The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Installing a package into a top bar hive

Install packageintopbarhive.jpg

If you want to install a package of bees into a top bar hive, I recommend that you start by reading my general instructions for bee package installation.  This followup posts gives the specifics for top bar hives --- how many bars you use, where the bees go, feeding, etc. --- but assumes you understand the basics of hiving a package.

Prepare top bar hive for package

If you're installing a package of bees into a brand new top bar hive (like our Easy Hive), you should start by placing ten to twelve top bars between two follower boards in the center of the hive.  Those of you who are using a golden mean top bar hive might give the bees only eight to ten top bars for their initial living area since the golden mean hive is more capacious.

Alternatively, if your entrance is at the end of the hive, you can use a single follower board an appropriate number of top bars from the end.  Either way, you might as well install the rest of the top bars on the other side(s) of the follower board(s), even though the bees won't be using them right now.

Now that you've put all of the top bars in, it's time to take some out.  I removed two top bars in the center of the bees' new living area, but wished I'd taken out three or four to make it easy to pour bees in.

Feeding bees inside hiveNext, consider how you want to feed your bees.  A new package will have to be fed for some variable amount of time to get them off to a good start.  (I hope that more experienced beekeepers will leave a comment telling me how long they feed new packages of bees since I've seen very conflicting advice on the internet.)  You can read my post about cooking up sugar syrup here, but you still have to make a decision on how to get that sugar to the bees.

Most people seem to make baggie feeders by filling a ziplock bag with sugar water, then pricking tiny holes in one side and placing the baggie in the bottom of the top bar hive.  I don't like disposables, and I have these entrance feeders leftover from our Langstroth hive days, so I started out by putting an entrance feeder in the living area of the top bar hive.  I suspect I'll want to make a hole in the bottom of one of the follower boards Attach queen cage to top barsoon so that bees won't build comb around the feeder (and so I can refill it without disturbing the girls).

Next, open up the entrance holes leading into the new living area, and get ready to install your package of bees!  The queen cage goes between two of top bars in the living area.  You can usually just bend a metal strip over and not worry about attachment, but my fabric strip needed a screw to hold it in place.

If you have an observation window, don't make the mistake I did.  Face the open side of the queen cage toward the window so you can watch her escape.

Once you install the queen cage, push the top bars on either side back into place, leaving a hole into which you can pour bees.

Pour bees into top bar hive

In this photo, you can see why I recommend taking out more than two top bars to prepare for the worker bees.  I ended up dumping more bees than I wished onto the top bars rather than into the hive cavity.  This wasn't a big deal (and would have been even less of a big deal if I'd had my bee brush handy), but the operation will go more smoothly with a larger opening.

Replace top bars

Now you can replace the top bars you removed to pour in the worker bees.  I ended up gently blowing bees out of the way since I didn't have a brush on hand.  A few bees ended up stuck on top, but I suspect they'll escape through cracks in the cover.

Put lid on top bar hive

Weekend HomesteaderPut the lid on and you're done!  Well, until you check on the bees and take out the queen cage in a few days, which I'll explain in detail Friday.

This is my first package install into a top bar hive, so I hope those of you who are more experienced with the hive will weigh in.  Are there any steps you'd change in my description?  Any additional tips?

Don't know where to start with your homesteading adventure?  The Weekend Homesteader will guide you on your way.

Edited to add: After writing this post, our bees absconded (flew away) from our top bar hive.  I don't think my installation method had anything to do with it (see the linked post for ideas on what the culprit was), but I can't be sure.

This post is part of our Bee Package lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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