Keeping Bees: Using the Top-Bar Beekeeping Method

Conventional methods of keeping bees are effective, but top bar beekeeping is simpler, less expensive, gives bees a greater degree of freedom, and still leaves you with honey and pollinated crops.

| October/November 2009

  • keeping bees - top-bar beekeeping
    In top bar beekeeping, the comb must be handled carefully so it doesn’t break away from the bar.
    PHOTO: PHIL CHANDLER
  • Top-bar hive
    You can build this hive from recycled lumber.
    PHIL CHANDLER
  • Honeybee pollination
    Honeybees are important pollinators. Without them, many fruits and vegetables are less productive (or will not produce a crop at all).
    ISTOCKPHOTO/AMIT EREZ
  • Wooden top-bar hive
    There are many designs for top-bar hives. The one above has an entrance for bees at the end of the hive instead of on the sides.
    JOEY TEEM/CUSTOMWOODKITS.COM
  • Woman Top-bar beekeeping
    New comb on a top bar.
    SCOTT VLAUN
  • Bee pollination on white flowers
    We need bees for more than honey and tree fruit crops. Bees also pollinate squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries and other crops in our gardens.
    ISTOCKPHOTO/JAMES BREY

  • keeping bees - top-bar beekeeping
  • Top-bar hive
  • Honeybee pollination
  • Wooden top-bar hive
  • Woman Top-bar beekeeping
  • Bee pollination on white flowers

Beekeeping is a great hobby, whether you keep bees for pollination, honey, profit, medicinal uses, or all of the above. But getting started with bees can be expensive if you use conventional hives. A basic setup with bees can cost more than $200, and building conventional hives and frames is time-consuming. But there’s a simpler, less-expensive and more natural option: top-bar hives. The top-bar beekeeping method allows you to make simpler, inexpensive hives. Build them now and you can start keeping bees next spring.

In the top-bar system, you build simple box hives with slats (bars) of wood laid across the top, to which the bees attach their wax comb.

With growing concerns about colony collapse disorder and the resulting decline in the number of pollinators, gardeners might consider maintaining a top-bar hive of honeybees simply to increase vegetable and fruit yields through better pollination.

Top-bar beekeeping is for both urban and rural dwellers who want to keep bees on a modest scale, producing honey and beeswax. Above all, top-bar beekeeping is for people who love bees and understand and appreciate their role in the pollination of many wild and cultivated plants.



If your goal is to obtain the absolute maximum amount of honey regardless of all other considerations, top-bar beekeeping is not for you. This style of beekeeping can produce adequate amounts of honey, but the emphasis is on sustainability and keeping healthy bees rather than maximizing honey crops.

Natural vs. Industrial Beekeeping

Beekeeping does not have to be complicated. And you need none of the stuff in those glossy supply catalogs to keep healthy, happy, and productive bees.

BeeFriendly
5/22/2014 5:59:35 PM

We collected a swarm for our top bar hive by placing a "swarm removal ad" on Craigslist. Our feral bees have been very healthy and we haven't used any chemicals in the hive. We provide a clean water source for our bees, and protect them from Argentine ants and yellow jackets. Be sure to leave all the honey for your bees the first year. Then take only a few bars in late spring, leaving a surplus for winter. Take one comb at a time, cut it from the bar and replace the bar for the bees to build more comb. New top bar beekeepers can find more information about the basics at: "Beekeeping with a Top-Bar Hive" http://www.cbrp.org/SDBluebirds/beekeeping.htm


Tim Hammond
2/27/2013 7:31:28 PM

I actually have a top bar hive and can tell you I do nothing to help the bees. They stay out all winter with very little wind break in frigid Iowa. They survive on their own. They are even surrounded by pesticide ridden corn and bean fields. I take little more than a couple bars of honey from them each year, but they do a great job of pollinating.


ROBERT KRAYER
1/25/2013 12:51:55 AM

I beg to differ on many of the 'positive' points to the top bar hive. First of all, these hives are considered to be a natural method of beekeeping. The only natural thing about these hives is the fact that the bees draw their own comb. (A Langstroth hive can be set up to draw natural comb too. Just don't put in foundation, only put in strips just like the top bar hive). The top bar hive is designed for the bees to move side to side through the winter. Honeybees naturally move up throughout the winter to consume foods to survive. The idea that the bees can draw a 'curved' comb in a top bar hive is false. Beekeepers use follower boards to FORCE the bees to draw straight comb up and down. According to the author this isn't natural. By state laws comb must be removable for inspection. So, twisted comb isn't going to allow an easy inspection. Some negatives to the top bar hive is the frustration of extraction, limited honey production, and comb easily breaking. If a beekeeper truly wants to run a natural hive then the Warre hive should be used. It's labor intensive to get started but it matches the natural development of a hive. I run 50 langstroth hives and find it much easier than any other type hive out there. The bees live fine within the hive and it's easy to cut down the size of the hive for winter preparation. I have one top bar hive for demonstrating when I teach beekeeping classes. I personally don't like them, but others love them. The top bar hive does have a big advantage over the Langstroth hive. If a beekeeper has a bad back or can't lift heavy things then the Top Bar Hive should be considered. And yes, a top bar hive can survive the winters here in the Philadelphia area.







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