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?