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Thread: Best hives

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
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    Exeter, WI
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    Default Best hives

    I apologize; this question has probably been asked and answered a few times before, but I couldn't seem to find it.

    Anyway, I am looking to give top bar hives a try and am wondering the easiest way to get started. I have a couple packages coming in a few weeks and need hives. So, I'm looking for advice on the best place to buy a top bar hive, or plans to quickly/easily build one. Unfortunately, I am pretty busy with work at the moment, so I don't have as much time to dedicate to building one as I would like.

    Longer story:
    I am in WI and have been keeping bees for a few years now. I went into winter with 15 langstroth hives this year and it looks like I will be coming out with ~11-12. I had ordered two packages just in case. I was expecting high losses this winter, since I didn't combine or treat in the fall and this year was looking like quite a doozy. But, with 12 hives alive at this point (I know I know, winter isn't over yet), I'm hoping (knock on wood) the packages will be unneccessary. Which, makes it the perfect time to give top bars a try. So, I am looking for top bar designs that are suited to WI winters.

    I am relatively handy and can measure, cut and build things, but I am unfortunately busy with work at the moment. So, I could build something simpe, but I also wouldn't be opposed to buying a hive or two if they are not outrageously expensive and i could pay for them by selling nucs. Where is a good place to buy one? or Where can I find plans for an appropriate hive for WI?

    Any other tips on hive design for someone just starting? I'll be sure to read the forum for more top bar keeping tips.

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2011
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    Rader, Greene County, Tennessee, USA
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    5,984

    Default Re: Best hives

    Michael Bush's TBH page has a very simple TBH design ....

    http://www.bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm
    ... see photos there too ...
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Midland, MI
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    577

    Default Re: Best hives

    I'm a new guy to beekeeping with only a year of experience. I did abou a years worth of researching before deciding whether to go with Langs or some form of TBH. I decided to use langes becasue of their vertical orientation. in prolonged cold temps, bees are able to mvoe vertically as the cluster heat rises , and they have no physical barrier to vertical movement. in a TBH, they would have to move horizontally to chase food, and there is no easy path to do so when clustered. Just something to think about. I'm not sure how big a deal this is, but it seemed liek a potential problem, so i opted for langs simply to avoid that if it were a problem. Another reason to avoid TBHs is a lack of gear. it's harder to do things like exclude a queen, get honey without damaging comb, heck, even feeding tehm is more difficult.

    With that said, many people have them, enjoy them, and do well with them. Any one design will likely work just as well as another. The bees really don't care. So pick the simple design to make and make it.

    Or, you could make a horizontal hive, or "long Lang." I made one over the winter and will be testing it out in my first round of splits this year. if you've never heard of one, it is esentiall and very long langstroth hive. so it functions like a TBH, but has full frames instead of the top bar. Just something to consider before choose your route.

  4. #4
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    Aug 2011
    Location
    Exeter, WI
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    127

    Default Re: Best hives

    Thanks for the quick responses. I'm looking forward to more opinions.

    I have looked at Mr. Bush's page and thought that looked like a pretty simple design that I could make pretty quickly, especially if I don't bother to paint it. I guess I could ask if it works well, but when it comes from Mr. Bush, I already know the answer.

    I do have experience with Langs and understand the arguments for them. I plan to continue using Langs and have had fairly good success overwintering (lost a total of 4 hives in 3 years with a total of 30 overwintered hives). But, I want to give top bars a try as something new and interesting. I was also interested in making a long lang (and an observation hive), but it is more important to get the measurements right. I can work on those anytime, though, as I can just populate with a split from my regular langs.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Hephzibah, GA
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    125

    Default Re: Best hives

    How much are you willing to spend on a hTBH? There are some out there with good reviews: Bee Thinking, Gold Star Hives. If you want to build one, you can download Phil Chandler's plans at Biobees. It's a free PDF.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    Belews Creek, NC, USA
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    328

    Default Re: Best hives

    I have Langs hives. My son wanted a top bar hive, so I had a friend make a Kenyan style with the angled sides. I bought a package and installed it, only to have the queen disappear after they had drawn about 3 bars of comb. The population dwindled until it died out. I could have bought a new queen, but we kept waiting for them to create their own, but never did (crappy package). That's when I decided to trade it in for a Long hive with vertical sides. Now I can start this hive with Langs frames from my hives. When it gets weak I can add a frame or two of brood from my Langs. If they are low on stores I can add a frame of honey/pollen. After the crisis is over I can pull the Langs frames and revert back to a true Top Bar. Having said this, I'm sure there are people that are going to slam me over this, but makes perfect sense to me.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Clinton, Iowa
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    610

    Default Re: Best hives

    My brother and I are just finishing up building two TBHs. We are using a slight modification of Crowder's design with influence from Michael Bush's. Basically flat, square ends instead of cutting the angles and inserting it into the hive. I am confidant in saying that you could easily build a hive body in a matter of two hours, probably less if you have everything lined up and organized. Legs aren't complicated but you could just as easily set it on some existing stand/cinder blocks.

    I have not made our top bars yet, but I have a plan and access to a table saw. So I am pretty sure that making the actual top bars will be the most time consuming part of the actual build. Of course that's mostly because I am going to cut a triangle into the bars instead of gluing in tongue depressors. If you want to go the gluing in route you can probably wipe out bars quickly too. Buying all new wood we are into it for about $90 for two hives. Not including bees of course.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Hephzibah, GA
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    125

    Default Re: Best hives

    Belewsboy, there are many ways to keep bees. I don't see anything wrong with it. I have Kenyan style hives. I experimented with two angles for the side walls: 10 and 20 degrees, and found that the bees make some attachments at 10 and none at 20. I can literally shove all the top bars in the latter hive over as a unit without having to go in and cut attachments. Can't do that with the former. I imagine there will be some attachments in a Tanzanian hive (long hive with vertical sides), but they can easily be cut.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Mar 2013
    Location
    Seattle WA
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    24

    Default Re: Best hives

    I have 6 TBHs and the design I used can be found at http://mistressbeek.com/2009/05/03/d...-top-bar-hive/. Simple to make and have had good luck with them. I am clearing out the Langs for several reasons. I find the TBH much easier to work with. No lifting, no storage of boxes and frames, much much cheaper. The bees do not get as aggressive when I open it up because the entire roof has been removed, only a small section. I enjoy making the hives. I can store the tools in the box beyond the slider. As for the comment above by KPeacock about them having to move horizontally to chase food, it is the same in a lang only on a smaller horizontal of 8 or 10 frames instead of 30. I did lose one Lang hive this year because they couldn't move up to the next box, for whatever reason. The only interesting problem I have come across is finding a way to feed pollen patties. I never found a way to get them to eat it in a TBH

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
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    Exeter, WI
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    Default Re: Best hives

    Thanks for all the advice. It does look like building the hive could actually be pretty easy. It is the bars that is going to be more difficult, or at least time-consuming. Maybe I should build the hive and buy the bars. I'll have to check out the lumber store and see if there is some moulding that will make it easy.

    I really like the simplicity of Bush's design. Being able to build everything without any angled cuts or exact measurements means I could definitely knock it out in an evening. I do really like the idea of using top bars that would fit in my langs, though. I could even put a one in between frames and have the lang bees start some come and maybe even brood to get things started straight. Is there a way to adapt Bush's technique to use standard measurements of wood and end up with lang bars? What are lang bars 19.5"? If you used a 1x10 instead of a 1x6 as the floor you'd have 19" instead of 15, but that's a bit short. What if you nailed them to the outside of the floor instead of the top, would that do it? Or Crowder's design ends up with 20" bars. What if you nailed that to the top instead of the outside of the floor? Or, could I just cheat the angle on one of these enough to make lang bars fit?

    I was wondering about feeding in TBHs. I usually put dry sugar (mountaincamp method) on my langs. Doesn't seem like TBHs have a similar way of providing emergency feed.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Vancouver, BC, Canada
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    1,270

    Default Re: Best hives

    There was a set of plans that looked great..I think it was on the Alberta bee keepers site
    Janne....first hives April 2013, 19 hives, treat, plant zone 8b, at sea level, latitude 49.13, longitude 123.06

  12. #12
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    Apr 2013
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    Hephzibah, GA
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    Default Re: Best hives

    Be aware that with no frames and longer bars, the bees are inclined to curve the combs at the ends and crosscomb. I have one hive with twenty inch bars and I have to really stay on top of that in the spring. I feed my bees from below. It's very easy and doesn't require opening the hive. I call it my easy feeder/pest control system. There's a thread with pictures if you want to take a look. I just realized that in my earlier post I wrote 10 and 20 degrees concerning the slope of the walls when I meant 110 and 120 degrees (not that it matters if you plan straight sides)

  13. #13
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    Aug 2011
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    Exeter, WI
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    Default Re: Best hives

    Thanks, maybe the longer bars are actually not worth it if it causes crosscombing. I was planning to have sloped sides anyway, which means standard frames still wouldn't fit.

  14. #14
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    Apr 2013
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    Hephzibah, GA
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    Default Re: Best hives

    If you start with drawn Langstroth frames and then insert empty top bars in between the frames as the bees need to expand, you will get straight free comb. I have some old crosscombed comb that I've gradually been cutting out as it is is moved to the back and used for honey storage, but most of the comb on my 20" bars are straight now.

  15. #15
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    Exeter, WI
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    127

    Default Re: Best hives

    Ok, so it sounds like it is manageable. It just takes a bit more attention when getting started, correct?

  16. #16
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    Apr 2013
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    Hephzibah, GA
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    Default Re: Best hives

    Quote Originally Posted by T0ADMAN View Post
    Ok, so it sounds like it is manageable. It just takes a bit more attention when getting started, correct?
    Right. Just make sure to use a divider to keep the hive small to start with. Don't give them the whole hive. Try not to put two empty bars side by side.

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