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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Midland, MI
    Posts
    12

    Default Top Bar Hive Questions

    Hello and good morning!

    This is my first real post outside of my introduction, so please forgive me if I post in the wrong area.

    I want to start my own apiary. I have done some research, but I have been pretty much going in circles and still have some unanswered questions.

    This is my first year I will be beekeeping. I want to do a top-bar hive, as I see it will be cheaper to build. Is this a wise decision to do? I'm sure many people start with this when starting their own apiary. I have read of the comb (please pardon the lack of correct terminology, I'm working on it) growing on the sides or growing together from one bar to another. Would a flexible wooden frame in the top-bar help prevent this? I realize this may not be a minimalist approach, I'm just trying to avoid complications.

    I know where I will put them (I plan to build two, maybe 38 in. long, if I remember the dimensions correctly), as it will get good sun in the morning but will have shade in the afternoon (I've read this is the best place to but them). I've heard of setting up two hives for comparison. Is there a recommended distance between the two? Also would it be wise to paint them bright colors?

    I've also read of diseases and parasites, though none of the sites I've found have explained to me really what they are nor how to prevent them. I understand moisture can be a contributing factor, but are there other factors I need to be aware of? Maybe that is explained on another forum, I don't know.

    I also kinda understand the basic idea of a swarm, and have read this is one of the best ways to go, since they are more... "hardy" I guess than buying them. But I'm a little hesitant on going to catch them on my own. Is it really bad to buy your own set of bees the first year? And do you have to buy or catch them every year?

    I live in Michigan, where the temperature right now is a blistering 6 degrees Ferienheit. What would be the best way to winterize them in a top-bar hive? Again in my research I have not really found a method, most sites say to wrap them and make sure they have food.

    I know this is a lot, and I do apologize. Up here in Michigan it doesn't really seem to have a big network (none that I could easily find anyway). I know there is going to be a class in March which I plan to attend but I know right now is the best time to get everything ready. It seems like everyone has their own "style" to it, but I guess I'm a little confused as to what the "standards" of bee keeping are.

    Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Brainerd, MN
    Posts
    533

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Let me first say that I started with a TBH due to the expense of starting with a Lang. After two years I have had nothing but pains with them. After this winter I will be fully transitioning to Warres and Langs. If you are skilled enough to make TBH frames then I'd just go a step further and build Langs. They are more features to better support your bees. I will link below very easy to follow plans for building a Lang. If you have your heart set on using a TBH, then I will not discourage you from doing so. I just wanted to say that they are more hassle than they have been worth.

    http://bbe-tech.com/bees/mediawiki/i...ngstroth_Hives

    When it comes to placement, it isn't that big of a deal how close they are. The closer they are, the more likely you will see some drift. Different colors will help reduce that. I am thinking about maybe just coloring around the entrance to give the bees a hint as far as where to go.

    No when it comes to disease...wow that's more than one topic can cover. I would advise buying a good book that has some good pictures. The key is really being able to know how to identify them. Everybody will differ about how to approach diseases and infestations, but one thing is universal. That's the ability to identify. You must be able to know when things are going wrong. It's important not only for your own bees, but it also can impact those around you. I will tell you that the one thing I always actively manage is for Varroa. Some always treat for foulbrood and nosema, but I don't. There are a lot of other diseases that we can do nothing about, but you must still know what they are and how to find them. Good luck!

    Swarms don't need to be the source of your first hive. I have bought packages and nucs. In all reality catching swarms are going to be relatively easy (take with a grain of salt as I have never seen one). But swarms are going to be less defensive than a full colony of bees as they have nothing to protect, and I have had a few testy colonies. I would take every opportunity to catch a swarm if you come upon one or somebody informs you of one. One word of warning with packages is watch how the bees start building comb very closely. A lot of people start out and have their comb build wrong due to the queen cage and things just continue to go wrong from there. But if you want a package, you better call now. You have to reserve in January to get them in the spring.

    I had a TBH winter last year, and I'm in Minnesota. The keys are to have a good fall population, low levels or Varroa, and plenty of honey in the fall. I probably went a little overboard with wintering, but I figured that every little bit helped. In all reality some insulation above the top bars is probably all that's required. I also put some hard insulation on the outside and some tar paper outside of that. Also reduce the entrance. Make sure to also place a mouse guard of some sort.

    Hope this helps!!
    Not Michael Bush. My name is Dan. Sorry for the confusion.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Midland, MI
    Posts
    12

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    See, I'm glad to know that TBH aren't as simple as some say. I've read of a few problems, but it's always seemed to be better to go that way. Would it be easiest to just buy a beginner kit and be done with it? I've seen some online for like $150. For a Lang or Warre hive, to they need to have the three boxes on them? Or can I just start with one?

    I figured I would have to get some books to read up before I get too into it. I'll definitely be picking them up sometime this week. Seeing as it's Jan, is it too late for me to get a hive going this year?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Vermontville, Michigan
    Posts
    101

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    It's definitely not too late to start. Right now you need to be finding a source for your bees. If you can't find someone supplying them locally, you can have them shipped right to your door. I did that last year (because I didn't realize I needed to order them in January!) So, I didn't get my bees until May. They're doing okay now, but it would have been nice to have that extra month to work, especially with the summer we had.

    I ran two Langs this last year, which I built myself. It cost a lot less and doesn't require a whole lot of ability with woodworking. There are some great plans right on this website (check under the build it yourself section). This year I'm adding two more hives when the bees come in, and then I'll be splitting out later in the summer, and I'll probably finish the summer with 8-10 if things go well and we have a good year. That being said, I've also got a package ordered so I can do a top bar.

    I don't think you can go wrong with either a Lang or a TBH. There are those that will swear to one or the other, some that love both, and then you can throw Warres into the mix. (I won't speak on them because I know NOTHING about them.)

    The best you can do is go with what makes you comfortable and what you want. This is a fun hobby and you should let it be fun. The only word of caution I would give is that it seems to be much easier to get help/information/etc. when you're dealing with a Lang because there are so many more people with them.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Brainerd, MN
    Posts
    533

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    http://www.beeclass.com/dts/classes.htm

    That's a good website to read through for basics and advanced beekeeping.

    I am not the handiest person in the world, but I have built nearly all of my own equipment. Frames are one thing that I bought. I tried and found them to tricky. You will need multiple boxes per colony for any type of hive. I would have at least 4 warre boxes and with langs about the same. I use a combo of 8 frame mediums and deeps.

    If I were you I would first reserve packages. Then start some intensive reading and figure out what kind of hive you want. I would start with two langs and experiment after you have a hold on things. It's not to late, but you had better get started.
    Not Michael Bush. My name is Dan. Sorry for the confusion.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
    Location
    Dunlap, TN, USA
    Posts
    146

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Leo, first of all welcome to the site and congrats on finding an interest in bees.

    My only suggestion to you is this.... Dont take things too serious. This is one promise I can make you, there will be disappointments. No matter how hard you prepare and how much knowlege you may have of honey bees there will always be something unexpected happen.

    With that being said try to just enjoy beekeeping and have fun! If you want to start with TBH then go for it. Worst case scenario is that your hive doesn't make it for some reason and you learn some useful things in the process. Personally I had 2 TBH's last year and now I'm down to one b/c the other hive failed and joined the stronger hive a few weeks ago. I started my hives from a single package I ordered through the mail. I split that hive without a ton of knowlege and ZERO experience about splitting. I try to keep a mindset of "keep it interesting and fun" so I went ahead with the split and it actually turned out nicely.

    regarding your specific questions.... Yes, you will likely encouter pests. Diseases are less likely and parasites are more likely. Probably small hive beetle and varroa will be the two most likely. Both of these are not difficult to manage but you will probably have to deal with both at some point regardless of the type of hive you build.

    Most of the other questions you asked are more of recommendation questions. So obviously there is no "true" answer to these. Only opinions and you will quickly learn that there will be as many different opinions as there are people.

    So again, my advice is do whatever you want to... keep it fun and learn something in the process. And don NOT expect everything to go perfect.

    DISCLAIMER: This is just my opinion lol.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Murfreesboro, TN, USA
    Posts
    318

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Leo, we have Langs, TBHs and a Warre. The best way to learn is to start doing it. The TBH hives take a little more work to run, but once you have them up and running, they are not any more difficult to operate than the Langs. That's just my opinion. The most important thing with the top bar hives is to make sure the bees build straight combs from the start. You can make it a lot easier on yourself by adding an empty bar between two fully-drawn straight combs. This will force the bees to build this new comb straight. Straight combs make the hive easy to work. Crooked crossed combs make it impossible.

    If you do decide to go with the TBH, I'd recommend that you use two follower boards, one at each end. This lets you start your inspection at either end instead of moving all your honey bars before you can get to the brood nest. I would also suggest your entrance be on one end and not in the middle.

    As said above, you need to be finding a place to buy bees now. I wouldn't count on catching swarms until I had a little more experience and am comfortable working around the bees. Swarms can be a little intimidating until you get used to it.

    Good luck...jump on in!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Roanoke, VA
    Posts
    1,495

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    If you are considering swarms you may want to put out swarm traps. My guess is you have until the middle or late April to get them out, in MI. There is a lot of info on trapping swarms, and you have a couple months to get your traps ready.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Midland, MI
    Posts
    12

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Shannon, I had no idea what a swarm trap is. A quick YouTube search showed me, that was pretty cool! I live in a pretty remote area, lots of woods. Could that impact catching a swarm? I don't know if I will put one up this year, as it's my first year handling bees and I don't know anyone close that would be willing to help.

    Thanks to all for the reply. It's nice to know I can kinda do things (for the most part) my way and see how it goes. But, that also kinda frustrates me, as I am the kind of person who likes knowing exactly what to do. In a sense, I guess I have an idea, but it's not concrete yet.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Roanoke, VA
    Posts
    1,495

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    A box with some lemon grass oil is pretty much a swarm trap. No reason not to put out at least one or two in your yard since it would be easy to monitor. As far as the trees go, someone once said if you have trees, you have bees. With one you odds are not great, and it does no good to put ten in your back yard. Think of it like fishing, the more lines, the better your odds.

    Pick up McCartney Taylor's Swarm Traps and Bait Hives booklet. I've seen the things made from Rubbermaid containers, paper boxes, old hive bodies, etc. Tons of videos on YouTube.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Murfreesboro, TN, USA
    Posts
    318

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Speaking of swarm traps, they're easy to build and I caught a swarm in my backyard a couple of years ago two days after I put up my very first trap. Check out this link on our site for a couple of pictures of the trap.

    http://honeysunapiary.wordpress.com/...alling-a-swarm

    I made the trap to hold exactly the same bars as our hive, so when you catch a swarm, you just transfer the bars from the *trap (more accurately called a bait hive) to the hive. One thing to watch if you're building a top bar bait hive, is the shape of the bait hive. It's easier to build it with square sides, and this is fine if you are keeping an eye on it. If you can transfer the bees to your hive within a few days after catching them, the square shape will work. But a swarm of bees are a comb-building machine and you'll be surprised how fast they can fill bars. If you can't monitor the bait hive closely, and the bees could be in there more than 3-4 days, I'd suggest building your bait hive the same shape as your hive. (I'm assuming your hives have sloped sides....if they don't, this won't matter.) The bees in the pictures on the link above were in this trap for three days and you can see how much they built. If they have a chance to fill up the bars out to the 90 side, you'll have to trim the combs to fit in your TBH.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Midland, MI
    Posts
    12

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Maybe I will give that a try and see how it goes. I'm assuming that if I do pick up a swarm then I should have a place to put them in, am I correct? (I will be picking up books tomorrow so hopefully the fully newbie questions goes away.)

    Which leads me into my next question, the placement of the hives. The spot I've picked (west of the property) is prone to wetness in the winter and spring. We have a pond that sometimes floods towards the back and the sides of the property (it doesn't help that the ditch in the back isn't really a ditch anymore). The place I've would like to place the bees would get the early sun, but shade in the afternoon (I've heard this is the way to go) and would have protection against the winter wind. We have a huge mound of dirt leftover from when the pond was dug out, so we can use that to better level it with the part of the yard that doesn't flood.

    Furthermore this is a spot that my boyfriend's young nieces and nephews don't venture to very often. This, is to my mind one of the best spots, but I don't want to place the bees in a moisture prone area and have them suffer. It's good and dry in the summer, but this past year it took a good bit for the water to recede.

    Would this be wise to place it there or should I find another place for them? The other spot I have would put them would be the east part of the property, which doesn't bother me, and would again be out of sight from the little ones, but it would be right in the trees.

    Am I over thinking this? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Roanoke, VA
    Posts
    1,495

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Good point. It isn't a bad idea to make top bar nucs to use as swarm traps as you can use them as nucs. You will likely need a nuc eventually, might as well start out with a couple. This year I'm playing around with a couple different size TBH nucs for bait hives. If I get anything I'll post them.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
    Posts
    46,138

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    >This is my first year I will be beekeeping. I want to do a top-bar hive, as I see it will be cheaper to build.

    If you have scrap lumber available and you lack the skills to make frames (they are very tricky) then you probably would save money building a TBH.
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm

    > Is this a wise decision to do?

    There are management issues if the TBH isn't in your backyard or you don't have time to be in the hive most weekends to check on things.

    > I'm sure many people start with this when starting their own apiary. I have read of the comb (please pardon the lack of correct terminology, I'm working on it) growing on the sides or growing together from one bar to another.

    You need to keep an eye on things, especially at first and get them back on track. One good comb leads to another. One bad comb leads to another.

    > Would a flexible wooden frame in the top-bar help prevent this?

    No. A frame has nothing to do with them getting off track. The comb guide on the top bar does and keeping an eye on things and straightening them does. Having a frame is useful when they get off track as you can rubber band a comb into a frame.

    >I know where I will put them (I plan to build two, maybe 38 in. long, if I remember the dimensions correctly)

    I wouldn't go less than 48". Space is what you have to manage and you can't add boxes easily, so more space is better up to the point where the bees don't like to move that far sideways. That point is about 48".

    > as it will get good sun in the morning but will have shade in the afternoon (I've read this is the best place to but them). I've heard of setting up two hives for comparison. Is there a recommended distance between the two?

    My hives are all touching...

    > Also would it be wise to paint them bright colors?

    Not particularly...

    >I've also read of diseases and parasites, though none of the sites I've found have explained to me really what they are nor how to prevent them.

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beespests.htm

    > I understand moisture can be a contributing factor, but are there other factors I need to be aware of? Maybe that is explained on another forum, I don't know.

    All kinds of issues.
    http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm

    >I also kinda understand the basic idea of a swarm, and have read this is one of the best ways to go, since they are more... "hardy" I guess than buying them. But I'm a little hesitant on going to catch them on my own. Is it really bad to buy your own set of bees the first year? And do you have to buy or catch them every year?

    Get them by whatever means you can. Waiting for a swarm when you really want bees is like going fishing when you really want to eat fish. Maybe you'll catch something, but maybe you won't.

    >I live in Michigan, where the temperature right now is a blistering 6 degrees Ferienheit. What would be the best way to winterize them in a top-bar hive?

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm#winter

    > Again in my research I have not really found a method, most sites say to wrap them and make sure they have food.

    I would insulate the top, perhaps, and make sure they have enough food and that it is in front of them.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  15. #15
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    Roanoke, VA
    Posts
    1,495

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Michael is the man!

    BTW, you may want to keep the total length under 4 foot so you can stay at or under 4 foot for the roof. Otherwise you make a lot of scraps when making several hives.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Midland, MI
    Posts
    12

    Default Re: Top Bar Hive Questions

    Wow, thanks for all the info guys. I really appreciate it. I will be getting books tomorrow so hopefully the newbie questions will dwindle.

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