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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Rogue River, OR
    Posts
    37

    Default Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    This is our first (and right now, only) hive. We had a short-lived attempt when we lived in Maine; sad story, bees came early, weather not friendly, newbie mistakes, dead bees. Two years later, we're in Southern Oregon and trying again. Got a large swarm and installed it mid April. It's about 4-5 weeks in.

    Bees seem to be doing great. They are foraging like mad and are bringing in a lot of pollen. Even some red pollen now.

    We did a fairly "full" inspection after two weeks of leaving them alone after the last one. Out of 24 bars, about 17 have comb in varying degrees of done-ness on them. Of those, 15 have capped brood (worker and drone) and larvae. We did have some burr comb and had a bit of a comb misadventure with a couple chunks falling off as we tried to remove bars. I was holding one bar for the husband of fairly "done" comb, mostly drone brood, and suddenly --PLONK. Most of the comb falls straight down to the ground. Didn't shake it, turn it flatwise or anything, just holding it as it had come out of the hive waiting for him to take care of some burr comb.

    Yikes.

    We did find a hairclip and used that and a zip tie to affix a piece of comb back to the bar, but since we could only repair one, we went for the mostly worker brood instead of the "drone comb". (Sorry boys.)

    I have to say, the girls are EXTREMELY forgiving of us. With lots of brood now, I expected they might not be so nice AND what with the comb mishaps, I expected offended bees. Other than a general WTF! buzz from the bees landing on the ground, they more or less ignored us. No stings, no clinging bees. We put things as right as we could, gave them some more bars to work with and closed up.

    We were wondering why so many drone comb throughout the hive, but from what I've read so far, it seems to be a "normal/happy bees" thing? We have yet to find the queen, but someone is cranking out brood like mad. We did fuss a little that she might have fallen with that comb, but we don't think so.

    We try not to bother them too much other than peeks in the window. It's pretty cool keeping them so far, though I'm not sure if they'll make honey-only comb anytime soon. Maybe June. Not sure if there's a flow after the blackberries around here.

    I'm hoping we can get one more hive going this month, while there are swarms out there to be put in them and while the flow is on. Husband is not 100% comfortable building our own hive though I think we can do it for about $70 of materials. The cheapest TBH I've seen around here is $185.00.

    Anyway, that's our adventure so far. These forums have been great for information!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
    Location
    Rader, Greene County, Tennessee, USA
    Posts
    6,708

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    > Husband is not 100% comfortable building our own hive though I think we can do it for about $70 of materials.

    If you haven't seen Michael Bush's page on TBHs, here is a link:
    http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm

    I'd recommend making your home-built hive such that the top bars are interchangeable to your existing hive, but other than that, its hard to beat Michael's design for minimal material cost and effort.
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    St. Louis, Missouri, USA
    Posts
    627

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    Sounds like they are doing really well! Last year the bees I had didn't really make any drone comb but this year the new bees have made a bunch. I am taking it as a sign of health and strength.

    It sounds like you have some comb drawing machines! I hived mine on April 6th using several (8 to 10?) bars of mostly drawn brood comb I had from last year. I was feeling really good about them having made it to 18 bars (5 of those partially drawn) but yours seem to be shaming mine!

    I am trying to catch a swarm too but only have two traps out and so far no luck. I should be able to split for a second hive so it is okay, just ruins my chances of getting any honey to harvest.

    If your worry for making another hive is making the bars, the Warre Store sells bars for TBH that work with hives based on Phil Chandler's (biobees) hive size. Those may work for you depending on what size/style your current hive is.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Rogue River, OR
    Posts
    37

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Colleen O. View Post
    It sounds like you have some comb drawing machines! I hived mine on April 6th using several (8 to 10?) bars of mostly drawn brood comb I had from last year. I was feeling really good about them having made it to 18 bars (5 of those partially drawn) but yours seem to be shaming mine!
    We started with one donated comb, all the others have been all the girls on their own.Most of the comb is almost fully drawn, a couple were just starters and of course we lost at least a comb in our accident today. But they were only two bars from one end and up against the following board and starting to make comb there. We were worried for a while that we didn't have a queen, and she took a few days to start laying, but since has been going great guns. They seem all about brood right now. I think I mentioned, no "just honey" combs yet.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    St. Louis, Missouri, USA
    Posts
    627

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    Mine are all brood right now too, except the last one which has all nectar in it (nothing capped). I think we have a flow starting so I took out the feeder jar and am hoping they will start making some honey bars next. The honeysuckle is in full bloom but I haven't seen them working it (they could be while I am at work though). I wondered about that then spied the Black Locust blooming so they are probably working that instead.

    Were yours good on pollen? I only saw maybe a quarter of a bar of pollen which doesn't seem like much with all the brood they have. We had rains and then cold snaps right when the trees were putting out pollen so a lot of it got washed away. They are bringing some in though, so I guess it is all right. Since I lost last year's hives I am a bit leery of making mistakes and losing them again. The one froze because they starved and that was my fault and completely preventable if I had done some things sooner. I learned but they paid the price.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Rogue River, OR
    Posts
    37

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    I'm not sure how much pollen is "good on pollen" but they have been bringing in a lot pretty much since we put them in the hive and they got done orienting. The fruit trees are done already, the madrone looks to have just finished and I'm not sure what they're getting now, but we see a lot of pollen baskets on the legs and scattered cells in the comb. All comb with brood seemed to have some honey, some pollen. Yellow-orange and red pollen.

    It's been more summer like than spring this past month so they have had a lot of foraging time. Very little (too little, really) rain for spring. A couple days were hot enough some of them bearded up on the outside. We opened the bottom board (it's hinged, with a screened in bottom) to help vent. They have a bit of shade, but summer weather here can easily get to 90-100F for stretches at a time. Last year, we didn't get rain for three months and it was frikkin' hot all the time.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    St. Louis, Missouri, USA
    Posts
    627

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    It sounds like your weather is similar to ours in a normal year but this spring has been cold and rainy. Last year my queen shut down laying due to the heat and drought. We had a record heatwave in July but the bees didn't beard that much. Sometimes a few would hang out the entrance but not that many.

    My bees last year kept their brood comb like you describe, a band of nectar/honey at the top and then a line of pollen then the rest brood. This year the bees have a thin band of nectar/honey and then all brood. Very little pollen on the individual bars but a bar at the hive entrance that had maybe 1/4 of the bar filled with bee bread. I guess it makes me feel like they don't have enough because they are storing it different, but I do see it going in so they are probably fine.

    What is your hive design like? Mine are like the biobees design except I changed the entrance location. The first was purchased the second I made.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Rogue River, OR
    Posts
    37

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    Quote Originally Posted by Colleen O. View Post
    What is your hive design like? Mine are like the biobees design except I changed the entrance location. The first was purchased the second I made.
    It's a fairly typical KTBH design, I think. It has legs and a sloped roof that we put white shingles on. It has 24 bars and two follower boards, all of same width. Right now, just one board is in there. There's a plexi observation window on one side with a cover that comes off and on by undoing wingnuts, and three holes on the bottom middle of the other side. There's hardware cloth on the bottom and a hinged board to swing open or shut. It's made of untreated pine. Other than the following boards warping a bit, it seems to have held up having spent most of 2 yrs sitting in weather.

    I hope we can make another soon and get another give going. I'd like to have 2 this year. I'm not expecting any honey though.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    St. Louis, Missouri, USA
    Posts
    627

    Default Re: Adventure in Top Bar Beekeeping

    Are you going to stick to the same size or make a longer one next time? 24 doesn't seem like much room for honey when already 15 are all brood. Mine is just under four feet long and they have just one bar of all honey right now at the 18th bar. Even with 34 bars there doesn't seem to be much room for all the extra honey they need for winter and then some for me to take. Have you checked out the biobees site? He has hive plans you can download for free. Michael Bush's seem to be simpler but I like the biobees one except for the entrance location and the size seems as close to a standard in TBH as you get.

    My pollen situation made a dramatic turn around in a week. They have a few bars that are almost completely filled with pollen. (No worries on that except in the nuc.) They also started bearding like crazy. The bees last year didn't really do that but they never were this strong a hive. I took five bars and a few shakes of bees out for a split and you can barely tell there was a population drop. Now I need to get my other hive finished right away! It sounds like your hive is just about ready to split too.

    I am not expecting any honey this year either. This year is about getting two hives and a couple nucs strong enough to overwinter. I really only want two hives but this past winter showed me it may take more than that to end up with two winners in the spring.

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