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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Tsawwassen, BC, Canada
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    257

    Question Why's of Top Bar Hives

    I had an interesting letter from our provincial apiculturist, expressing some exasperation with the popularity of top bar hives. His feeling was that tbh's take more work than a typical Langstroth, in terms of careful management to prevent swarming and maximize honey yields.

    I found these comments interesting and wondered if they reveal the different orientations of commercial beekeepers as opposed to hobbyist and biodiversity beekeepers.

    I replied that the upsurge in interest in tbh designs may well stem from the fact that while you may have to work them more often, you are spared the prospect of hefting full boxes, piling and repiling as you do a hive inspection. Many new beekeepers are middle aged, and perhaps either not on for the lifting, or aware that in time, the lifting will get tougher and tougher. I am very strong compared to most women, but I can barely lift a full deep hive body and cannot easily control it now they are all starting to fill with honey. You can, using empty hive bodies, swap out frames as you inspect, but that method is a bit tedious and time consuming. And perhaps requires more organizational skills than I am typically in possession of!

    I also mentioned that my disabled father, whom I think gave up beekeeping early as lifting was quite difficult for him, would likely have kept beekeeping if he could have done it in a chair or wheelchair in front of a top bar hive. Beekeeping is an excellent hobby to take into retirement, providing both a pleasant learning curve and the opportunity to meet and work with pleasant persons. TBH setups may actually extend the time you can devote to the bees.

    Hobbyist beekeepers have time to dote on a few backyard hives, so having to be on top of things in swarm season is not a problem (aside from anxious neighbours)...may in fact be an advantage to the entomology fans amongst them. Hobbyists are not necessarily trying to maximize honey yields, as commercial beekeepers must. And if biodiversity contribution is a focus, then swarms are contributions to biodiversity, and may prove a partial remedy to some of the devastating effects of Colony Collapse Disorder.

    For myself, I will try one next season, and am looking forward to less lifting, using the delightful observation window, and more or less compulsory wax harvesting (I have a beeswax candle habit!).

    What do the rest of you TBH enthusiasts think? Are top bar hives a good idea or just an aesthetic fad?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    43

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Both - you summed up a lot of the positives already. I chose top bar because it requires less equipment to buy and to have on hand for hive expansion. If you want to do natural comb, then that also negates some of the strengths of the Langstroth. I do agree that honey yield is considerably less in a TBH - but then I don't feed sugar, which most Lang beeks probably do.

    I think backyard beekeeping in general is a bit of a fad right now, regardless of hive type.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Location
    Greenwood, Indiana
    Posts
    182

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    WesternWilson, you summarized the benefits/reasoning for having a top bar hive (tbh) very well. My wife and I built four this spring because we did not see even one honeybee last year (possible ONE on an aster bush near the end of summer, but I was not sure that even IT was not some other kind of bee). We just want to run four tbh's, keep them healthy, and improve the bee population in our area. We don't need honey; we get all we want from our son. I really ENJOY working with a build-it-for-practically-nothing tbh much more than I did with the Langstroths that I had 30+ years ago.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Gaston, SC
    Posts
    269

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    I would suggest anyone interested in Top Bar Hives to read Wyatt Mangun's book on them,, it is an excellent resource,,

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Moyock, NC, USA
    Posts
    207

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Tbh's are fun!! Hobbyists do stuff just for that reason. Commercial guys---$$
    The are more traditional, as their predecessors out date the lang hive by thousands of years. They are, as mentioned in the earlier posts, easily built at home. All you have to do is make a box. Anyone complicating it any further is missing the big point of top bar hives, their simplicity.
    They have comb cells that are built and sized by the bees. Commonly referred to as "small or natural". There is a lot of talk about small cell size being better for varroa mite control.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Murfreesboro, TN, USA
    Posts
    318

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    It seems like most of the negative comments we get on TBHs are from some oldtimer grumbling that you can't get as much honey from this type of hive as you can from a Lang. I just nod my head and agree, and it doesn't make one bit of difference because, obviously, we don't care as much about the quantity of honey as he does. And, if you ask these grumblers how much experience they have personally with TBHs, they turn from grumblers to mumblers and walk away. Amen.
    Last edited by SteveBee; 08-01-2012 at 06:44 PM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    Spicewood, Texas, USA
    Posts
    232

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    BeeGeorge:
    What is the title of Wyatt Mangum's book? I can't find it on Amazon. I thought I had read that it wasn't published yet.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Olympia, WA
    Posts
    91

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    I just talked to Wyatt by email and he said the book is coming out in mid August.
    Ernie
    Here is a copy/paste of the email;
    For my book, see the attached cover picture and here are some details. You can send it around to other beekeepers if you want.

    Top-Bar Hive Beekeeping:
    Wisdom & Pleasure
    Combined

    By Wyatt A. Mangum, PhD

    This book is a comprehensive TBH book: 421 big pages, 8 ½ by 11 inches, 12 Chapters, 350+ photographs most color, except 24 infrared pictures of nocturnal wildlife in my apiaries, seen in B&W, groundbreaking beekeeping photography.

    The book shows how to build TBHs up to five-feet long, various sugar syrup feeders, queen cages, queen excluders, queen mating nucs, and even pollen traps, and more.

    Also …
    Install packages the right way.
    Get the new colony established and ready for winter.
    Get straight combs–finally.
    Handle new combs–correctly.
    Avoid comb meltdowns.
    “Process” honey and sell it with creative honey packaging, all with no expensive extractor.

    In addition to all aspects of TBH beekeeping: honey production, wax production, crop pollination, queen production, package bee production, and pollen collection, I will show bee management detail with special close-up photographs. The TBH management chapter is a small book unto itself, running about 100 pages with 96 color photographs.

    In short, this is the must-have book of TBH beekeeping.

    More details…
    The book cost $45 (Keep in mind production costs were high and it took 25 years to gain the required experience to write it. Since the book has 421 pages and color pictures back-to-back, the paper is high quality. The binding is a smyth binding, which means the pages are sewed together (and glued) so they will not fall out (rather than only glued into the binding, a cheaper "perfect" binding). (I learned a lot about constructing and printing books.)
    Dr. Mangum
    Last edited by The Honey Girl's Boy; 08-02-2012 at 09:18 PM. Reason: more information
    Keep on keepin' bees

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Rockford, MI
    Posts
    2,660

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Anything we can do to help the honey population is a good thing. Rather it bee on a TBH or traditional Lang.
    As a test, I ran a TBH and a traditional Lang design. I found that the bees absconded twice as often in a Lang than the TBH. Why? I'm not quite sure since they are mere feet from each other.
    The TBH bees flourished at at an amazing pace! Right now, I have approx. 50# of honey in the TBH and about ten in the Lang and we haven't hit our second flow yet. I believe I will have to remove a bar or two to givw them room for the next flow.
    There's no question in my mind that a TBH that is properly inspected and manipulated can produce as much honey as the Lang.
    Also for those that are lookind to keep bees as a hobby, the TBH is perfect IMO. Rather inexpensive to build and maintain and easy to care for.
    For those that are physically challanged, the TBH can be the only option (do to it's wide variety of modifications) and will allow them to keep bees as they wish.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Tsawwassen, BC, Canada
    Posts
    257

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Two questions...is Dr. Mangum selling from his own site or will the book be available from Amazon etc.? I definitely want a copy!

    And Mr. Beeman, can you elaborate on what inspection and manipulation works best for TBH keeping (particularly as opposed to Langstroth technique)?

    My Lang hive was very, very strong and continues to be (although I have managed to wind up queenless and am trying to get them to raise a new queen from borrowed brood), and as I am in an urban neighbourhood would like to minimize swarming. Any advice on dealing with that in TBH appreciated.

    Regards,
    Janet

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Tucson, Arizona, USA
    Posts
    5,401

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    I haven't yet been running any TBH's, but I have been creating TBH nucs for several different customers. Presently I have one 5-comb, medium depth TBH nuc. I began the process, like all the others, before, by placing the empty top bars between brood combs in full-size colonies. I generally only need to leave them in overnight, by the next morning most have the beginnings of nice combs, some of the combs produce in a night can nearly fill the bar. I then knock all the bees from the top bars, placing them in their own empty nuc box, next I place them where their parent nucs are. Then I transfer the queen by hand and shake the remaining bees from their combs into the, now TB nuc and onto the top bars.

    Unfortunately after the transferred bees had settled in, finished their combs, and the queen had laid them up, once her brood was sealed it became apparent that she was what is called a "failing queen", as there were scattered drone cappings among her worker brood. My first remedy was to remove that queen and requeen with another queen of proven abilities. I did that, and then that TBH nuc was ready to go. It was very strong and getting stronger by the minute (despite scattered drones, there was still lots of worker brood, which was now emerging). I contacted the customer so she could pick them up. Oops, she was going to be out of town and couldn't pick them up for another week. So to continue this nuc, without swarming, I took immediate drastic action. I selected two of the top bars and cut the combs off - to give the bees a place to work and the new queen plenty of new comb to establish brood in. It is now a week later, the new combs are complete and nearly uniformly the smallest size cells I have seen, yet. And also nearly completely filled with brood. Tomorrow they go to the customer.

    It is certainly entertaining to work with TBHs, even as nucs.
    Last edited by Joseph Clemens; 08-03-2012 at 11:03 AM.
    48 years - 50 hives - TF
    Joseph Clemens -- Website Under Constructioni

  12. #12
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Rockford, MI
    Posts
    2,660

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Inspection as in typical inspections, but made easier due to the fact the whole hive is not taken apart to inspect the brrod chamber as in a Lang hive. Manipulation as in ease of removing and inserting specific bars either into the brood chamber (for additional brood) or in the honey chamber for additional honey.
    Being that all the bars are horizontal instead of vertical, it is less evasive to the bees and eaiser on the beekeeper.
    I realize that TBH (at least here in the US) are a relatively new concept, but it does seem to fit a certain niche with some beekeepers. Granted there are Pros and Cons to each style of hive, but the simplicity of this system is quite interesting to me.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Tsawwassen, BC, Canada
    Posts
    257

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    In planning for next year, I am interested in how you manage the TBH in order to minimize swarming...or do controlled swarming such that the swarm does not fly free and upset my neighbour again!

    Regards,
    Janet

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Santa Fe, NM
    Posts
    674

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Western Wilson > "Hobbyist beekeepers have time to dote on a few backyard hives, so having to be on top of things in swarm season is not a problem"

    This unfortunately is an incorrect assumption. Nowhere in the US are there more TB hive enthusiasts than in Santa Fe, NM area. The reason is that Les Crowder (who I admire) has for years taught beekeeping classes and promoted TB hives as the preferred means of keeping bees. There is literally a TB hive on every corner withing the city proper. This spring alone I received well over 25 swarm calls and was able to hive up quite a few of them. So where do you think all these swarms originated from? I keep bees in conventional equipment because I always have, but I am in the great minority in doing so. So while hobbyist beekeepers might have the time to dote their backyard bees, most of them are quite ill prepared to manage the colony to prevent swarming, or establish a knock-down nuc to make increase. They are not what you would call on top of things, because they generally lack the experience.
    "Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay".....Krishnamurti

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Tsawwassen, BC, Canada
    Posts
    257

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    I can attest personally to the un-wisdom of the noob! There are lots of book out there but as my friend Arvin told me, the bees don't read them! I think I managed to make myself queenless via my swarm prevention measures, and probably had a swarm anyway. My hive was booming...huge! I was totally unprepared for that.

    So RiskyBizz, fire away with advice for the inexperienced! I/we could use some!

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Location
    Santa Fe, NM
    Posts
    674

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Western if you google Les Crowder you will find that he has published a new book on TB hives that should now be released. Les is a great resource for TB hive enthusiasts. I would not pretend to know anything about TB hive management and will refrain from giving any sort of advice in managing them. Bees are bees however, so the same rules apply as far as introducing a new queen, or giving the colony the resources to rear their own. As many have stated here, the best advice is to read up on beekeeping (the oldtimers are a wealth of information) and if possible find yourself a mentor to help every now and then. No, bees don't read books, but there is much information to be gathered from the likes of Doolittle, Jay Smith and numerous others who spend many years of their lives doing trial and error research, so that you don't have to do it all over again.
    "Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay".....Krishnamurti

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    Falls Church, VA
    Posts
    243

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Quote Originally Posted by beegeorge View Post
    I would suggest anyone interested in Top Bar Hives to read Wyatt Mangun's book on them,, it is an excellent resource,,
    His book is out? Where? Please -Mike

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Sep 2011
    Location
    Falls Church, VA
    Posts
    243

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr.Beeman View Post
    Inspection as in typical inspections, but made easier due to the fact the whole hive is not taken apart to inspect the brrod chamber as in a Lang hive. Manipulation as in ease of removing and inserting specific bars either into the brood chamber (for additional brood) or in the honey chamber for additional honey.
    Being that all the bars are horizontal instead of vertical, it is less evasive to the bees and eaiser on the beekeeper.
    This is my first year and I'm running a single tbh. In order to get to the brood area at the entrance end, I have to do the following: remove about 5 bars to give myself working room, check for attach points on the next bar, disconnect or if lucky, simply shift the bar to the end. Repeat as needed until I reach th brood area. Do you things differently, because I would consider this " taking the hive apart ". Your experience please? -mike

  19. #19
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Rockford, MI
    Posts
    2,660

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    Considering that you are moving a few bars and shifting a few is far less evasive than removing the telescoping top, inner cover, two to three supers, lying them on the ground and them proceeding to remove each frame to inspect the brood chamber. That's only a partial inspection of the Lang.
    Just easier IMO to pull a frame inspect then re insert. I only pull one to get room to work the other. I may be lucky, but I really don't have much brace comb in the TBH. lol

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Location
    Calgary, Alberta, CA
    Posts
    78

    Default Re: Why's of Top Bar Hives

    It is surprising that this hasn't been brought to your/his attention:

    "An analysis of the Kenyan Top Bar Hive vis-à-vis the Langstroth in Calgary, Alberta."
    http://members.shaw.ca/metropropolis...%20Alberta.pdf

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