Newbee, thinking about TBH
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  1. #1
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    Default Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Greetings from Ann. I'm thinking about putting bees on our small sheep farm and am seriously thinking top bar hive. I know I'm going to get lots of opinions here but that's what I need at this point. What should I be looking for in a TBH? I'd like a window but have heard different things as far as screen bottom, flat top, dome top, etc. What about wood type? cedar, pine, poplar, cypress? Heading into winter here in Northeast Pa. so I have a few months to make a decision and appreciate your input.
    Last edited by bootlegger; 10-17-2015 at 02:36 PM.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    If you go for a screen bottom also have some means to close it when needed, such as cold winter storms the bees will do better less exposed. Most of your other questions are more about the beekeeper than the bees, wood type for example, whatever you have and know will be serviceable and will last well.

    My one bit of advice would be that some of the top bar designs are too small in my opinion and promote excessive swarming, poor honey crops, and insufficient room to store enough feed for winter. If following one of the plans out there, go with one of the bigger ones. It can also be handy at some future point if you make your top bars the right length so they can fit in a langstroth box. That way you could if you wish start your hive from a langstroth nuc, and have other possibilities open that you may appreciate in future times.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Welcome to Beesource!


    >> What should I be looking for in a TBH?


    My suggestion is keep it simple, and inexpensive. Here is very close to what I made, and they work just fine ...

    http://bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm

    No screened bottom needed, the cover is simple, the top entrance provides appropriate ventilation as well. Do pay attention to the comb guide options.
    Graham
    USDA Zone 7A Elevation 1400 ft

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    What are your purposes and possible goals for keeping bees?
    David Matlock

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    I think you would consider us hobby bee enthusiast. Happy to have them around our blueberry bushes & apple orchard. 200 acres of forest around our farm. Making a killing on honey isn't expected, just find bee fascinating.

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Quote Originally Posted by bootlegger View Post
    I think you would consider us hobby bee enthusiast.
    As are the majority so join the club.


    Quote Originally Posted by bootlegger View Post
    Making a killing on honey isn't expected,
    But it's always nice. The aim should be to research and run the hive properly and profitably. A whole lot more fun than going in with low expectations, therefore achieving that, and the hive becomes a money sink rather than a provider for you.

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Welcome to BeeSource! There are several good books on top bar hives out there: Dr Wyatt Mangum has an excellent book with plans, at tbhsbywam.com. Christy Hemenway, "The Thinking BeeKeeper, A Guide to Natural BeeKeeping in Top Bar Hives" at www.goldstarhoneybees.com (she has a second book due out soon). Les Crowder & Heather Harrell, "Top Bar Beekeeping, Organic Practices for Honeybee Health", at www.chelseagreen.com.
    I have all Langs but may do a top bar hive down the road. Good luck!
    "Sometimes the best action, with bees, is no action at all."

  9. #8
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Quote Originally Posted by bootlegger View Post
    Greetings from Ann. I'm thinking about putting bees on our small sheep farm and am seriously thinking top bar hive. I know I'm going to get lots of opinions here but that's what I need at this point. What should I be looking for in a TBH? I'd like a window but have heard different things as far as screen bottom, flat top, dome top, etc. What about wood type? cedar, pine, poplar, cypress? Heading into winter here in Northeast Pa. so I have a few months to make a decision and appreciate your input.
    Les Crowder, Wyatt Mangum and Phil Chandler are great resources. We run around 40 based on Chandler's plans and I've worked hives with Les Crowder a few times. A window is nice as it allows a quick peek-inspection and lets visitors take a quick look without suiting up. The wood type doesn't matter. They need to be about 4 foot long (30 bars) to manage a full strength colony. We ran screen bottoms for a while but are switching everything over to solid (there's a few small ventilation holes at the end opposite the entrance). Screen bottoms were noted for having a high incidence of package absconds and slower growth in the Spring. As far as tops, go with something light, I hate wrestling a heavy top around when one of the big pros of a TBH is not needing to do heavy lifting.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    "I'm thinking about putting bees on our small sheep farm and am seriously thinking top bar hive."

    Welcome. Sheep, blueberries, apple trees, rural Pennsylvania; all in all, almost too cool. A top bar hive might put the needle in the red zone. But, seriously ... I have a top bar hive and a long box and do not use them. Being able to pull the cover off a Langstroth and look down in the hive, seeing the bees, pull a box and look down in the next box, assessing the comb as you go, pulling only the frames you need to, lets me gain a lot of information quickly and, frankly, feel more involved with the bees with less disturbance to them. (That sentence was 63 words long. I thought I would save you the trouble.) Pulling the top off of a top bar, I just see the top of a bunch of bars. There is just something about watching the bees coming in and out on the landing board of a Langstroth. To me, a Langstroth is an elegant solution to coexisting with an animal in a natural and mutually beneficial manner.

    "What should I be looking for in a TBH? I'd like a window but have heard different things as far as screen bottom, flat top, dome top, etc."

    No screen. Definitely a window. Pitch the cover enough for the rain to run off.

    "What about wood type? cedar, pine, poplar, cypress?"

    I use cedar. I don't treat and have not had any losses to varroa so I'm hesitant to change much, including the type of wood. But that is just me; others have not had that experience, and there is no study to back it up. (Really 62 words, by the way.)
    David Matlock

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Lots of good info, I have a few items to add.

    I have windows in all three of my hives, they're great. Check the prices for glass before you build, my local hardware store just raised their prices for anything over 39". The price of a 4"x40" piece of plate is now $30. I think if I do it again I may go with two smaller windows with the gap in the center. My hives have side entrances so the brood is on the left side and the feeder is on the right. Now that the hives are filling up and the follower is gone I usually open the window to look at the brood and check the feeder so a gap in the center wouldn't be bad.

    The materials you mentioned are all good. I chose pine, screwed/glued joints and filled screw holes before priming and painting. The inside of the hive will be raw and humid so allow for expansion of top bars.

    A pitched roof will give you some storage space above the bars and hinging it is easier on the back. A funny thing happens when you open the hinged lid - the hive falls over backwards. Your legs or stand need to be wide enough to accommodate this and be strong enough to handle the hive full of honey.

    If you build your hive keep in mind that beetles and moths love crevices to hide in. Glue in joints will help fill a lot of cracks. I used Durhams Water Putty to seal around the window (which is let in on the inside) so the surface of the interior and the glass is flush. There may be some feedback out there about the water putty on the inside of the hive but it works for me.

    Last note - I started with screened bottoms and decide to close them in. The easiest way for me was to screw a bottom board to the hive. I added a piece of 3/4" material to the bottom board to allow a layer of Diatomaceous Earth below the screen. When I change the DE and see all the dead mites, ants, beetles and moths in it I'm glad I did.

    I hope that helps and saves you some of the learning curve.

  12. #11
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    I took a nice piece of used 1/4" glass to a local glass place, 4 cuts, $9 and five minutes later I had 3 7.75" x 44" pieces for my 4' hives. There is always tons of free used glass around if you look on craigslist and just keep your eyes peeled. Called around and found the glass place that said come on in and gave me a good price per cut. It makes the hive just that much heavier but I like the 1/4" thick, not so fragile.

    No reason you can't put windows in lang boxes, eh?

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Most of your other questions are more about the beekeeper than the bees
    It would be a good plan to learn and understand the ecology/biology of the bee and its pest first. Work within that reality.
    I also agree with size making a difference. Combs that are equal to the comb within a deep frame is a good volume in my opinion.

  14. #13
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    bobsim, with the bottom board how do you change the DE and how often do you need to change it?

  15. #14
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Quote Originally Posted by bootlegger View Post
    bobsim, with the bottom board how do you change the DE and how often do you need to change it?
    I change the DE on my bottom boards once it starts to clump up. The brands of diatomaceous earth that I can buy have a large amount of clay in them and they absorb moisture. Once they do, they are no longer "dusty" enough to powder up the bugs. So in the summer it's weekly. You still need to pull it out and check between the screen and bottom board to be sure the wax moths are not webbing up between the two. About once a month I pull out the board completely and run an evergreen branch like I would a dust wand to get rid of the build up of pests.

    If you don't want to build the TBH from scratch, I really like the kit from Beeline Apiaries and woodenware. About $165 for the kit, although I do put in a window for all of mine. Lots more pictures and information on my bees FB page, link listed below.

  16. #15
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    Quote Originally Posted by Riverderwent View Post
    ...Pulling the top off of a top bar, I just see the top of a bunch of bars...
    You know, you can lift them out of there... Try it, you'll like it!
    Starting 4th year, 8TBHs, 5 Langs. Cub Creek Bees

  17. #16
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    "You know, you can lift them out of there... Try it, you'll like it!"

    Oh.
    David Matlock

  18. #17
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    A little late to this thread, but I've been making my lids from a frame made from 1x2s (or something close to that if I have scrap) and then I cover it with old political signs, and I put in some 1/2 insulation with contact cement to stiffen the whole bit up. Makes it very light, and pretty tough. They don't take paint very easy, but if you prime them with plastic primer it holds OK. Or choose a politicians sign that you don't mind seeing all the time.

  19. #18
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    I'm in the process of building a TBH. I decided to build one based on the Michael Bush TBH mentioned earlier http://bushfarms.com/beestopbarhives.htm
    but will be going with a pitched roof (my carpentry skills got the best of me). I used pine with a top entrance. Solid bottom, no window. This will go into production next year.

    Straight side boards are a must here. Any bow out will mean that your frames have less of rest. Make sure any bow is pointed inward.

    Hope to finish building this week. A solid base with a 15 degree angle out is a must for a hinged roof structure. I will be anchoring my hive to the base as well.

  20. #19
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    I use corrugated PVC roofing panels for my roofs and held down with rope on each end. Not pretty but totally waterproof, very light and cheap. No painting needed. My first top bar hive had a roof with hinges and it drove me nuts. It was heavy and was always in the way. Really pretty but I got rid of it after about a month.

  21. #20
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    Default Re: Newbee, thinking about TBH

    If you are interested in building your own you might also check into Google SketchUp. It is a free program that is invaluable for building all kinds of things. Within Sketchup there is the 3D Warehouse which is where you can search for and download plans. I use the Top Bar Hive by Mel B. for the hives I have build (4 so far) and will continue to use them for the 4 additional I am building this winter. I like these plans largely for the construction detail and the ease of building. I have had one hive in place since early 2015 and it has been very successful so I'm confident in the design. These plans do not include a window. I left it out since I read other posts that indicated the bees like to attach comb to the glass or plexiglass. I don't have a lot of visitors to my hive and when I do have one, I have them wear a suit and go with me for an inspection. I did not use a screened bottom either. I may just be lucky so far but I have not had beetles or mites. This might be due largely to the hot and dry climate here in Central Texas, and also due to the breeding efforts of the apiary I purchase packages from.

    Like others, I encourage you to take the plunge. My wife and I have enjoyed this immensely so far and are increasing the number of our hives to 7 next spring as a result.

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