View Poll Results: Is your top-bar hive your first bee hive?

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  • yes

    53 79.10%
  • no

    14 20.90%
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  1. #1
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    Default Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    I'm just curious for all you top-bar beekeepers, did you learn to keep bees with the traditional Langstroth hive first or did you start out with a top bar hive? If top bar was your first, how would you rate the learning curve?

    This is my first year keeping bees. And I began with a top bar hive for many reasons, which I won't go into here. And I also began late in the season- mid July. It has been a fantastic experience, and I've found it "easy" so far. I'm hoping to encourage other gardeners to get a start in bee keeping, more so for the pollination from the bees, than the honey production per se.

    What has been your "first year experience" with the top bar hive? Have I just been extremely lucky this first season getting to know the bees and their habits without going through the spring and summer build up and having to worry about swarming, etc. Would it be a bad thing to encourage other gardeners, based on my limited experience? I'm sure we will all have different levels of success during some years, but the more people I talk to, the more that are interested in keeping bees.

    When I visited the local bee clubs and said that I was using a top bar hive, their response was not very enthusiastic at all. Most of them were downright discouraging. All of them said that I needed to keep bees the "traditional way" before I tried a top bar hive. Had I not been so bent on doing this type of hive, I probably would not have gotten into beekeeping at all, and that would have been a real shame.

    I'm having so much fun, I even set up a facebook page for my bees. You can follow them here:
    https://www.facebook.com/topbarbeehive

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    I am not sure if my "yes" vote should count. I don't have any bees as of yet. I have ordered my bees for April 2014, and I am in the process of building my two hives. I don't know if they should be considered top bar hives either, since I have designed it to use a half frame to help against comb collapse. The combs are 14.5" deep. The top 6" are in the frame with the bottom 8.5" hanging free off of the bottom bar. The hives should be a little less than 3 feet long and have the volume of 3 lang deeps. I plan on building some nucs and a third hive during the winter as well.
    Zone 6b; Elv.3,600 ft.(1,097m); AA Rain 20.36 in. (51.72 cm)

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Kept bees for 10 years in frame hives, now I have both top bars and frame hives and enjoy them both. I urge all top bar only keepers to try a frame hive, they can be a lot of fun, besides it never hurts to learn something new!

  4. #4

    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    I stated with a TBH because it was cheap to build and allowed the bees to pull natural comb. In my first year I split that colony four way, so up to four TBH's. I was quite pleased but quickly experienced the struggles, like cross comb, and worse, collapsed combs. I'm confident that I figured most of it out readily and am better for it.

    Now, the change came when I decided to start doing cutout jobs. TBH's in their simplistic state are not conducive of this at all. Securing comb to top bars is shady at best and required more work later to remove the hair clip or screen mesh, etc.

    My first Lang was a foundationless deep, courtesy of a removal job. I quickly found the ease of workability attractive. More importantly is the universal aspect. You can't buy TBH equipment off the shelf, and IMHO opinion you shouldn't. In the same first year, I swapped three of my TBH's over to langs, keeping only one as an observation/conversation piece. That one still remains going into my second winter, but it's falling apart and not easy to work with. I intend to convert it as well.

    Long story short, if you have any growth aspirations at all, Langs can't be beat. But if your honest intent is to just have one hive for pollination, and you don't care if you kick off swarms, and you have the time to deal with it, a TBH is great. I don't regret starting with a TBH. I've just found Langs far more fitting for what I do now. Funny, I think if could find one of my first ever posts on here (Fall '11) I was adamant on TBH and arguing/questioning why it wasn't just as good as a Lang.

    I think the strong conventional support pushed by long term beekeepers (usually the ones mentoring beginners) comes from years of tried and true usage. Even though I started with a TBH, I encourage beginners to go Lang so they can have a better chance of success and more industry support getting started. Once established as a beekeeper, the one can branch out into more uncoventional practices.

    I hope this helps. There is always going to be debate on which is better, and it all comes down to user preference. My only warning is what you've already witnessed: a steeper learning curve and less industry support. Being successful starting with a TBH requires real self motivation and a desire to study and learn the solution to any problem you may encounter. Best of luck to all, whatever road you choose!
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  5. #5

    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Should have mentioned, as a tribute to my original goal in beekeeping (natural comb), I run foundationless in my deep brood boxes, then Rite-cell foundation in my honey supers. The foundation gives me strength for faster extracting. The natural comb in the brood nest lets the bees still be bees!
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  6. #6
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    Dec 2010
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    I sort of went the same path as Tom, first TBHs then branched into Langs, but I have kept about a dozen TBHs to make increases from, I just "scab" a Lang size bar over the TBH bar and place in a Lang deep with foundationless frames strung with fifty pound fishing line. I plan to phase out all but five or six of the TBHs. For me the first few years with TBHs were a real learning experience but I am glad I started with TBHs, because I learned a lot in a short amount of time, true, I certainly didn't have industry support to "baby" me through the process therefore I made many mistakes from which I learned a lot.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Quote Originally Posted by stan.vick View Post
    I just "scab" a Lang size bar over the TBH bar and place in a Lang deep with foundationless frames strung with fifty pound fishing line.
    So you hang the top bar from the bottom of the Lang top bar and then trim the comb to fit in the square? I guess I never thought of it like that, but I think my TBH might be too wide anyway. I just cut the combs loose from the TBH top bars, and then cut the bottom square as needed to fit a foundationless Lang frame. But this can be really messy with honeycomb as it squishes under its own weight. If can keep the combs hanging naturally it will save a lot of mess. I tend to transfer only into medium Lang frames and cut off most of the honey, giving it back to the bees either in liquid form, or in a bowl of comb honey scraps. It's seems a shameful waste to make them do the extra work, but it's far less mess than a collapsed comb.

    Good idea, thanks for sharing!
    After 20 months I'm over a 20 hives and growing. See my videos! http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8fVrmUsyYlRuASdX6UQk1g

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Brueggen View Post
    Funny, I think if could find one of my first ever posts on here (Fall '11) I was adamant on TBH and arguing/questioning why it wasn't just as good as a Lang.
    Perhaps this is the thread you are thinking of?
    http://www.beesource.com/forums/show...Commercial-TBH

    When looking for posts by a specific member, Advanced Search works well. Just don't overlook the Threads/Posts option towards the bottom of the search page.

    An alternative to see your posts is to just click on your member name at the top of the page and then just scan through them. How well this option works depends on how many posts you have made.
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  9. #9
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    Apr 2013
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    Raleigh, NC, USA
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    First year at beekeeping and started with a TBH. They've got half a hive full of comb, brood, and pollen. I'm not getting any honey from them this year so I can see how much it takes to get them through the winter. But then I'm not in it to become a honey producer just to enjoy the bees. The TBH is a breeze to manipulate, watch the bees, and learn. The biggest problem I had was knowing how much room to give them in the hive to expand. Too much and they can't take care of the comb and the pests may take over. Too little and they may split and swarm. Never saw any mites this summer but quite a few SHB. Also so saw them throw out a few larvae of some type of worm (probably wax moth) but overall the bees have kept the pests under control this summer. I've learned a lot about bees and had a great time doing it this year. Plans are to add another one next year.
    I could write a book about what I don't know.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Brueggen View Post
    So you hang the top bar from the bottom of the Lang top bar and then trim the comb to fit in the square? I guess I never thought of it like that, but I think my TBH might be too wide anyway. I just cut the combs loose from the TBH top bars, and then cut the bottom square as needed to fit a foundationless Lang frame. But this can be really messy with honeycomb as it squishes under its own weight. If can keep the combs hanging naturally it will save a lot of mess. I tend to transfer only into medium Lang frames and cut off most of the honey, giving it back to the bees either in liquid form, or in a bowl of comb honey scraps. It's seems a shameful waste to make them do the extra work, but it's far less mess than a collapsed comb.

    Good idea, thanks for sharing!
    Tom, my KTBHs are smaller than most, the bare comb measures 12 1/2 inches by 8 inches deep, just happened to be the first set of plans I ran across when I decided to go into bee keeping, I don't have to trim, just put them in. I plan to start offering TBH nucs next spring because all the other TBHs are larger, I will just need to ask for the bar length. When left in the larger box the bees just extend the comb and they hold together just fine.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Yep ! I won't say I started (to late this year and never found bees to buy) so I just keep reading and waiting for spring. I figure in a month or so it'll be time to place an order for 2014 bees. I probably won't ever do Langs, but may do one more TBH, only looking to pollinate wife's garden and take a few jars of honey, that's all just a little personal stash. So for the next 5 months I'll just have to look out the window and watch my TBH weather.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    This is my first year of beekeeping and it has been with one TBH. There have been a lot of mistakes, but it has been relatively easy. That said, I am adding a lang next year that will be foundationless. While some people build TBHs for very little money, mine seems to cost a ton to build. I look forward to buying a standard hive (8 frame, all mediums)and not worry about pulling out the saws again. I think my dad will be thrilled too, b/c he always gets sucked into helping me. I had a comb collapse this past weekend, and it made me look forward to a lang even more.

    I have to say I LOVE the observation window in my TBH, as do my kids and our family and friends. We peek in the hive frequently to check on the bees. If it weren't for the observation window, I'd be tempted to sell the hive all together.

    Now my biggest complaint about the TBH is that if you decide to treat, you can't simply remove the honey supers. TBH beekeepers need to be very careful about what they put in their hive.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    This is my first year as a beekeeper, and I began with two tbh's I built last winter. We have all loved them, and I plan on building two more for myself this winter and maybe a few extra for family or to sell locally. It has been a steep learning curve with some mistakes along the way. I lost one comb to falling off in June, because it became hot very quickly. I placed a second "roof" (just a sheet of old plywood) on them with a breezeway created by some bricks underneath it. I also lost plenty of smaller combs to my own stupidity while working through the hives. Through it all the girls have been very forgiving. They are now fully prepped for winter with lots of honey and at least three full combs apiece of pollen.
    I have considered getting a lang eventually, and when we live in the country someday I most likely will. I went with TBH's for a few reasons. One was the price of start up. Even buying all my wood new last year and installing observation windows, I spent about half what the local bee supply store told me it would cost to get outfitted with one lang. Another reason was my children. I have two young boys, and I wanted to share as much of the adventure with them as I could. The older has his own bee suit, but the younger's main involvement has been watching the bees build through the observation windows. Finally, my wife wants beeswax, lots of beeswax.
    All in all, it has been a blast, and I have no immediate plans to do anything different.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    This is my first year with a hive, and I chose TBH for the reasons listed here on my blog. Personally, I've had a great experience this summer, and I have really enjoyed this type of hive.

    Regarding the learning curve, I think that it's no more or less difficult to pick up the basics than it is to learn the basics of keeping Langs. I have end entrances, so things have been really simple for me -- just keep adding empty bars between brood nest and honey. Easy. The thing that has thrown me for a loop is that the bees don't do everything by the book. And I think this would happen whether I had Langs or TBHs or Warres or whatever. That's why people need mentors. They need someone to help them interpret what's going on in the hive and the best response. Unfortunately, it's true that it's generally difficult to find local mentors or other TBH beekeepers that one can compare notes with.

    As far as recommending TBHs to other people, I think that the best hive design would depend upon the goals and resources of the individual keeping the hives. For my backyard pollination and honey, the TBH is great because I have time and easy access to make weekly checks on the hive (and I enjoy the inspections). If I had a huge apiary, I'd want Langs or Warre hives because I wouldn't need to check on them as frequently.

    My local bee club also is a huge proponent of Langs. I find that most of the board members are owners of big apiaries that use Langs. That's what they know, so that's what they push, along with lots of chemicals, etc. A lot of backyard apiarists also use Langs, I think, because that's what they're told to do. In talking with them at the club, a lot of them don't even realize that TBH's exist. If they have heard of them, they're scared to try them because they don't feel they can get a mentor. And, I guess, that is where I circle back to this lovely community of people on BeeSource and on biobees.com. Community members have been very generous with their advice and experience, so these two places have become my virtual mentors.
    Last edited by fruitveggirl; 10-10-2013 at 06:24 AM.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Oh, one other thing. I can't remember who it is, maybe Phil Chandler, who recommends trying TBHs out before Langs because you learn a lot of skills with a TBH that you don't in a Lang. For example, you learn how to move more carefully and gently in the hive in order to keep the comb intact and to avoid crushing bees. I can believe that because I was watching a documentary about beekeeping on a big operation in Germany or Austria, and the woman inspecting the hives was just blowing through them. She moved like she was flipping burgers or stacking bricks or something. It seemed like everything was just going bang, bang, bang. In contrast to this, I look at someone like OutofaBlueSky on YouTube. He works so gently and quietly by comparison. The two approaches just seem like night and day.

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    My TBH is my second hove by about 30 days. So for the most part you can say I have had both langs and a TBH for an equal amount of time. OT her than slow start that had nothing to do with the type of hive they where in. I have had no issue with the TBH. I simply do not like it as well. Personal preference mainly. This was it's second summer and finally got filled completely full. I harvest comb from one bar and otherwise I have simply left it alone. I will take what honey is left early next season and let them build it back up again. I am not sure I will do a lot to manage it. Simply let it be. if it swarms it swarms if not that is fine also. If it dies out I will sell it. I would sell lit now full of bees but it would be very heavy to move and hard to sell for the price it is worth.
    Stand for what you believe, even if you stand alone.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    My first hive was a Langstroth cutout. My second was a box hive (no frames) from a cutout. My third hive was a wooden version of the Greek basket hive (a top bar hive but not horizontal). I loved them all, but most of my current hives are all eight frame medium Langstroths. I still have a couple of Kenya Top Bar Hives with bees in them, and a few more that I might put some bees in next time I get a swarm. I think everything has potential for learning. An observation hive in your living room is at the top of the list...
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    my first year as a beekeeper and with a HTBH

    i want to get a Warre hive next and try that out.

    i absolutely am addicted and hooked to bees. they're just amazing
    Zone4A
    “We can love completely what we cannot completely understand.” -Maclean

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Quote Originally Posted by fruitveggirl View Post
    I can believe that because I was watching a documentary about beekeeping on a big operation in Germany or Austria, and the woman inspecting the hives was just blowing through them. She moved like she was flipping burgers or stacking bricks or something. It seemed like everything was just going bang, bang, bang. In contrast to this, I look at someone like OutofaBlueSky on YouTube. He works so gently and quietly by comparison. The two approaches just seem like night and day.

    Top bar keepers so frequently contrast examples of Langstroth keeping done badly to highlight the virtues of the Kenyan Top bar hive.

    This is the cornerstone of Phil Chandler's sales pitch.

    It is dishonest.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Is your Top Bar hive your first beehive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Metropropolis View Post
    Top bar keepers so frequently contrast examples of Langstroth keeping done badly to highlight the virtues of the Kenyan Top bar hive.

    This is the cornerstone of Phil Chandler's sales pitch.

    It is dishonest.
    Metropropolis, I think it's unfair for you to say that I've been dishonest. I never said that a particular hive type will make you a better or worse beekeeper. In fact, I never said the woman inspecting Langs was doing it badly. Actually, I would say she was quite competent and efficient. She had dozens of hives to go through, and she was doing it as quickly as possible. This speed was possible because of the Lang's design; it was designed for efficiency. She seemed mechanical to me, but I never said that any harm was being done to the bees. Neither did I say that simply because one has Langs one has to move with the same speed that that woman did. I'm sure you can be just as slow and gentle as you want with a Lang, only these qualities are not absolutely critical in the same way they are to TBHs.

    BTW, neither did I say that TBH's will turn you into some kind of uber beekeeper. I've seen videos of TBH inspections that were beekeeping travesties where the hive was being destroyed and mad bees were all over the place. However, the people doing the inspecting were not slow, gentle or careful. It was a mess because these things don't fly in TBH. The TBH requires a great deal of gentleness and care with handling. In one particular video, I could tell that they were used to Langs because they were spacing the bars and pulling them out without cutting any cross comb or attachments. They were flipping bars horizontally. That doesn't necessarily mean they were bad beekeepers either, only bad TBH keepers.

    Therefore, I did not mean to imply that one will be a better or worse keeper depending on the type of hive one owns. What I said, is that TBHs will teach a person to move slowly and gently in the hive. If one doesn't learn to do this, the hive (and likely the person inspecting) is screwed because you will have comb breaking, honey spilling, and pissed off bees.

    Maybe not everyone has the time or desire to work slowly, and that's ok. Some people prefer the stability of frames or the efficiency of the Langs, which are excellent design qualities. If I were a professional beekeeper, I'd want those qualities in my hives, too. However, if you're looking for a total zen experience, then I recommend a TBH because the very nature of its design will force you to slow down.
    Last edited by fruitveggirl; 10-17-2013 at 05:59 AM.

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