A question for top bar bee keepers

Iowa Park, TX(Zone 7b)

A family member is building a top bar bee hive for us (we are new to bee keeping) and he wants to know about the bottom of the top bar hive (how to build it.)

I know it is supposed to have #8 hardware clothe on the bottom for ventilation and to keep out unwanted varmits, but what about in the winter? Here the wind can blow hard and oh so cold, so would it be good to build it where the screen is removable (sliding panel) and then install a thin flat board in it's place in the winter? Or is there some other way that the hive should be protected in the winter?

I would appreciate any advice or thoughts anyone has on building and maintaining a top bar hive. Thank you in advance.

Needville, TX(Zone 9a)

Welcome to Top Bars, they are fun and interesting.

First of all; While you are building the top bar, be sure to make 2, both with the same dimensions.That way they'll be fully interchangeable. It is important to have resources to help, if one of your hives gets into trouble. That way, if one hive is weak, you can strengthen it with brood and honey from your other hive. Also, if one hive goes queenless, you can give them comb with eggs from the other hive to raise a new queen.

I also highly recommend putting in a viewing window. Top bars need a fair bit of maintenance early on, to have them drawing out straight comb. My window allows me to check their status without disturbing them; so no need to suit up.

Here are my hives:

Iowa Park, TX(Zone 7b)

Thank you for the information diamondfarms. The pictures of your hives and bees are great! My hive will have a long observation window (like yours does) and I am looking forward to watching the bees doing their thing.
My father-in-law is building only one hive for me for now. I want to give beekeeping a try before getting a second hive (hope to get a swarm.)

Do you put some sort of insulation on your hives in the winter time?

Frankfort, KY(Zone 6a)

I wished I had put a window in my hive. I built boxes 19"x16" and used top bars. Maybe I'll build a long top bar hive with a window.
I ran a bead of Bees wax along each bar as a guide
The bees built comes well, lower part of picture, and then I added 1/2 suppers , here is a picture after 1 week after adding them, not quite what I want but we will see.
I have two hives and will use no insulation, just the 3/4" wood the hives are made from.

Thumbnail by rentman
Needville, TX(Zone 9a)

I do not use insulation. I just cover the screened bottom with a board, and tape the edges for winter. I have a top entrance so I've not had a problem with condensation, so far.

If you build 2 hives at the same time, save an empty one until next year. When your hive builds up in the Spring, do a split. Then you'll have 2 hives.

I typed up this info for someone else, and it had good info for starting a top bar hive. So, I thought I'd just paste it below for you.

In my experience the first year is the busiest year with a top bar hive. I hope you got one with a window, as it makes maintanince much easier and disturbs the bees much less.

You can track how your bees are pulling comb by checking the window every couple days. The trick is, if you feed in a blank comb between 2 nice straight combs, the bees have no choice but to pull a straight comb down between them. once they have three or four combs pulled down at least 5 inches down or more, you can begin adding blanks between.

One important rule is do not put a blank on each side of a brood comb. They need at least 2 brood combs side by side to maintain proper temperature to raise brood. You can get away with a blank on either side of Honey Bars. So if you have 5 brood combs, then 3 honey combs, you would go in and do this:
then the rest of your blanks.

Watch through your window. You will find that they pull the added blank bars quickly. Once they pull these down past 5 inches, it is time to go in again. Follow the same pattern.

I would wait on the spacers a bit, you will see that they will begin building the honey bars wider, this, allowing for bee space, will push the next comb off center for the next bar. That is what the spacer is for. By adding the spacer, it adjust the placement of the new comb to dead center of the bar following it. If you see them going off center, add a spacer and a blank, to get them more correctly placed.

Another note for later on. If your entrance is near the end your bee will have brood on that end and honey further back. The queen will not (usually) cross the first full bar of honey (often called the honey barrier) in search of new places to lay eggs. Because of this, the brood nest will often fill up in the Spring, and though there are empty bars farther back, the bees will consider it "full" or "cramped" and start making preparations to swarm. By feeding in blanks into the brood area, you are constantly giving the queen new areas to lay, and she will do so as quickly as possible. This will take the bees "mind" off of swarming, and toward production. You will end up with a large amount of bees, making a large amount of Honey.

When you harvest honey off of a nice straight comb, leave the top1 to 2 inches or so on the bar. The bees will continue the replacement comb down, nice and straight, on that bar. If you get a honey comb that is not straight to your liking, harvest the whole bar, scrape it clean of most of the wax, and place it between two straight honey bars. You may need spacers to get them right in the center. If you have a brood bar your not happy with, move it along with all its attached nurse bees into the Honey bar area. Once the bees develop and emerge, the bees will back fill the comb with honey. Once this is done, harvest that honey bar, scrape it clean of wax, and place between 2 straight combs.

Once you have straight comb on all bars, your top bar is a snap.

In your case, since you said that you had good straight combs in your brood area of hive #1, you may consider taking 2 bars of their brood, and move it over to box #2. This will give them a good template to work with, and you something to feed empty blanks into. Just make sure your hive #1 queen doesn't take the ride over to hive #2.

Good luck with your hives,

Joycelyn Kasmir

Iowa Park, TX(Zone 7b)

I've been away from the computer for a while but now that I'm back I want to thank you both - Rentman for your comments, and Joycelyn for all the good information/advice, especially about getting straight comb. I'll print up some hard copies for my "honeybee file" and to put in my notebook that I keep handy. Much appreciated!

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