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  1. #21
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Northern Minnesota


    I cannot but help to notice an ironically similar tone to this “debate” to one in which I deal with everyday; organic vs. “conventional” farming. I’m a County Agent and work with both groups and am often caught in the middle with discussions much like this one. This one is also unfortunately coupled with the obviously angry overtones which can be all too familiar.

    It also shares familiarity with respect to the scientific, economic and perhaps social perspectives. Organic producers, once converted, often cite great satisfaction in their respective practices, which sounds very similar to Dennis’ comments – it just seems simpler and more enjoyable! In many respects Dennis is pointing out how TBH’s appear to be more consistent with nature along with a tendency to favor the economics of the producer, especially a smaller producer. A striking similarity to organic food production.

    Jim on the other hand makes comments that tend to be very similar to those made by the detractors of producing organic food (chemical, pharmaceutical, genetically modified seed companies (ironically, which all seem to be one in the same, these days). Basically, all of these companies (I don’t know if this is true with Jim or not), depend heavily upon “commercial” producers for their source of income -- they "farm" the farmers. In the farming world, it’s too the point in which the suppliers seem to be the only ones that seems to make a decent living from the deal, while the farmer gets only what’s offered (at least from the farmers perspective). Perhaps Jim’s vocation is threatened (at least philosophically) by TBH’s, much the way Monsanto is by organic farmers? If so, that’s a different, and not necessarily, a trivial issue.

    I’ve also learned, after working for many years at a major University, that research is often skewed in favor of those paying for it – not always – but I’ve seen it first hand too many times. I have become very suspect of some research. It’s become a sad state to say the least.

    I've also become very suspect of organizations helping in foreign countries. Many of the NGO's are doing great things for the right reasons, but many are there for economic reasons under the guise of "helping" -- in truth, they see "new" markets.

    I am just learning about TBH’s so I am not an expert (I have kept “conventional” hives till now), but what does intrigue me is how TBH’s appear to work with nature, something that seems absent in conventional agriculture and perhaps to some degree, in commercial beekeeping -- not to mention the sheer simplicity and economic advantages.

    Finally, from an educational standpoint, I think TBH’s may be a wonderful tool for the backyard gardener wishing to maintain their own beehive, but are daunted by the expense, physical labor and complexity of the conventional system. For them, a TBH is a much better system and a more sustainable fit.


  2. #22
    Join Date
    Jan 2001
    New York City


    > the price of a honey extractor can easily exceed
    > the yearly income of a rural farmer

    Yes, and Ross Rounds can be shipped planetwide
    by simply tossing them into a box, and padding
    them with some crumpled newspaper, so comb honey
    can be the best way to get a crop to market.

    But "cut comb" is such an unsightly and unsanitary
    mess, it might be just as bad as the results
    of "crush and strain", so I would not expect
    much success at the local market unless some sort
    of sanitary packaging was used.

    But beekeepers don't START to make money until
    they admit that they are living in at least the
    20th, if not the 21st century, and realize that
    their "traditional" methods and equipment is
    what is keeping them poor, and keeping their
    hives weak and sickly.

    > Rural extension programs, whose thrust is
    > usually developed in urban, national
    > headquarters by personnel who have little field
    > experience, often attempt to encourage "modern"
    > equipment, meaning Langstroth hives

    Why don't you e-mail Ann Harmon and Bob Cole,
    who have been to more countries than you can name
    teaching beekeepers, and ask them what they have
    seen. The comment is an insult to the many
    highly skilled beekeepers who take time out of
    their lives to do such work for no pay.

    > ironically similar tone to this “debate” to
    > one in which I deal with everyday; organic vs.
    > “conventional” farming

    I have no idea how this applies here, other than
    it is another debate. Organic is hard work, and
    requires high tech approaches to make it work.
    When all you can spread is cow manure, you need
    to get your application just right, meaning you
    need that GPS-driven manure spreader and satellite
    recon of your fields to look at soil moisture
    and such. Organic means you need MORE data, not
    less, so a profitable organic operation needs to
    have more modern capital equipment than a non-organic one.

    Bottom line, people are going to do exactly
    what they want, and that's just fine. But
    trying to claim that a TBH is going outperform
    a hive with a modular broodnest that has expanded
    to 3 times the interior volume of any TBH
    is just plain silly. With the right weather,
    a good strong hive with 4 mediums of brood will
    fill 5, or 6 mediums of drawn comb in the spring
    flow. At 30 - 40 lbs each of honey each, it only
    takes one crop to more than pay for all the
    "expensive" equipment.

    But you have to have drawn comb!
    And you have to be able to stack it up!

    'Cause empty drawn comb is a MOTIVATOR to
    bees, aside from giving them more room to
    evaporate nectar in one or two drops per

    So come up with a TBH that can be supered,
    and my objections go away. Come up with
    an approach that does not destroy drawn
    comb, and my objections go away. Otherwise,
    TBH bees simply have to work too hard to
    produce the same amount of harvestable honey
    as Langstroth-equipped bees.

    I should make stickers: "Powered By Langstroth" [img]smile.gif[/img]

  3. #23
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Casper, WY


    Hi Jim,

    >Now you are being insulting, you ill-informed redneck. [Smile]

    Gee, did I forget to add a :&gt. That seem to be the difference between shooting holes and being insulting!

    >I am a big enough boy to buy directly from the
    mill, no big feat given than the mill is owned
    by a buddy who likes his all-you-can-eat free

    Well, if you are trading all-you-can-eat honey for all your lumber, you aren't as big a boy as you'd like me to think, regardless of the amount of honey your friend can eat.

    >The bees don't care what sort of box they are put into...

    You missed the point again Jim. It's not about the box. It's more than a box. It's about bee behavior when the bees are allowed to build their own broodnest versus their behavior on a foundation based system.

    >Pseudo-mystical new-age mumbo-jumbo....

    Now, I think I beginning to understand your real motivation here. I'm just talking about boxes and bees. But equating what I say with a religious philosopy and using that as a way of denegrading my observations, indicates that you aren't just talking bees and boxes. Your are expressing and protecting your religion! And just what kind of religion do you have? What is it's spirit? Anyone can read your posts for themselves and see!

    >I can't see much profit in an operation where
    the bees must draw out each comb on every
    flow...You are trying to produce extracted honey
    with costs that are as high as a comb honey

    Well, much about profit concerns the cost of production. And I know that it costs considerably less to produce real comb honey in a tbh, than it does in a Lang with the special super, Ross frames and inserts, thin foundation inserts, etc. I'm not trying to produce extracted honey in a tbh. But it can be done if a person desires it.

    >Ah, no... I just fund studies so that
    those more qualified than I can do the actual
    work, and thereby instruct me without my wasting
    my time.

    Hummm.... The difference between a hobby beekeeper and a commercial beekeeper is based upon economic risk. And from what I read above, you definately fall in the hobby class with little or no economic risk regardless of how much honey your friend can eat. So, it looks like we're both just a couple of hobby beekeepers discussing bees with our computers :&gt

    >Look, if you are right, the world will beat a
    path to your door, and throw themselves at
    your feet.

    Jim, I'm not trying to convert anyone. I'm not trying to sell anything. I don't claim to be a messiah. Beekeeping is not my religion. And I can't believe anyone would throw themselves at any beekeepers feet. There's not right beekeeping and wrong beekeeping. Or good beekeeping and bad beekeeping. After all, it's only bees and we are only beekeepers. The bees don't care and neither does anyone else, except for a few beekeepers.

    You aren't looking for anyone to beat a path to your door or throw themselves at your feet are you? :&gt

    I have had a long experience with the one size fits all mentality that comprises American beekeeping, much of which is based upon a commercial slant. And I've also experienced another kind of beekeeping that offers something beyond that approach. It's been my intent to share that experience so that others can have a choice. As you said earlier it's all about choice.

    >So, do what you want, but realize that getting
    rid of "traditional" mindsets can make the
    difference between grinding poverty and a little
    actual folding money for folks who have very
    little folding money.

    That only works if the traditional mindset has incorporated errors that result in mismanagement. And if the replacement for that mindset is economically feasible and culturally acceptable.

    Folding money will be the result of a profitable operation. And that might not always be the one with the highest productivity. It might be the one with the lowest affordable production cost or the lowest risk.

    And from what I've seen in my tbhs, there seems to be a few errors incorporated in the traditional beekeeping mindset in this country.


    [size="1"][ March 11, 2006, 12:13 PM: Message edited by: B Wrangler ][/size]

  4. #24
    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    DuPage County, Illinois USA


    <<Oh, yes... suuuure... just put the bees in a
    different BOX, and somehow they are able to
    draw comb with ease. Get real!>>

    <<Oh, yes of COURSE... actually giving the bees
    some wax to work with and a surface to work
    upon slows them down every time! That's why
    foundation is only bought by the newbies and
    the foolish among us... again, get real!>>

    So Jim -

    Exactly how long have you been working TBH's to have "gotten real"?

    - Barry

    [size="1"][ March 09, 2006, 10:24 PM: Message edited by: Barry ][/size]
    Regards, Barry

  5. #25
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Northern Minnesota


    I see the debate continues? I woke up this morning recognizing another very familiar tone to this debate, which may be noteworthy ? at least for those with a sense of morbid curiosity!

    As I mentioned before, as a County Agent (aka ?Hank Kimball? ?), a similar argument rages on between conventional and organic dairy farmers. But before I get into that, I need to make one point clear regarding Jim?s last comment on organic farming:

    ?I have no idea how this applies here, other than
    it is another debate. Organic is hard work, and
    requires high tech approaches to make it work.
    When all you can spread is cow manure, you need
    to get your application just right, meaning you
    need that GPS-driven manure spreader and satellite
    recon of your fields to look at soil moisture
    and such. Organic means you need MORE data, not
    less, so a profitable organic operation needs to
    have more modern capital equipment than a non-organic one.?

    Your comments strike me as someone who has had little experience with organic farming or farmers. Although I can provide little technical information related to the debate on TBH?s, I can speak with some authority on organic crop and livestock production. Just to the record straight? Although there are exceptions, organic production means greater management, a greater understanding of natural systems, but does not necessarily mean a greater capital investment. But it does mean less purchases from the normal suppliers (pesticides, patented seeds, synthetic fertilizers, etc), working more with nature, and nearly always, more profit for the producer.

    My point in bring up the organic vs. conventional is to simply point out that in working across an array of biological systems, I see trends, and this debate has a VERY familiar ring to it. Let me get a specific example.

    A similar issue rages on with dairy cows, organic vs. conventional. So, what in the world does this have to do with TBH?s and bees? Well, in conventional systems ?we? have tended to change how the cow lives ? we put her in a ?box?. A cow?s natural pattern is to graze, eat forages and for the most part, live out doors; where she is most content ? weather permitting. But that?s not terribly convenient for a large farm with an army of migrant laborers to milk 5000 cows, twice a day. These cows are confined in barns, housed on concrete and fed about half of their ration in grain and injected with artificial hormones to produce more milk.

    Why is this important? Cows are ruminants, meaning they have four ?stomachs? and have a natural ability to convert something that we cannot eat (hay) to something we can (meat and milk). But ?we? figured out that if you ?push? the grain, they will give us more milk and meat. But there?s a cost? when fed grain, the cows tend to get ?acidic?, much like when you eat the wrong kinds of food. But of course, unlike us, cows eat whatever?s put in front of them, so they are in a constant state of acidosis. Now, ?we? figured out that you can ?correct? this by feeding them something akin to a giant Rolaids, which tends to mask the symptoms, but does not address the root problem.

    Now that we have learned how to get the most milk out of a cow, in a fashion most unnatural to her normal behavior, what do we have? The average lifespan of the modern dairy cow is 42 months ? she does not even get to finish two lactations. Not to mention that her milk now has the ?wrong? composition of fatty acids. Contract that to a grazing, forage based organic system, cows typically lives 4 to 5 times that long and produce milk that is healthier for you (it?s the whole ?omega ? FA? thing).

    Please be patient? I?m getting to the punch line?

    Now, couple this ?unnatural? diet with unnatural housing (on concrete, maybe chained in a stall, poor air quality, etc) and you have a cow that tends to need a vet on an all too regular basis. In short, your cows tend to need more antibiotics and other medicines to keep them ?healthy?.

    So here?s the punch line? When you place a cow in an unnatural environment and feed her in a way that ?we? want, we are finally figuring out that the cow?s immunity is compromised. When she is fed in the way nature intended (nearly all forages, little grain) and allowed to graze (weather permitting), her immune system is working the way is should and she?s able to fend off many of the common cow related problems (there?s very good evidence of this). The downside? To do things in a way that nature intended, it makes industrializing a cow difficult, and that?s why you pay more money for organic milk; small herds, somewhat lower production ? but healthier cows and healthier milk for you to drink. Indeed, a more sustainable system. Of course, this is definitely the downside to the drug salesman? And of course, he or she tends to say all kinds of bad things about organic milk production.

    So, (at long last) is it possible that the purported ?benefits? of the TBH?s could be somehow analogous to the bovine biological system, and how we have tried to make them conform to a system that is convenient to man, but somehow ?unnatural? to the bee? Is this a reason why we have such a need to feed antibiotics, put insecticides in the boxes to fend off diseases and pests? Is it possible that we are compromising the bee?s immunity? Could this be related to why the TBH?s owners cite fewer problems? Less disease and greater simplicity? More fun? Less expense? More profit?

    As I said before, the phrases I hear touting the benefits of TBH?s ring familiar, it?s the same ones being used by organic dairy farmers. In short, it works because they?re working with nature instead of fighting it.

    Do you see any trends here?


  6. #26
    Join Date
    May 2004
    Kernersville, N.C.


    Well said, Jimmy.


  7. #27


    Leaving the troll's arguments about beekeeping as a business aside, as a hobbyist, I did find I got a. an easier time working some very defensive bees with a TBH versus their sisters in a Lang and b. I got to keep more of the honey, with less work and a lot less mess by doing squeeze/strain extraction than with a Lang-style extractor. It seemed like the hand-cranked extractor left a quarter of the honey in the comb whereas crush/squeeze extraction got it all.

    urban top bar hives in Oakland and Berkeley, CA...

  8. #28
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Wakefield, MA, USA


    "I got to keep more of the honey, with less work and a lot less mess by doing squeeze/strain extraction than with a Lang-style extractor. It seemed like the hand-cranked extractor left a quarter of the honey in the comb whereas crush/squeeze extraction got it all."

    That's fine, but bear in mind that there was a lot of honey you didn't get because the bees had no drawn comb to store nectar in in the first place.

    If you were using a small-diameter radial extractor (as commonly available) and/or the honey was cold it is not surprising that you would leave a good deal of honey behind.

    I agree that TBHs are great for the DIY/backyard enthusiast and they are easier to tend but the crops cannot be expected to be even half what a properly managed Lang could produce in extracting supers.

    Though I enjoyed playing with tbh's Roger Morse used to put them down as a waste of time and material. After all, he contended, with just a little more effort frames could be made for the same box, and then you'd have a frame hive which you could super w/comb, and production would go *way* up. Also, he was convinced that colonies did not thrive as well in a horizontal configuration. He had been around the world many times and was quite familiar with the results being obtained with all different types of equipment and management styles.

    You start making little improvements to the basic TBH design and it isn't long before you are back to a box with frames. But for sheer simplicity and lowest initial cost the TBH is an interesting and educational tool that will yield a nice albeit limited honey crop.

    Much the same situation as the comb honey producer, whether using rounds or frames.
    It is apples and oranges, to some extent. Like the section or bulk comb honey producer you can't expect your crop to even approach what the extraced honey producer can achieve. It's a different situation, although a multi-story Lang would likely produce more comb honey than TBH due to the vertical arrangement.

    With a TBH one can focus on some of the finer points and enjoy producing a clean and natural product with a minimum of expenditure and a lot of satisfaction. No combs to store. No wax moths. The drawbacks as I see them are the odd crooked comb building problems and the marked lack of portability, but others have shown that with experience there are ways to manage both to some degree.

  9. #29
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Casper, WY


    Hi Jim and Everyone,

    All bee bantering aside, I would like to commend Jim on his efforts to improve the lives of other beekeepers around the world. Don't ask me how I got to this subject in a tbh vs lang forum :&gt))

    And I hope you succeed. But be careful as it is very easy to repeat the agricultural errors of exporting non-sustaneable solutions, which can leave people worse off when the markets, weather, rain or politics change for the worse. Such cases are rampant in Africa where cotton and the attendant fertilizer, chems, supplanted the native subsistence farming. Those that bought into the process make some fast money. But when the market changed they were left in starvation, with land that would not support their subsistence farming. They starved, while their neighbors who maintained the traditional ways continued on as they had for almost a thousand years, poor but fed.

    One of the best ways to improve the lives of impoverished beekeepers might initially involve more education that capitalization. Maybe there are areas, or a mindset, that prevents them from attaining a maximum profit from what they are currently using.

    The successes in African beekeeping involved establishing a stable and non-corrupt coop type marketing system. Then when the beekeepers got a little surplus cash, more modern methods of honey production became viable.

    And I've gone back and read a few of my posts in this forum. And I've shot more than a few insults, rather than holes for which I appologize. Nope, putting a smiley face on them doesn't change them for me either. But I can go back and edit them.

    Is too! Is not! IS TOO! IS NOT! IS TOO, IS TOO, IS TOO!!! IS NOT, IS NOT, IS NOT, IS NOT!!! says Jimmy and Denny just before the teacher took each one of them to timeout. :&gt

    [size="1"][ March 11, 2006, 12:28 PM: Message edited by: B Wrangler ][/size]

  10. #30
    Join Date
    Dec 1999
    DuPage County, Illinois USA


    I think it's important to point out in this discussion where there are basically two opposing views on the statements, that one side (Dennis) has had several years experience working and observing TBH's and the behavior of those bees, and the other side (Jim) has not had such experience but is basically relying on secondhand knowledge to back his statements. This was also the case in the DL discussion. I am all to familiar with these discussions as I've had them before with people regarding small cell, and I finally gave up because it was futile trying to discuss with those who wouldn't do the work themselves to verify.

    I know Jim is off base in some of his comments because I have also observed some of the same things Dennis has in my TBH (fast comb construction, etc.) While he makes some good points, making comments such as

    <<Oh, yes... suuuure... <snip> Get real!>>
    <<Oh, yes of COURSE... <snip> again, get real!>>

    lets me know he has no firsthand experience on the topic.

    Regards, Barry

  11. #31
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA


    Well, I've been out of town and haven't been able to keep up on the rare occasions I have a minute of free time. Let me just say that I DO have TBHs and have had them for a while. I built my first in 1975. I don't see a difference except in a remote yard with Langstroth boxes you can throw on a bunch of supers and come back in the fall. This allows outyards that otherwise are not practical with a THB. With a TBH you need to harvest more often than that and if the hives are long ways, this may not be practical.

    >So come up with a TBH that can be supered,
    and my objections go away.

    Like this?

    >Come up with
    an approach that does not destroy drawn
    comb, and my objections go away.

    I get more for comb honey than extracted. I thought you raised comb honey? Don't you get more for it?

    > Otherwise,
    TBH bees simply have to work too hard to
    produce the same amount of harvestable honey
    as Langstroth-equipped bees.

    In remote areas, quite often it is the shipping that controls the amount of folding money you can get. Beeswax is worth more when you include the cost of the shipping, than honey.
    Michael Bush "Everything works if you let it." 42y 40h 39yTF

  12. #32
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    San Jose CA


    Maybe a few numbers might help in this debate as knowing the capacity of a Lang hive and a TBH provides another dimension on the issues being argued.

    Lang Deep 11.1 gal 42 liters
    Lang Medium 7.7 gal 29 liters

    If you assume two deeps or three mediums for brood and four supers for honey, the total hive capacity is 53-54 gallons and 200/203 liters.

    The TBH size which Scot McPherson promotes in Wikipedia is 13.8 gal/52 liters. The Crowder TBH is 16.4 gallons/62 liters.

    The TBH sizes Dennis (BWrangler) uses are 35.7/125 to 41.6/157 liters. He has written that his experience suggests the largest is too big in his area and that the midsize of 37/140 TBHs is most suitable.

    The 'natural/ideal' size of a hive is influenced by climate, flow intensity, flow periods, rural/city, pasture/trees, crops/natural etc.


    - Langstroths minimize labor. Supers can be added during flows to keep bees producing, and the task of extraction can be concentrated in short periods using casual labor to handle the workload. Mechanization boosts productivity and reduces labor costs.

    - TBHs need consistent attention to remove honey during flows to prevent becoming honey bound and subsequent swarming. Extraction/Crushing is a near-continuous operation which requires no additional labor and little/no justification for mechanization.

    Honey no longer appears to be a source of significant profit to many commercial beekeepers in the United States, and the complaint is that the price received is too low because of the cheap honey being imported from overseas.

    In this regard beekeeping is no different to the latest highest tech product you have in your house, it too was made in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, etc. All this does is prove the points that Adam Smith made in 1776 when "The Wealth of Nations" was published.

    - The Lang lends itself to a high overhead operation in terms of both capital and working capital, in the hopes (and reality) of higher productivity per unit. For several months of the year there are storage requirements to protect the assets of supers and fully drawn comb, during which the risk is run of predators (wax moths) destroying the value of these assets.

    - The TBH lends itself to a low overhead operation in terms of both capital and working capital.
    Storage/loss costs are virtually non-existent because the assets are being protected by the inhabitants. Increased production can be achieved by adding more TBHs or taking a hybrid approach and use supers by assuming the risks of asset storage/loss during winter.

    There should be no argument here, as these are economic facts of life.

    On a more philosophical note:

    - Langs involve the same issues of overcrowding as occur with cattle (feedlots) and people (cities). There is more stress, more medication, more.... but most of us choose to live in cities where we trade off those things for what we perceive as a 'better' life.

    - TBHs reduce the overcrowding aspect because a hive does not have as many bees, and the comb is constantly being renewed. Since TBHers tend to replace brood comb on a regular basis, the queen is laying in fresh comb and that appears to be a factor contributing to hive health.

    It is hard for beekeepers to draw straight lines in the sand because any factor that one considers an absolute can be disproved by another beek somewhere else who is dealing with a different climate, different breed of bee, different flows, etc. For example, it makes good sense for cold-weather beeks to like breeds that have small clusters over winter which can survive on smaller stores whereas warm weather beeks could care less.

    On a personal note:

    - As a Lang keeper I dreaded extraction and happily bought more supers as needed in order to avoid doing it more than once a year.
    - As a TBH keeper I don't care any more, it is easy to walk around with a bucket, cut off the combs and let the honey drain courtesy of gravity rather than extraction.

    Both methods work, simply a different way of achieving the same end.


    My experience is strictly backyard in an area where the winters are mild and bees can gather nectar/pollen from trees/gardens at least half the time.

    - Langs are no longer being used for honey production, but are used for splits, swarms and nucs.

    - Two sizes of TBH are used and both are rectangular because I see no advantage to the sloping sides. The bottoms are open, screened with #8 cloth and stand high on legs (the frames are at desk height to avoid having to bend over).

    - Narrow TBHs are 12Wx10Dx32L long with a capacity of 16 gallons. These are pleasant to work with and easier to relocate. If the frames/bars are to be used in a Lang/Compatible for splitting or some other purpose, a 3/8"x19" ply strip is screwed on.

    - Compatible TBHs are 19Wx10Dx32L with a capacity of 23 gallons, and the top bars can be exchanged with Lang frames.

    Strong, concentrated flows do not occur in this area and my observations of comb production will likely conflict with those who live in areas that have strong flows.

    - Full foundation is rarely fully drawn, the bees chew holes in the corners and often along most of the the bottom bar.
    - 1/2" starter strips encourage comb to be started along most of the top bar.
    - On 1/8" center rails the bees start near center and radiate out in a semi circular pattern. They tend to begin on the next top bar rather than fill out the full width of the bar.

    Fully drawn comb appears to be produced in less time on starter strips and rails than on full foundation but I have no statistics to confirm this. BTW, this has nothing to do with TBH or Lang, it is true of both.


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