leads to
Typical Mistakes
• Once a come is messed up they do not set
things right
• They build it too small and they swarm
• They harvest too much honey and get a fall
failure and there is no comb for the bees to
store syrup and it’s too cold to draw comb
Typical Mistakes
• Blaming failures on the hive type
– Bees colds starve sometimes in any equipment
• They won’t feed at all because it’s
– Feed for the right reasons
– Have a plan for how to feed them if you need to
• They won’t smoke the bees and think
smoke upsets the bees
Contact Info:
For more info, questions, or to
discuss this further:
bees at bushfarms com
Book: The Practical Beekeeper