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. However, Thomas D. Seeley in his book, The Lives Of Bees has compiled decades of research studying successful, healthy colonies in the wild to see what beekeepers can learn from hive design, and as such, the book is well worth reading by all beekeepers.
If you are keen to build your own bee hive, and want the bees to make their own comb, top bar hives are an option.
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 variable.
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. 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 Hive
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.
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Interview with Phil Chandler
Author of The Barefoot Beekeeper, and his new book!
Share your wisdom for the benefit of other beekeepers here.
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An introductory page about beekeeping with lots of links to further information and free resources.
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Links to information about the controversial neonicotinoids, including research resources.
Read this information about various campaigns around the world to save our bees.