Winter In A Top Bar Hive


| 10/31/2011 12:31:55 PM


We have decided what to do with the top bar hive for winter. We last examined it in mid-October to check out how much food it had. There’s 14 or 15 full size combs drawn out. The four in front had each had brood, but were mostly empty when we examined them. There was honey on the top, and a little pollen, but not much. Most of the rest of the combs had honey on the top half, a bit of pollen and not much else. There was brood in some combs…all told there was probably two full combs, both sides, of brood. The bottoms of every comb were empty. I did a quick estimate using a couple of combs, and guessed there was about 40, maybe as much as 50 pounds of honey in the hive…total. But there aren’t tons of bees in the hive, so that much honey should be OK. Maybe it’ll work out.

The front comb had separated from the top bar though. Of course it didn’t have far to fall, but it tipped and was resting on the end board of the hive. The entrance of the hive…several half-inch holes...are drilled in that board, at and below center, and the comb was leaning against the board just above those holes, so coming and going wasn’t hindered. It was just sitting there. It had brood, honey, bees, so removing it seemed unnecessary. We’ll fix it in the spring I guess.

They had cross-wired a couple of combs toward the back toward the end of summer, and when we found them we fixed them by cutting, removing the errant pieces (that two or three bites of really new honey is always, always the best honey there is), and they had mostly repaired the This is the follower board we use between combs and empty spacerest, sticking to the top bar system…mostly.

So, winter. What we’ll do is add a thin layer of insulation above the top bars…the same stuff we use to wrap the outside of our other hives with. We’ll take the first comb past the follower board (made of corrugated plastic in the shape of a comb, not quite touching the sides or the bottom, but small enough that a bee can’t get through), but leave the follower in place. This will allow moist air to vent around the edges and up and out of the empty space where the top bar is missing. The insulation won’t be covering that area so it can go up, up and away, away from the bees, and away from condensing and dripping back down. And even if it does a little bit, it won’t drip on bees, but on the floor of the empty part of the hive. This is one of the most frustrating parts of having a top bar hive…there’s not a good reference to go to to see how it’s been done in the past, or what to do in the north vs. the south, or … well, or almost anything. There’s a book in the works by a pretty experienced top bar hive user, but he’s in the south, and those books that exist don’t have a good review process…it’s the author’s point of view, and maybe experience, or not, that you can use, or not. Pretty much everything that exists as a reference is completely local from where the author is…it’s bleak out there. And you’re pretty much on your own.

Some of the cross comb we had to fix earlier in the seasonWe’re going to close off the whole screened bottom board, but loosely which will also help move moist air up and out. Then, well set the hive on a couple of cinder blocks to keep it about eight inches off the ground, wrap the whole thing in a tarp, leaving the front — where the entrance is — open, but protected in a tunnel by the tarp, and surround it with bales of straw. This is, essentially, what we do with our tall hives so it should work.



The only unknown: Are there enough bees to reach around or below a comb so they can move from comb to comb to get food during the cold days of winter.

Thinking Beek
6/8/2018 7:14:19 AM

Things have come a very long way since this blog post... but I thought I’d comment about “The only unknown:”. When the bees make their own natural wax - there is no need for them to go all the way out and around the comb to get to the next one. They simply make a travel hole at the top of the comb just below the top bar itself, and walk through there to the next comb. Having no artificial construct in the middle of the comb makes this possible, while foundation thwarts this easy natural fact. When you go looking for combs with travel holes, and discover that they are hard to find - remember that if the bees make the hole, they can and do fill it in too. It was a number of years before I managed to find a comb to use for teaching purposes that actually still had a travel hole. :-)


Thinking Beek
6/8/2018 7:14:03 AM

Things have come a very long way since this blog post... but I thought I’d comment about “The only unknown:”. When the bees make their own natural wax - there is no need for them to go all the way out and around the comb to get to the next one. They simply make a travel hole at the top of the comb just below the top bar itself, and walk through there to the next comb. Having no artificial construct in the middle of the comb makes this possible, while foundation thwarts this easy natural fact. When you go looking for combs with travel holes, and discover that they are hard to find - remember that if the bees make the hole, they can and do fill it in too. It was a number of years before I managed to find a comb to use for teaching purposes that actually still had a travel hole. :-)


Thinking Beek
6/8/2018 7:09:23 AM

We’ve come a long way in the top bar hive world since this post - thought I’d mention this: when the bees are in charge of their own wax, and need to travel from comb to comb while still staying in cluster - they create “travel holes” at the top of the comb, near the top bar. (This is something that is not possible when there is a plastic barrier in the center of the comb, so you would not see this in a Langstroth hive using foundation - though there is a token gesture made to address this by making holes in the foundation at the lower corners of the frames.). They make travel holes when they need them, and fill them back in when the don’t - so it took a long time before I caught a piece of comb that still had one, and was able to snatch it out of the hive to use as a teaching tool. :-)






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