A Season in the Life of Top Bar Beekeeping


| 11/21/2013 10:28:00 AM


Tags: Lindsay Williamson, North Carolina, Beekeeping, Top Bar Beehive,

top barTop bar hives (TBH’s) are quickly gaining popularity among beekeepers and people interested in keeping bees. They are an especially appealing option to people who want to keep bees but may not be willing or able to invest in more standard beehives and the equipment that goes with them. You can build a TBH for little or nothing using materials you have lying around and there is a lot of room for improvising. There are numerous plans for building top bar hives online so I won’t get into that here but I will highlight some of my personal experiences in an effort to shed a little light on the day to day.

Setup and Installation

Once you have your top bar hive in place you’ll need some bees to go in it. There are several options and opinions on this matter but the number one factor dominating your decision will probably be what’s most available and least expensive. If you are an experienced beekeeper then the options that will probably make most sense for you would be to catch a swarm of bees to start your TBH or make a split or artificial swarm from one of your existing hives. If neither of these avenues is an option for you then you are looking at purchasing bees either in the form of a nuc (nucleus hive) or a package of bees.  

A nuc is a small five frame hive with a laying queen, worker bees, brood and some food stores. The reason I prefer a package to a nuc for a TBH is that the nuc frames are sized for a Langstroth hive so putting them into a TBH will require some messy sawing and cutting to make it fit and nothing will distress your bees like killing brood. Of course, if you have more than one TBH of the same dimensions, you could execute a nuc like split which would be a less risky option than just installing a swarm or package of bees into the hive. That being said, this probably won’t be something you'll be able to do until at least your second season of using a TBH.small hive

A package of bees is literally a package of worker bees with a queen in a cage ready to be installed into a beehive. My number one concern installing packages of bees into my TBH’s was the bees absconding (leaving the hive). There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening. If you have some drawn comb to put into the hive then it will automatically be more attractive to the bees. I installed my bees in the early evening just before dark when they are much less likely to fly and closed the hive for a day to encourage them to make it home and begin building comb. Once the bees begin to build comb they are much less likely to abscond. Some beekeepers put a drop of lemongrass oil in the hive as it is said to be a fragrance that the bees are attracted to. Once you have your bees in their new hive I think it’s best to feed them at least one time. If you’re going to close your bees in the hive you need to make sure they have access to a feeder.  

After installation into any type of hive, most beekeepers I know agree that it’s best to leave the bees undisturbed for a week or so and just let them get used to their new space. At that time you’ll want to get into the hive for your first inspection to monitor the comb building (you will be amazed at how fast they build comb). Top bar hives do not have frames, foundation, or anything other than horizontal wood bars lying across the top of the hive for the bees to draw out their own comb so it’s essential to get into your hive for inspections about twice a week during the honey flow or comb building season so you can intervene if they start to attach their combs to more than one bar.


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