I began my beekeeping this year with top bar hives because almost all the beekeepers I know in Santa Fe use them, and that is largely because of Les Crowder's class in beekeeping at Ecoversity.
My assumption was that they would be cheap to build, easy to maintain, and better for the bees -- an all-round winner.
Now, I'm not so sure. The price of building a new hive out of new wood seems to be about the same as a hive starter kit out of the Betterbee catalogue. I know I could build them out of scrap wood, but so far, I've been running to Home Depot every time the hive swarms.
Most of the people I know now seem to believe that the TBH is more intensive to work. I have one friend who has kept bees in top bar hives, and now has one Langstroth, and he says the Langstroth is much less worry. And it sounds as if it is much more flexible in terms of adding hive bodies and supers, and the swarm prevention techniques seem better developed.
That leaves "better for the bees" from my list. (And also I don't have to store supers, extractors, etc. My house is packed).
As I think about next spring, I don't know whether I should add more top bar hives to the back yard or start ordering Langstroths. I would like to eventually be able to sell a little surplus honey. (The Langstroths also take up less yard room being vertical rather than horizontal).
What ARE the advantages of top bar hives? I was really sold on them when I started. I'm not so sure now.
[size="1"][ July 26, 2006, 11:27 AM: Message edited by: pcooley ][/size]
I'm interested in everyone's opinion on this one too. I originally thought I would go top bar but now I'm not so sure. I purchased langstroth equipment to start with and I think what I'll do it try a top bar next so I have some basis for comparison.
Hopefully others will chime in on this one with a good comparison.
I started this year with two TBHs of the format given on BeeWrangler's site.
I like to build stuff so in that respect I suppose it doesn't matter which I choose. The TBH is simple and I found I could use scrap for many parts.
It was cheap to get into beekeeping. I didn't know if I would take to this hobby so getting in cheap was good. To counter this though it turns out it is easy to make friends in this hobby and perhaps sell off a lang type easy if you don't take.
It is hard to follow along with the other newbies when you are watching that first colony grow. They talk in units that you'll have to convert. When they start pointing out that the first deep is full, how does that relate?
This also means that most of the help/suggestions need conversion too. This here TBH forum has been good but some things can only come with experience. For example, how do I know if my colony is honey bound?
Frames seem like a good idea to me now. Since I haven't really planned on making honey yet I suspect I will still plan on crush and strain before making a big investment in honeymaking stuff but I would probably suggest frames.
I'm gonna try the langsroth type stuff next year. I really like the medium everything 8 frame approach that I hear about from time to time. [img]smile.gif[/img]
Pcooly, I'm not sure I know what the advantages are and my reasoning pretty much matched yours.
I guess I took to the bees. Now I need to see which equipment fits me.
They are much simpler to build from scratch than a Langstroth hive.
They are much calmer to work because less bees are exposed at a time.
They require a lot less lifting because they are horizontal so you don't have to move a bunch of heavy supers to get to the brood nest.
You get natural cell size from natural comb (as opposed to standard Hoffman frames with foundation in a Langstroth hive).
It takes a lot longer to build a frame and put foundation in it than to make a top bar and once you have a top bar with a comb guide on it you don't have to remove the foundation and put new foundation in.
at this point in my career i see no reason to use langs or tbh's exclusively. i have not found any overwelming advantages to sloped sides so all my latest tbh's are tanzanian. if you build a tanzanian you might as well build it to lang dimensions.
ive found 19"x3/8" top bars work great and use less lumber than some of the big thick ones. if i use a guide i add it to so its not weakened by a kerf.
voila! a long hive. all the above advantages plus use frames,top bars or both. super if you want. dont worry about transfering nucs or sharing "frames" with other beeks. you can finely use all those fancy gadgets in the catalogs- pollen traps, queen rearing kits etc.
i have about thirty hives right now and know i never would of sprung for that much lang equipment in two years. next year i plan on using 4.9 foundation in the brood nests and topbars in supers for honey. i say mix and match.
I like my TBHs because I like looking at the bees, and it's easier to peak into a TBH without sending up clowds of disrupted bees.
I've had both kinds and I just LIKE TBHs better. Nothing scientific in that, for sure. But it's still true.
Langs are easier to work with.When you cut the comb attachment to side walls it tends to disturb the bees a lot IMHO.
Now I feed lang frames in my TBH,it seems to help to keep the comb straight.Maybee it will make a good combination,bars and frames.
A long hive here is traditional,but everyone advices me its a hive of the past .Will se about that.
Working a long hive is a lot easier than working a four box lang.But it seems to me that you can expand much more vertical than horizontal.Also I like the idea of Michael Bush to work a lang with foundationless frames like a top bar hive.
frames,top bars or both.
I see this mentioned. I'm curious, it seems that the frame system of doing things, or at least anywhere the hive is vertical, depends on gaps to allow bee flow up and down. So when you suggest this mix, like topbars in the supers, are these topbars with gaps between? So, like, 1 1/4 inch topbars at 1 1/2 inch OC?
For a guy that is considering crush and strain this seems like an easy and simple way to "super". Seems like a system like this could also allow collapsable supers unless you are trying to save the wax. And I can easily make gobs of topbars. Wouldn't there be a problem of the bees attaching the wax above to the topbar below due to not having a bottom bar?
I can see the argument that it is calmer. I can walk behind the hive and take the top off and haven't even opened the hive yet. When I was watching the queen cells I knew which bar so I popped out that bar, did my peeking, and closed it all back up.
When I was a boy, in the mountains of Kentucky, everyone I knew kept bees in gums, if they kept bees. Later, my Indiana Grandfather acquired a couple of stands of Langstroths, and I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. When I was in my 20's and 30's I kept bees in Langstroths and found them to be expensive in just about every way.
A year or so ago I stumbled on a web site describing Les Crowder's hives, and I was hooked. I have every wood working tool one can ask for, but single stack of Langstroth supers, including frames, have hundreds of parts, some I can't even make, TBH's have four sides, and a bottom board; the top bars take seconds to make, and there is no way to compare the work of a Langstroth frame to making a top bar.
I'll never sell honey, Herself wants wax for candles, and production is secondary to just having something to do. Comparing a Lagstroth a TBH is like comparing a claw hammer to a pneumatic nailer, in my humble opinion of course.
This my first year with TNH's, three hives, we have had very little rain all summer, and the honey crop in minimal, but I wouldn't go back to Langstroths even if they were free; they require too much mucking about for me.
-So when you suggest this mix, like topbars in the supers, are these topbars with gaps between? So, like, 1 1/4 inch topbars at 1 1/2 inch OC?
remember i'm not qualified to suggest anything:)
seriously, no gaps between bars and or frames. 1 1/4" bars for brood 1 1/2" bars for honey or 1 3/8" bars across the hive (what i'm doing at this time). i have found that the very small gap between a bar and a frame is wide enough to make putting things back together quiker. less manuvering bees to keep from squishing them.
-gaps to allow bee flow up and down.
i use a 3/8" spacer at the front and back of hives/supers, remove one or both. do not make more than a bee space gap unless you dont mind wonky comb.
-Wouldn't there be a problem of the bees attaching the wax above to the topbar below due to not having a bottom bar?
not as long as they dont have more than a bee space of air. just like they dont attatch comb to the bottom of the tbh. remember that the bottom bar of a lang frame wont stop the bees. if they have more than a bee space of air under a frame they'll keep going.
No gaps. If you want to super them, either cut some notches in the bars or do like I do and make the bees go through the super to get to the hive. I always have a gap at the front of the front bar. That's my entrance.
If you put spaces between 1 1/4" bars you'll have too much space and the bees will make a mess. You might get by with one bar with a 1/4" space IF they are using that space to get somewhere they are unlikely to fill it, but they still might.
If you want spaces you need 1" bars and some way to space them.
> The price of building a new hive out of new wood seems to be about
> the same as a hive starter kit out of the Betterbee catalogue.
Typical TBHs are <20gal capacity which is about the same capacity as one deep [11gal] and one medium [7 gal], so on box costs alone they are a wash. However...., you do not stop with starter kits on a Lang you keep adding things which cause the cost to mount more rapidly.
> I know I could build them out of scrap wood, but so far, I've
> been running to Home Depot every time the hive swarms.
The line about swarming leaves the impression that you are having lots of swarms. That suggests your bees are too crowded and not being maintained.
A Lang with 2 deeps and three medium supers is over 40gal in capacity and the BWrangler is the only one I've read about running TBHs of that capacity.
> Most of the people I know now seem to believe that the TBH is more intensive to work.
When I think 'intense', it is the necessity to extract in one focused period and lug heavy boxes around, or the effort needed to remove a stack of heavy boxes to check on the brood nest. It all depends on what you mean by 'intense': effort or time?
Sub-20 gal TBHs require more consistent attention because they are small, so you have to worry a great deal about overcrowding, the easy answer here is to make them larger. My TBHs are 27 gal and they require less maintenance.
One size does not fit all, and TBHs are not as flexible as Langs. In a heavy flow, you can stack another two Lang supers on top and walk away - you have just added 14 gal of capacity. In a small TBH you have to cut away the honey combs to get more space. The alternative is to go hybrid by adding supers on top of TBHs.
None of the management of TBHs is 'intense' by my definition but it has to be consistent. You can't forget about them for two months like you can with Langs.
For me 'intense' is emptying supers of honey and carting them in for extraction. You need a good strong back or you remove frames individually and put them in another box. Extraction of large amounts of honey has to be concentrated into a short period because the extraction itself is such a pain to clean up after that you want to reduce the number of times that you do it.
Here's two biggies where TBHs make sense to me:
a) Suspect problems in brood nest, lift top and check it out.
b) walk around the yard with a 2.5 gal bucket. Open a TBH, slice the honeycomb off a bar into the bucket and replace the bar. Repeat until bucket is full. If all TBHs not emptied, get another bucket. Return to house and crush honey in bucket. Pour bucket of crushed honey into a strainer set in the top 1/4 of a 5 or 6 gal bucket [they are cheap and easy to make]. Walk away and let honey drain for a few days. Pour the honey into jars and take crushed wax out for bees to clean up if there is nectar around and/or put into the solar melter.
Removing and straining honey regularly winds up with a large range of varietals in honey. When I ran Langs, all the flavors and colors merged to produce a golden colored, tasty honey. With TBHs, the colors range from lemon to near black, and there is a wide range of flavors to match. The more often you cut combs, the wider the range of colors/flavors you get.
The greatest thing about TBHs is that you can make them to suit yourself. All of mine are long boxes that use #8 hardware cloth for bottoms. There are two widths, one Lang and the the other is 12". The latter has less burr comb attachments and as the bars are lighter they can be held with one hand. The Lang width TBHs are higher capacity and need less attention. Both have characteristics that make them appealing.
Recommendation: Build bigger TBHs and don't bother with the Kenyan, make your TBH boxes to take the width of a Lang frame and as long as you like, but at least 2'6" and no more than 4'. If you want to leave them unattended for long periods, make provision to add supers on top. If detaching burr comb on the sides is a pain, don't use top bars, use frames. Mix 'n match the Lang and TBH good/bad points to suit yourself.
It would be nice if there were a simple term to compare the work involved in TBH and Langs.
But basically as, already mentioned, the TBH requires more frequent intervention and less actual labor. Less actual labor because you won't be having to move boxes out of the way to get to the brood nest. More frequent interventions to prevent swarming and to make room for the harvest.
If you have to drive an hour one way to get to the hive, a TBH is a lot more time. If you walk into the back yard a TBH is less time total, but more often.