More The Same Than Different – Discussing Top Bar and Standard Hives

Reader Contribution by Kim Flottum
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Taking a quick break from getting ready for winter is allowed right here because there’s a group of folks that have to look at winter from a somewhat different place than some of the rest of us.  The rest of us of course use “Traditional” Langstroth style hives…rectangular boxes stacked perpendicularly with rectangular, enclosed frames inside that start with beeswax or plastic foundation for a guide for the bees. That’s where most of my experience lies…30 some years…so it’s from that perspective most of what I do originates and from where most of any advice I share comes from.

But there’s a small and growing energetic group of folks over the past five or so years that have started…and continue…with a different, horizontal style hive, so they come from a different perspective…and offer advice from their experience.

Scrolling down through the posts in this blog, you’ll note Christy Hemenway’s articles on her experience with the horizontally designed topbar hive, and if you’ve explored this subject at all you’ve run into Les Crowder in New Mexico, Dennis Murrell in Wyoming, Michael Bush in Nebraska, Ruby Blume’s Institute Of Urban Beekeeping in Oakland, the Bee Thinking group in Oregon or Corwin Bell and the Backyardhive group in Colorado. There’s certainly others. I’ve read much of what these people have published both on the web and in books and articles, and have at least a feel for not only top bar hive management techniques, but the philosophy that drives most of these people that, as a generalized term, practice what’s often referred to as “Natural Beekeeping”.

But let’s be up front here. There have been few topics in the beekeeping industry that have generated as much heat as discussions on the value of “Natural” beekeeping versus “Traditional” beekeeping.

In fact I had opinions about top bar hives and the claims made by “Natural Beekeepers” when they first became popular, and to be honest some of them were rather negative. Change is hard, let’s face it. But time has passed, I’ve learned more, and now that I’ve tried a long hive most of those original thoughts have evaporated…but I still have questions, and more questions. So I intend to find out all I can but at the same time use what I already know about honey bee behavior, biology and general beekeeping practices to make using a top bar hive work as well as I can.

So here, on this page anyway, that debate doesn’t exist. There is no doubt that there is much more in common between tall and long than there are differences. And, among those differences, there are faults and benefits in each. So Christy and I put our heads together at one of the meetings we were at this summer to see if we could answer the questions we both hear from our readers and from each other.

At the same time it’s become apparent to me that some aspects of “Traditional” beekeeping can make “Natural Beekeeping” easier, safer and better, and I’ve seen some long hive practices and ideas that I like. So we want to take the best of both and perhaps offer some bits of advice you can use, no matter how you keep bees.

So stayed tuned. No matter what kind of beekeeping you’re engaged in I think you’ll do it better if you check out some of our questions and some of our answers. And don’t be bashful if you have an opinion, an idea, or a better way to do whatever it is we talk about. That’s what the comment box is for. But remember…the negative debate doesn’t exist here…only good advice.

Stay tuned.

Kim Flottum is the Editor of Bee Culture Magazine, and Christy Hemenway runs Gold Star Honeybees.