Top bar hives (or versions of them) are commonly used in Africa, but also have a fair number of users in the USA and Europe too. In recent years, there has been a growth in the Natural Beekeeping movement, which also advocates the use of top bar hives, in order to allow the bees greater freedom for building their own honey combs and doing away with frames.
This depends on who you ask! And what’s important for you?
As the beekeeper, perhaps you want your own concerns to be addressed.
For instance, are your priorities.....
If you are keen to build your own bee hive, and want the bees to make their own comb, top bar hives are a good option.
But enough of that! Let’s take a quick look at how honey bees naturally behave in the wild.
Honey bees, like many wild species of bee, have to be adaptable to an extent. Hence it is not that unusual to hear of bees making nests in chimneys or in buildings, but what do they prefer?
We do know, that honey bees naturally nest in the trunks of trees, or
in natural caves and hollows. Honey is stored at the top, the brood
nest below, and pollen storage is in between. They coat the inside of
the nest with propolis, and comb is fixed at the top and side. Drone
comb is located at the periphery of the brood nest. Cell size is
Perhaps the ideal bee hive from the perspective
of the honey bees, is the one that best enables them to build their combs and organise themselves - as far as possible - as they would prefer. From a
beekeeper’s perspective, however, there are practical considerations too, such as
inspection, and removing comb, although many beekeepers advocate less interference - for example, see this article: how to monitor a bee hive.
There are broadly two types: horizontal and vertical.
Horizontal Top Bar Hives
An example is pictured below. These typically have the shape of ‘long boxes’ with wooden bars upon which bees build the honey combs themselves. The bees are able to build vertical honey combs in such hives, whilst the beekeeper is also able to remove them.
Vertical Top Bar Hives
In general, perhaps it is this design which most resembles the vertical hollow tree trunk. An example of such a hive is the People’s Hive (or Warre Hive), designed Abbé Warré. This consists of a series of boxes, each one being fitted with top bars.
Top Bar Bee Hive Construction
Both types of top bar bee hive have the advantage of being relatively simple to construct yourself, assuming you have some basic woodwork skills, and both can be relatively cost effective to make. If you are intending to follow natural and/or organic beekeeping practice, you may want to be careful about any preservatives you use on the wood,
If you would like to have a go at constructing your own top bar bee hives, go to top bar bee hive plans.
Corwin Bell has designed a range of top bar hives. He supports biodynamic beekeeping and he says the primary focus "is on improving bee ecology and beekeeping methods that respect the honeybee".
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