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Why a Top Bar Hive?

We are getting bees this spring and we have decided to go with top bar hives to keep our bees. After a lot of research and a great talk by Christy Hemenway of The Thinking Beekeeper, it has become pretty clear that a top bar hive is the best solution for healthy bees.

What is a top bar hive? It is a one level frameless beehive with bars across the top from which the bees will hang their comb. This style of beehive has been in use since the Ancient Greeks, and allow the least amount of interference with your bees natural environment in a captive setting.

The most common method of beekeeping in the United States is with a Langstroth hive, a square box which is probably what you think of when you consider backyard beekeeping. What’s wrong with a Langstroth hive? They were designed with the beekeeper in mind, not the bees.

The frames used in a Langstroth hive provide a structure for bees to build their combs upon. The problem with this is that bees already know how to build a comb much better than a human can design. The frames inside a Langstroth hive have cells all exactly the same size, whereas in nature the cells come in different sizes to reflect the different sizes of bees.

The main reason to use a top bar hive is that the bees create their own wax, and bees know how to make good beeswax. There are many things, such as the practice of supering, that are shocking to a hive and are part of everyday beekeeping with a Langstroth hive. When supering, you introduce an entire new level of hive, effectively doubling the size of the colony (or, when harvesting, removing an entire box of of honey at once). The bars in a top bar hive can be introduced or removed one at a time. In a top bar you are working in harmony with the bee’s natural rhythms.

Wondering how to get the honey? All you have to do is cut off the comb or even just a section of the comb and crush it, separating the wax from the honey.

Over the next two months our top bar hive will be built and our new colony of bees will be arriving. I’ll be sure to let you know how this adventure progresses!


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