I see that there is a great deal of enthusiasm for top bar hives here, and using them would definitley cut my startup costs a great deal, but would I sacrifice so much in productivity that it would negate the savings in start-up costs if I went to top bar hives? Can I get langstroth productivity from top bar hives by supering? I have more questions but that's probably enough for now .
Sure you can super them. Either by putting holes in the edges of the bars or by leaving a crack between two that are already drawn. Of course it helps if the dimensions of the TBH match the supers. If that is your goal, I would go with the top bars 16 1/4" and put the supers on running the long way with the long way.
I don't see why you think they would be that much less productive. But even if they are, what do you have invested? If you're raising comb honey I think they will be just as productive. If you're doing extracted, then, of course, the bees have to rebuild the comb all the time. I don't think it's a big a loss as some believe.
And think how much you WON'T have to lift. You want to inspect the brood chamber, you just pull a couple of bars. No supers to move.
So far my biggest problem is getting the combs not to collapse.
But now that I have 15" bars, I don't think it will be a problem.
[This message has been edited by Michael Bush (edited March 15, 2004).]
Michael, I was reading some of topbarguy's posts which I interpreted, perhaps incorrectly, that bees in a top bar hive tend to build the equivalent of a couple deep supers of brood comb and honey comb and then quit, or at least slow way down. The cessation of honeycomb production seemed to be related to the fact that the bees are expanding horizontally rather than vertically. In my climate a full deep super of honey is necessary to get through the winter, so if I took honey from a hive that only had the equivalent of two deep supers including brood nest I would run the risk of starving the hive.
What I got from reading the giant top bar thread was that there are a number of advantages to top bar hives.
TBH lets the bees build the sizes of cells they they want, rather than what's dictated by the foundation. It seems to allow the bees more freedom to arrange the hive the way they want. Mites fall to the floor and can't climb back up on the comb, and the bees have no reason to be on the floor unlike a Langstroth. It's much cheaper to get them started with packages than a Langstroth, and of course there is the lifting thing, though my dad did always say I had a strong back and a weak mind.
I guess I'm trying to clarify whether I can do commercial honey production with TBH in my situation. It would probably help if there were any TBH beekeepers in my area, but I don't know of any.
There are so many factors involved with going commercial. How many hives? Will they be migratory? What part of the country? What kind of honey production? How much hired help? What kind of return on investment is needed. How much capital is available? Etc.
Just not enough is known about the commercial aspects of tbhs. I think they would be perfect for a small pollination outfit or a sideline operation with 200 hives or so.
They might not be suitable for a large migratory bulk honey operation, especially if lots of unskilled hired help is needed.
Beekeeping is a very risky business.
You can certainly super them. Supers are nice to handle when harvesting large amounts of honey that are going to be extracted. You only have to clear the boxes, by whatever method and take them. Where a top bar hive you have to brush off the bees and take the individual comb. And, of course, the comb needs protecting so in a large operation you'd need standardized size bars and some boxes to put the combs in when you steal them. I think a TBH is much more productive if you intend to raise cut comb rather than extracted honey.
There is no reason you can't get most of the advantages of a TBH and have supers without having a top bar hive. A horizontal hive can be built and you can put supers on the back of that. The frames can be cut with a bevel on the top bar, or you can use starter strips or you can make blank starter strips. That way the bees can build what they want. I have done all of these. I am running a three box long medium depth hive right now and will be running a few other variations this year including a top bar hive (again). Of course you have to build your own long hives and buy frames. They aren't as easy to build as a top bar hive.
I have not noticed the bees being unwilling to expand horizontally, but then any group of bees may do whatever they decide. I've seen them hesitate to expand vertically before, but it probably has to do with a number of factors and IMPOV it's not horizontal or vertical that is the reason. Also the horizontal hive wintered a little better then my other hives, but some of that may just be luck too. At any rate they did just fine wintering horizontally.
Re: Productivity of top bar hives
Very old thread indeed but same questions remain it seems.
I have clearly seen from first hand experience that horizontal Top Bar Hives cant make as much honey as commercial vertical hives (Full Stop). Comb honey or extracted the difference is huge.
Even though I did split my 2 colonies into 6 I had only 8 kg of honey this year. I did do spacing to encourage them but nope they decided they had enough. You see there is no much forcing bees in a top bar hive. It is very natural indeed. There is no irritating to the bees empty space above their head to fill it. Bees hate empty space above their heads. We all agree I feel.
My good friend has split his 2 vertical hive colonies into 6 colonies this year as I did and he harvested 50 kg from each colony. Do the math. His bees felt forced to fill the space above their heads and they did (full stop) And we had the same weather all season which was very good. Those beeks in the area which suppressed swarming and did not do splits made more than 75 kg per colony.
As Seeley discovered A. mellifera swarms seem to prefer cavities of 40 litres. For a good reason Im guessing, since bees are very resourceful creatures and have no plans in spending time filling empty boxes over their heads when they can do better stuff like swarming and grooming each other, and else ...
So all that said, I'm rebuilding my 10 top bar nucleus TBHs so they can take supers. I will not super more than 1 box which can hold 20 kg of honey. That is enough for my homesteading needs. I will "force" my ladies to do so much extra effort for me and the rest of their time they can do as they please.
Im very much into "as natural as possible beekeeping" but 8 kg from 2 colonies and no extra from the other 4 is just way too little for such a fine summer we had this year. I fed them for the winter and they took in 88 kg of sugar. Do the math. Its a total non-sense for me.
I see Keffus, Webster, Bush, Stiglitz, etc ... having treatment free bees which survive well and make extra honey even if in a conventional hive.
I love the top bar hive design for the brood space and the fact that there are no frames there, so that is sure going to stay but supers will be integrated for extra production.
This is how my Super TBH looks like;
short shim to close the side hole so no wasps or other bees can enter and as a spacer between two bars.
Lets see next year how this goes.