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  1. #1
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    Exclamation TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Management for swarm control in a horizontal tbh. Can we hash it over here a bit?

    As the spring SLOWLY warms up, and the maples bloom here, I am wondering about how to manage my TBH to control swarming.

    I have been talking with other top bar beeks recently on and off the forum in an effort to get our heads around how to best manage a tbh through the season to keep available room in the hive for brood rearing and honey storage. This is a central focus through the season for all beeks, but with tbh's it is different, as there is generally no supering, and one is working with a finite space.

    Also, there are a relatively small number of top bar beeks who have several seasons or more of experience to draw upon for advice.

    As I understand it, during the early spring, the brood nest is in expansion mode. The queen is laying as many eggs as the bees can cover, heat, and take care of - depending on how many bees made it through the winter (or came in the nuc or package), what the weather is like, and how much forage is available. During this time, we have been advised to "keep the brood nest open" by putting empty bars into the next here and there, in order to keep the bees in build-up mode and keep house bees making wax and giving the queen comb to lay in.

    But at a certain point, the nest gets big enough. In a Lang, beeks just put on another box, and the queen is reluctant to move up anyway, so the bees get to storing. But in a horizontal hive, it's a bit different. At that time - if left alone - the bees will kind of "hem in" the queen by establishing a point in the horizontal nest, where the comb is filled with nectar and pollen so that the queen will go no further. She likes to be efficient in her movements and likes to keep distances short between eggs, so this full comb turns her around, back into the nest to look for empty cells. From there on, the bees tend to just build up comb after comb of stores until they run out of room in the box. The nest quits growing as the stores expand, the brood continues to develop in a relatively finite space through the summer and then the nest contracts in the Fall as things shut down for winter.

    We are told that, through the honey-gathering season we have to harvest honey periodically to provide the bees more room to store.

    During the warm season, if they run out of room to lay, or run out of room to store, the bees are likely to swarm. So we have to manage our limited horizontal space in order to keep either situation from happening.

    So how do we do that most effectively?

    I feel like the conversation is always in one part or another, but never comprehensive enough so that (I at least) totally get it.

    Last year, I got so preoccupied with "keeping the brood nest open" that I kept putting bars into the nest into late June, and the bees could never "reign in" the queen. So eventually I had a brood nest that was spread over much of the 4 foot hive and there were so many bees, that I thought the lid was going to pop off. The bees prepared to swarm by building a number of queen cells, and I had to do a split to keep them from swarming.

    On the other hand, others I've spoken to, get focused on keeping empty bars in the storage end, and it's pretty much like empty honey supers to the bees in that it doesn't change their urge to swarm if the nest is teaming with bees and the queen has run out of room to lay, and with a flow on - they swarm.

    So I'm wondering, how best to mange the hive throughout the season? It's got to be different things at different times - and it has to be the right things at the right times. But what is the most efficient method?

    Would it be best keep the brood nest open with interspersed bars during spring build-up, keeping house bees, nurse bees and the queen working steadily - but not TOO many too fast, as then the nest will get huge almost overnight and you'll be out of room. So a bar here and there every few days to a week to keep them busy and open during say, May - June for me. That's prime "swarm-time".

    Then, once the initial "swarm time" is over, perhaps I should then focus my efforts on keeping bars open in the MIDDLE of the hive. In the transition area where brood switches to stores. This is a question, and a theory at this point. I'm wondering if keeping bars open in the middle of the hive allows the bees to better control what they do with the space, and help me to avoid an "either or" situation. So lets say I try to keep an empty bar or two in the "transition" area of the tbh; never removing brood, and moving any stores that I can to the far end, or harvesting and replacing with empty bars. If the bees want to give the queen room to lay, they keep the comb open to that. If they want to store, they store.

    Does this make any sense?

    How successful are you at managing to keep your Top Bar hives from swarming?
    How do you manage your hives through the season to keep them unrestricted both brood and storage in this restricted space?

    Or do you just have other questions along these lines that you can add to the discussion?

    Adam

  2. #2
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Why prevent swarming at all? TBHs will never be "production" colonies, and if maximizing honey production isn't a goal then don't worry about swarming IMO. If you just can't stop wanting to prevent it, the same principles in a TBH would apply as any other management style: reduce crowding, maintain ventilation, open up broodnest in a measured manner. Or as you note make splits.
    Bees, brews and fun
    in Lyons, CO

  3. #3
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Here’s what I did with a couple of colonies last year. With end entrances I pulled the whole nest away from the entrance by eight bars. What I observed was the brood nest being expanded toward the entrances. Some building of comb did take place in the back end. Basically it appeared to be a race to the entrance with a wave of honey chasing the brood nest down. As the combs in the back of the hive became full of nectar but nothing capped I put spacers in between. Some of the partially built combs from the back I placed in the front for new brood combs to be built. Neither colony swarmed.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Delta Bay,

    So what was your idea behind taking that approach? Why did you pull it back that far, and what was your thinking behind that distance? What previous experience caused you to take this approach?When you moved the nest 8 bars back, were the 8 you put in empty, or full of comb?

    With an overwintered colony, I have a 4 foot box full of comb...

    Adam

  5. #5
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben Brewcat View Post
    Why prevent swarming at all? TBHs will never be "production" colonies, and if maximizing honey production isn't a goal...
    Sure it is the goal. TBH's are used in many parts of the world where the goal is production.

    I'm making an effort to be the most educated and able tbh beek that I can be. And for some, that may be to sit back and let Mother Nature do her thing, but it's not for me.

    I want to be able to manage a tbh as effectively as I can to keep the colonies strong, healthy and productive.

    From Michael Bush's website:

    "Question: Which makes more honey? A top bar hive or a Langstroth hive?

    Answer: It comes down to management differences. If you have the TBH where you can get to it easily and you check it weekly during a heavy flow and manage their space by harvesting frequently, I think it's about even. If the TBH is in an outyard and you don't get there often or even if it's in your backyard and you don't get there often, the Langstroth will probably make more honey.

    While a TBH takes more FREQUENT manipulation it does not take more labor as you don't have to lift and move boxes around when doing inspections."

    (Full page here)

    Michael Bush suggests that the tbh can produce similar amounts of honey with proper management - and that seems to make sense. Bees are bees. If two equal colonies have equal access to forage, and one colony makes 150lbs, there's no reason the next one can't - UNLESS they are hindered in some other way.

    Is a tbh a hindrance? If the box itself is not, then there has to be a way of managing to get the same production out of a tbh.

    So I'm trying to learn what that is. And while Michael's website is excellent, I just have more specific questions - how exactly and when to do things in order to properly manage the tbh.


    Adam

  6. #6
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    So what was your idea behind taking that approach?
    For curiosity reasons. About four years ago I placed a swarm into one of my hives. They first clustered and built from the back to the front. They did their best to work their way up to the front by the entrance but ran out of time to finish up there. Most of the combs from the back forward were only built about half length. They over winter away from the entrance. The next spring they started spring build up about the middle half of the hive. By the end of the season they had filled the hive and did not swarm even though by the middle of August they were cramped for space and bearding heavily. Our nectar flow is over by mid July and very little is available to them after this time.

    Only empty bars with foundation starter strips were put in the front to start. I did put a couple of partially built combs in the front from the back part way through the season but don't know if it was helpful or necessary. The eight bars was just a number I picked that seemed would be a reasonable space to give to start for my location.

    Some of the appeal of the TBH for me is not knowing the workings and learning as I go. I don't think all the answers are known until we try different ideas for ourselves. Could be old ideas tweaked to produce a slightly different out come and then there are all the variables due to location. Yearly seasonal variation has to be considered. So what might work here may not there.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    It takes a lot of frequent harvesting to keep a TBH open.

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm#management
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  8. #8
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Bush View Post
    It takes a lot of frequent harvesting to keep a TBH open.

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm#management
    Sure. And I've read your site on this subject and encourage others to do so if they haven't already. But that "frequent harvesting" is a pretty grey area, particularly for beginners, who I think make up a large number of the top bar beeks out there.

    The first problem I ran into on that was that the honey wasn't capped. There was a ton of it in the hive uncapped for what seemed like forever - so what do you do then? I have thought I should get a chest freezer and build racks inside it, just to hold full bars of honey, so that I can remove them and replace them as needed.

    Then there's understanding the cycle of the season and having a sense of when the comb is no longer going to get built, and they're not likely to store much more. For me, it seemed much earlier in the year than I would have thought. So harvesting late on lessens their stores.

    The frequent manipulations you describe on your site really have to happen (for me in zone 6) mostly in late May, June and July. August is already getting late for them to rebuild comb.

    Delta Bay,

    So you're essentially taking the "building down" that a colony might do in a tree or Warré and turning it on its side for a tbh. So the bees work to construct comb and migrate the nest closer to the door over time. Interesting.

    Adam

  9. #9
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    That is a very interesting idea! (Delta Bay's idea)

    I think one big difference in management is where the entrances are. I choose end entrance for a few reasons, but it seems to me that this will lessen confusion as far as where the brood nest is and where honey storage starts. In the center entrance the honey storage can be on both sides of the hive, which may get a bit complicated. When entrances on the end, you have brood by the entrance then honey after. Easier for the bees to restrict the queen and easier to identify that point.

    Also is there such a thing as keeping your honey storage open? I am assuming that when the swarming season is over you will want to move empty honey storage combs closer to the entrance while moving full honey combs further back or harvesting. Of course at fist you would want to make sure all bars have been used. Probably something that is obvious to the experienced/skillful beekeeper, but maybe not so clear for the newbs.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    They need to have room to build more comb to store more honey, and to keep the brood nest open enough for the queen - right? So, when the the hive is full of drawn comb and nectar, but not capped honey that is the problem - right? If it was a lang hive you would give them a super of empty drawn comb - second year lang keepers with over wintered hives have the same problem you are having - strong hives, no drawn comb. So about the only thing to do is split out the queen - sometimes they swarm anyway if you aren't quick enough - and try to build up some stock of comb for next year.

    Of course with TBHs you harvest comb along with honey so you don't build up comb. I'm going to speculate that we need to be building bigger hives. Or figure out something constructive to do with uncapped honey.

    After giving just a little more thought I bet that in places where TBHs are used for production they just use the uncapped honey. That's what I do when I'm working my bees and want a snack.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    the whole hive working towards the entrance like they work down a tree hollow is genius. It never dawned on me. I've been having lots of swarms (which are admittedly insanely fun) so thread has been a big help. Thanks

  12. #12
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    The first problem I ran into on that was that the honey wasn't capped.
    This can end with a problem when placing empty bars between uncapped honey even between brood combs if they have a crescent of open honey above the brood. They can very well extend the cell walls on the open nectar leaving little room on the empty bar to build new comb. I think timing is very important when placing empties between already built out combs.

    I also feel if you don't get the timing right the bees could very easily decide to swarm even with the open space between brood combs. Probably just about the time they start to tend drone larvae.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    >Sure. And I've read your site on this subject and encourage others to do so if they haven't already. But that "frequent harvesting" is a pretty grey area, particularly for beginners, who I think make up a large number of the top bar beeks out there.

    Everything in beekeeping is a "grey area". In a heavy flow that could be every day. In a moderate flow that could be every week. In a weak flow that could be once a month. It's not the state of the hive today, it's the trend of the hive. In other words how much has it changed in what timeframe. It's about momentum as much as the number of bars. That's why beekeeping will always be an art.

    >The first problem I ran into on that was that the honey wasn't capped. There was a ton of it in the hive uncapped for what seemed like forever - so what do you do then?

    Another one of those variables. It is a local variable, mostly, but also could be just the current weather.

    > I have thought I should get a chest freezer and build racks inside it, just to hold full bars of honey, so that I can remove them and replace them as needed.

    I can see the value in that, but it seems like a waste to dedicate a freezer to just that.

    >Then there's understanding the cycle of the season and having a sense of when the comb is no longer going to get built, and they're not likely to store much more.

    Exactly. And from year to year that changes and from climate to climate.

    > For me, it seemed much earlier in the year than I would have thought. So harvesting late on lessens their stores.

    Yes.

    >The frequent manipulations you describe on your site really have to happen (for me in zone 6) mostly in late May, June and July. August is already getting late for them to rebuild comb.

    Yes.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  14. #14
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    I am enjoying this thread as it is most relevant to my current situation. My KTBH swarmed this spring a couple of weeks ago. I want to avoid it happening again next spring. I started with the bees last spring and they made it through the winter well.
    If I am understanding this tread correctly in order to keep them from swarming again I should:

    Manage the brood nest away from the entrance hole. Do this by placing an empty bar in between the current brood nest and keeping a few fresh drawn combs in front of the nest so the queen has plenty of room to lay.

    Time this manipulation with the early spring season of your area, which would be March for me.

    Remove excess honey bars. Should remove uncapped honey bars and is the honey okay to use for myself if I do?

    My hive has middle of the hive entrances. Can I just plug it up and open the end entrance without confusing them overmuch? One entrance to the hive typically creates a traffic jam and I open all three entrances in the middle. How should I reconfigure the entrances? What is the best placement of the entrances in the KTBH?

    Thanks for you responses. I just need to summarize a bit so it is easier to remember for next year!

  15. #15
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    >Manage the brood nest away from the entrance hole. Do this by placing an empty bar in between the current brood nest and keeping a few fresh drawn combs in front of the nest so the queen has plenty of room to lay.

    Maybe from your point of view that's it. From my point of view you are just keeping the brood nest open. You can worry about where the brood nest is come winter. To keep the brood nest open put empty bars in the brood nest between two really nice combs to get nice straight combs.

    >Time this manipulation with the early spring season of your area, which would be March for me.

    It would be May for me for opening the brood nest and June for worrying about honey. March sounds pretty early to be worried about swarming but I'm not in VA.

    >Remove excess honey bars. Should remove uncapped honey bars and is the honey okay to use for myself if I do?

    In June. Of course use the honey.

    >My hive has middle of the hive entrances. Can I just plug it up and open the end entrance without confusing them overmuch?

    In a couple of days they will sort it out.

    > One entrance to the hive typically creates a traffic jam and I open all three entrances in the middle. How should I reconfigure the entrances? What is the best placement of the entrances in the KTBH?

    In my opinion in a cold climate the end is the only good place. You want the brood nest at the end come winter. The rest of the time it doesn't matter.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  16. #16
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    The moving of the nest away from the door in the spring is certainly an interesting idea, which might afford a TBH keeper the ability to accomplish their "opening the brood nest" all in one manipulation. Interesting indeed.

    For myself, the overwintered colony is very small, and I have my doubts that they will be able to build up to a point of swarming. But I may try this moving of the nest to see what the result it. At the very least, it is a good way of moving the nest out of old comb and into new.

    Adam

  17. #17
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Quote Originally Posted by Adam Foster Collins View Post
    The moving of the nest away from the door in the spring is certainly an interesting idea, which might afford a TBH keeper the ability to accomplish their "opening the brood nest" all in one manipulation. Interesting indeed.
    Adam,

    Just as your message appeared, I was writing a note to Steve about the possibility of opening up the brood nest early next year to avoid swarming. The colony in my new TBH, created from a swarm on 9 April 2011, has swarmed three times this month, first on May 2, then on May 10, and again on May 13.

    This TBH has five three-quarter inch holes drilled near the bottom on one end and on one side. As stated, we placed a large swarm collected in early April in this empty hive, and fed them sugar syrup from day one. And they put it away! In just over two weeks they drew a dozen or so full bars of comb, and backfilled a lot of it with sugar syrup. It was still cool at night here in early April, so I plugged three of the entrance holes with cork. Over the next month, this colony grew rapidly, the weather warmed considerably, and I continued to feed them 1:1 and added new empty bars near the back (but between drawn bars) every four or five days. What I failed to do was remove those corks. So as this colony expanded and began foraging from the abundance of blossoms available here in Apr/May, all the traffic from the hive was funneled through two 3/4" holes directly into brood nest. That, and an overabundance of stores (SS & nectar) stored throughout the hive, it is little wonder they felt the pressure to swarm.

    I do not have enough experience at this, and especially not with TBH, to know if any of it added to the colony's desire to swarm, but it certainly seems possible. Here in the southeastern United States this spring, we've had a lot of rain, and from what I've read here on the forum, swarms have been abundant. Maybe after the busy season, we will have enough experience dealing with swarms to collect some data and/or information from new TBH keepers to gather some ideas.

    Good luck with the swarms there in your neck of the woods the spring! And by the way, thanks for starting this thread.

    Greg

  18. #18
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Greg,

    Yes, it sounds like you and Steve have had your hands full down there this spring, and some of your issues are what caused me to start this thread. People talk about the swarming issue being more of a problem with top bars, so I want to draw as much collective wisdom out of this forum as I can for the benefit of all of us.

    I'm just trying to get the best sense of how and when to make adjustments to avoid the hive getting too tight for bees and/or honey.

    Keep us informed on how you guys progress.

    Adam

  19. #19
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    I would like add some observations to this. Greg's swarm hive and my swarm hive are just three days apart, age-wise. His bees came from an unknown source captured in a bait hive in my yard. Mine were a swarm from a TBH in my yard, that were supposedly Russians. They've both been fed from day one, although his were fed with a constant supply from three quart jars and mine were fed from one quart jar. Both have been manipulated similarly as far as adding bars goes. His has swarmed three times and mine hasn't swarmed (yet). The hives are similar in design, except his is made of 1X cedar and mine is 2X pine. They are located 15 miles apart, mine being south of his. I went thru mine from back to front on Saturday and it is booming with probably 18-20 drawn combs, all of which are brood with honey bands. Not a single queen cell. The brood nest seems huge (which you have mentioned before in your hives last year, AFC), but I guess they'll convert them to honey combs at some point.

    So......what's the difference? Why would his throw three swarms while mine hasn't produced one? The race of bees? The fifteen mile difference in geography? His cedar hive compared to mine made of pine? The thickness of the wood used for construction? The fact that my bees like me better than his like him (probably not this one)?

    These are the things that make it hard to figure out and anticipate. I guess they're more of Michael Bush's gray areas.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: TBH Management: How Do You Curb Swarming?

    Well, one thing I do question is feeding them. If they're booming like it sounds from your description, I wouldn't be feeding, as it seems that it could be speeding things up unnecessarily. I didn't feed mine when I installed them, and they filled the hives right up in no time. It seems like feeding a booming hive would only increase the chances of swarming, as they could more rapidly build up stores and numbers. If Greg's were able to take more feed faster than yours, that could be the tipping point...?

    Greg mentioned having a reduced entrance, and with that many bees, I suppose it could contribute to a congested hive.

    Your hive is made of 2x stock and his 1x - it is possible that Greg's interior temperature fluctuates a bit more night-to-day/sun-to-shade but I don't know how much more. But it is a difference that could affect the interior conditions just that little bit...

    Otherwise, it's the "bee-gray area" as you say. If yours are supposed to be of Russian stock origin, then that should only mean that yours are MORE likely to swarm, so that doesn't clarify the situation.

    Regardless of whether anyone can understand it all, its all good information to hear and consider here on this forum. Thanks for taking the time to post it for our collective benefit.

    Adam

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