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

Top bar hive

Top bar hive diagram
PJ Chandler's solution to the ills of modern beekeeping is the top bar hive.  The hive is simply a long box with sides that slant inwards and a lid that fits over top.  Removable frames are placed in the box a bit like the frames in a Langstroth hive, but top bar frames are just what they sound like --- simply a top bar.  The bees create their own wax just like they do in foundationless frames, which allows them to build at a more natural cell size.

Top bar hiveOne of the major selling points of the top bar hive is that you can manage the hive in a very unobtrusive fashion.  The frames entirely enclose the space at the top of the bees' nest area, so taking off the lid doesn't lower the temperature inside much, nor does it bother the bees.  The bee colony is enclosed on the sides by two follower boards to keep them from sprawling into the entire hive before they're ready, and inspections can be as simple as sliding one follower board away from the bees and peeking inside.

Honey is usually harvested one frame at a time, by cutting the entire comb off the wooden frame.  Although bees then have to redraw the wax on that frame, cutting off the comb probably helps sanitize the hive, slowing the buildup of diseases and pests.  In general, you should probably expect a bit less honey from a top bar hive than from a Langstroth hive, but if that means your bees are healthier, I'd say the trade is worth it.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post in which I'll discuss more of the pros and cons of top bar hives, or check out our friend Everett's description of his top bar hive.

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This post is part of our The Barefoot Beekeeper 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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While you will get less honey with at top bar hive, how much honey do you really need? Homesteaders can probably supply their own needs with one hive. If they really like honey, maybe two or three spaced around their property. People who want to make a business out of it can just ask local landowners to put a few hives under a tree in an out of the way spot. And, you will get a ton of beeswax with top bar hive.

Comment by Eric in Japan Thu Jan 5 23:59:19 2012
I totally agree with you about honey output. I'd vastly prefer healthy bees to masses of honey!
Comment by anna Fri Jan 6 09:01:50 2012

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