Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth
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  1. #1
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    Default Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Hey everyone, I'm curious if anyone else does this (using top bars that don't touch and a cover cloth) because I'm genuinely interested in working my top bar hives (well, also my extra-deep horizontal hives) this way.

    The idea is to use a cover cloth like in a Warre hive, or in the German Einraumbeute. It was explained to me that by using a cover cloth, you can still get the "hive is closed/less invasive" inspections by rolling it back from one end or the other, or even the side. But you also would be able to have the speed of inspection you would get with an inner cover on a traditional Langstroth hive and access to the broodnest without moving all the honey frames/bars out of the way first.

    I'm also inspired by Sam Comfort's use of bamboo barbecue skewers as top bars in his Warre hives, and really think it would make frame design for my Layens hives significantly simpler (no fancy cuts or different width pieces) and I could apply the same ideas to my top bar hives to make them even simpler as well. No need to have them self-spacing, just move them further apart if they're in the honey part of the hive, closer in the brood nest, etc. I had been planning to use Dr Leo's Easy-to-build Lazutin plans with Layens frame sizing, but I think it could be made even simpler as well.


    So, does anyone currently do this in their top bar hives or other types of horizontal hives?
    Do you use different frame/top bar measurements?

    Curious if anyone else is doing this, and how it has worked out for you.

    thanks!
    -nick

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    From a conversation on the FB group Horizontal Hives with Extra Deep Frames about top bars touching vs not touching:

    On the KTBH the top bars touched, but on all the other hive types that I have, and had, the top bars don't or didn't touch. All of my hives have a cloth over the top bars, which is far better than the touching top bars. You can actually check the bees with much less disturbance with the cloth cover. For me it is often enough to just roll back half an inch from the corner of the hive to see it's strength and progress, as well to see the situation with the nectar intake. Also it is much easier (and with less disturbance) to see the real strength of the colony by quickly rolling back the cloth than separating all those top bars that touch. Emergency feeding with sugar patties, varroa treatment (if needed), dealing with moisture in the hives, transportation (if necessary), all is much easier with the cloth covered top bars that don't touch. IMHO, the top bars that touch have zero advantage over the cloth covered standard top bars and have many disadvantages, so they should remain only in the old books as historical artifacts.
    and:
    ... If you search Youtube for "mellifera einraumbeute" you'll see how that works with the hive very similar to Layens (the frames are rotated Dadant ones) that they use in Germany. I use a painter's drop cloth (100% cotton) that can be bought in any reno-store. Ventilation...no need to cut any holes, just roll back the cloth a tiny little bit and...voila!
    ...
    An inch of styrofoam over the cloth will do the job better, and if you have problem with moisture, just place some moisture-adsorbing material over the cloth. We use empty supers filled with dry leaves over the cloth on all the hives in winter and it provides both the insulation and moisture absorbance, plus the information on moisture buildup in the leaves helps us to select the colonies that have the lowest food consumption rates in order to improve the winter hardiness traits of our bees.

  4. #3
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Quote Originally Posted by nickhefferan View Post
    Hey everyone, I'm curious if anyone else does this .............
    So, does anyone currently do this in their top bar hives or other types of horizontal hives?
    Do you use different frame/top bar measurements?

    Curious if anyone else is doing this, and how it has worked out for you.

    thanks!
    -nick
    I started in 2016 with the touching 1.5 inch TBs (well, thanks to following Leo Sharashkin's designs - both bad and good at that; but needed to start somewhere).
    Since then I modified almost all TBs to 1.25 inch width (why? - search the BS; enough has been said; I am not going to repeat my rants).
    I have 12 colonies with this design just as we speak.

    Going forward, I will be gradually moving away from the touching TBs.
    This will be done by making all new frames with only ~1 inch wide TBs (the side bars will be 1.25 to maintain the spacing).
    I will not be redoing my old frames; will just keep them as-is (touching) in the stationary horizontal hives.

    The main reasons for doing the "non-touching" TBs for me:
    1) I concluded I want to have a part of my equipment expandable upwards (hence want the designed-in passages) - this is the main reason. I have a custom frame design I want to try out along with this change.
    2) By luck, I scored a huge pile of free burlap (coffee bags) last winter and so now have this unlimited free burlap supply available to me to use as cover cloths (so this is just asking to be used in my bee projects).
    3) There are other marginal reasons - ease of dry sugar feeding, etc
    4) Also found it is hard to maintain them truly touching at all times (I know, I know - TBs must be pushed together hard and all that blah.... In practice with the deep horizontals the ideal is not always possible).
    The propolise build-up pushes the TBs apart and creates bee-passable holes. This build-up is hard to control and takes time - lack of time is a problem for me.
    So I end up covering my frames with burlap cloth anyway just to keep the bees down when I mean it.

    PS: seriously, think twice before following strictly the Layens frame sizing - again, this will only create unnecessary headaches in the long run;
    this is one gripe I have against Leo Sharashkin - his inflexibility (or maybe he seriously does not see the artificial problems he is creating - that custom frame size I mean)
    he is too much into following some dogmatic constraints no matter how impractical at the present time and place (while lots of good general ideas - but some details are just counter-productive)
    Last edited by GregV; 12-14-2018 at 09:40 AM.
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  5. #4
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    C.P. Dadant used oilcloth as an inner cover. The bees didn't propolize it as much.

    I have frames and bars in most of my 5 top bars, and it is a slower inspection and harder to see the cluster size in winter. I have some frames that have "prosthetic bars" on them - they are converted to bars.

    I prefer manipulating the bars over the frames, myself....

  6. #5
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    If you're going to space top bars apart, then you really need to have hive walls with rebates (rabbets in the US). Creating these shouldn't present a problem, but does detract somewhat from the simplicity of the classic Top Bar Long Hive.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  7. #6
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Non-touching top bars with oil cloth covering which can also be stacked vertically... it just sounds like an evolution towards Warre to me. (Not that there's anything wrong with that... it is just that at some point you should probably stop calling it a "top bar" hive, and start looking at Warre best practices).

    Echoing Greg's comments on Dr. Leo: He's got lots of really great ideas and an engaging site, but i am disappointed his plans don't give all the dimensions necessary to complete the projects. I made his bait hives, but my plywood was slightly different thickness from his I think, and they would not hold frames without significant modification. This has given me some pause before building a Layens hive. I like his site and who can argue with free plans, but I do wish they were a little better documented.

    Mike

  8. #7
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Quote Originally Posted by nickhefferan View Post
    Do you use different frame/top bar measurements?
    -nick
    As far as this question - attached are my frame measurements (measure two Lang medium frames tired together - that should give you the sizing). I don't want to mess with "proper" Layens frame size - creates artificial problems I do not need.
    Pictured are the quick-made frames, which I have a lot of.
    20171001_130344.jpg
    20171001_125435.jpg
    StrappedFramesVertical_Small.jpg
    Attachment 44859

    This is how a deep horizontal hive with touching TBs is worked.
    For sure a benefit of touching TBs - much better defensive bee control.
    The cover cloth is working well for the same (best to have 2-3 pieces when working in a defensive patient).
    I do like these heavy horizontals for bee production.
    I think this is where they really shine - the bee production.
    20180708_162955.jpg
    20180526_145000.jpg
    Former "smoker boy". Classic, square 12 frame Dadants >> Long hive/Short frame/chemical-free experimentations.

  9. #8
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    Thanks for the replies so far! I'm still planning on running these as fully horizontal hives, but the idea of being able to super is nice in theory. So, definitely not going to work it like a warre, no nadiring for me.

    Good point LJ about rabbeting the edges, either that or I may need to build up an outside frame that accomplishes the same thing of sealing up the edges of the bar. An inset bar rest would alleviate many potential headaches with varied bar heights.

    Thanks for the warnings about the Layens frame sizing, I already have made 5 swarm traps and 2 hives with these dimensions, and I understand the lack of transferrability, but I liked the design enough to go for it. If it causes me too much headache I won't be out too much other than time and scrap wood.
    I also have three Kenyan top bar hives built with similar dimensions to Les Crowder's hives, but deeper. So I should be able to transfer these bars to langstroth boxes. No plans to get an extractor any time, not worth it for me.

    So canvas, burlap, oilcloth, are there any other materials people use for the cover cloth? I remember hearing about feed bags and I saw photos of some hives in Germany where people used plastic sheeting like you'd use as a drop cloth while painting.
    - Nick - SW Michigan, Zone 6b (Lake Effect, ya know?). Extra Deep Horizontal Hives.

  10. #9
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Quote Originally Posted by nickhefferan View Post

    So canvas, burlap, oilcloth, are there any other materials people use for the cover cloth? I remember hearing about feed bags and I saw photos of some hives in Germany where people used plastic sheeting like you'd use as a drop cloth while painting.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59IFPEDFHYE

    Starting around 2:20 minutes showing his use of reflectix aluminized bubblewrap for a top cloth. I find it soft and flexible enough for good sealing and stiff enough to shake bees off easily.

    Ian Steppler's site has a wealth of solid information.
    Frank

  11. #10
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Quote Originally Posted by nickhefferan View Post
    Good point LJ about rabbeting the edges, either that or I may need to build up an outside frame that accomplishes the same thing of sealing up the edges of the bar. An inset bar rest would alleviate many potential headaches with varied bar heights.
    After making my very first square-sided top bar hive:



    ... a loose frame was my initial solution towards enabling top bars and frames to co-exist - not entirely satisfactory.



    So I eventually 'bit the bullet' and made pukka rebates.



    Since that last photo was taken the hive depth has been increased at the bottom, and the strip-OMF was moved to one side at the same time. No plans for any further changes.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by crofter View Post

    ...showing his use of reflectix aluminized bubblewrap for a top cloth. I find it soft and flexible enough for good sealing and stiff enough to shake bees off easily.

    Ian Steppler's site has a wealth of solid information.
    I love the reflectix idea, I was planning on putting insulating blankets above whatever cloth I use, but that could kill two birds with one stone.

    Quote Originally Posted by little_john View Post

    Since that last photo was taken the hive depth has been increased at the bottom, and the strip-OMF was moved to one side at the same time. No plans for any further changes.
    LJ
    Really appreciate the photos of your setup changes, very valuable to see what works and what sort-of worked. 🙂

    So, top bar width wouldn't really be critical other than for strength to work with it.
    I don't think a 19 inch bamboo skewer would be quite strong/rigid enough, but what do you think would be the minimum width the top bar/frame sides would need to be? (Not planning on self-spacing)
    10mm? 1/2 inch? 1 inch?

    -nick
    - Nick - SW Michigan, Zone 6b (Lake Effect, ya know?). Extra Deep Horizontal Hives.

  13. #12
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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Quote Originally Posted by nickhefferan View Post
    So, top bar width wouldn't really be critical other than for strength to work with it.
    Hi Nick

    Length is 'critical' (if sitting in a rebate), as is width (1+1/4", 1+1/2" etc) - it's thickness which isn't all that important - unless you plan on mixing your top bars with frames, when a 10mm (or thereabouts) thickness in the area of the 'lug' would help keep the sheet flat-ish. That becomes much more important if you were to use a hard Crown Board (inner cover) rather than a soft sheet of some kind of material, when the importance of the bee-space really becomes critical - mess that spacing up and the bees are then guaranteed to indulge in creative wax-working ...

    I don't want to risk hijacking your thread with too many photographs - but I've recently adopted an adjustable method of spacing frames/bars etc with tiny wood-screws - which I'm finding works well. Just say if it might be of interest ...
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  14. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by little_john View Post
    Length is 'critical' (if sitting in a rebate), as is width (1+1/4", 1+1/2" etc)

    ...

    I don't want to risk hijacking your thread with too many photographs - but I've recently adopted an adjustable method of spacing frames/bars etc with tiny wood-screws - which I'm finding works well. Just say if it might be of interest ...
    I would be interested to see those pictures, it sounds like an elegant solution!

    As far as top bar width goes, if I'm using a cloth cover, couldn't I technically use a top bar that is the width of a chopstick as long as I space them correctly at 1 3/8" from center to center?
    Sort of like Sam Comfort does in his adapted warre hive. (I think I linked this to start when he is discussing his current hive design)
    Last edited by nickhefferan; 12-16-2018 at 12:49 PM. Reason: fixed the link (I think)
    - Nick - SW Michigan, Zone 6b (Lake Effect, ya know?). Extra Deep Horizontal Hives.

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    Default Re: Top bars that don't touch AKA using a cover cloth

    Well - the way I'd look at this is ....

    The dimensions of a typical frame top bar here in the UK is 22mm wide over it's full length, with lugs 10mm deep, and a depth of 20mm(ish) over the area where the comb is attached.
    (In order to replicate this, I make my DIY frames entirely from 10mm thick battens, with a double thickness - i.e. 20mm - between the lugs)

    Now if you were to slice such top bars along their length into 3 - to give you 7mm wide 'chopsticks' - they would have just one-third the strength of the original. In particular, the lugs resting in the rebates would be 7mm wide and 10mm thick - would such a cross-sectional area have enough strength to support a fully-laden comb ? Well, that depends on the depth of the comb of course, and thus it's weight. Maybe you'd get away with doing this with shallow combs - but personally I wouldn't risk anything deeper.



    Ok - my method of spacing frames and top-bars ...

    In order for this to work consistently, it's necessary to have a uniform width of top-bar, whether these are frame top-bars or stand-alone Top Bars. As already mentioned, in the UK, top bars of the most common Hoffman frames (DN4, SN4) are 22mm, and so I keep all my home-brew stuff the same width.

    Although I'm now using this system on full length frames, I happen to have some photos handy of a half-frame system I put together recently. Here's a stack of half-frames showing the screws (3mm x 25mm) which are inserted alternately - 'diagonally opposite', as it were:



    Here they are in place (before being drawn-out etc), along with the dividers and a couple of dummies added for the photo-shoot.



    Now you can't see too much there, so I've enlarged a couple of areas ...

    Although I wouldn't bother fitting an end-wall screw to my standard hives, with these there aren't going to be any other top-bars or frames used except these, so I've fitted a screw to the end-walls (this one has got itself covered in yellow paint ...):



    But I haven't fitted a screw at the divider:



    Although here the frames are pushed together towards each end to ensure they're parallel as well as spaced accurately, when using screw-spacing with full-length top bars I find it's easy enough to eye-ball the first one parallel to the hive end-wall, then simply push the others up against it, ensuring that the first one doesn't move in the process.

    There are three attractions to this method - the first is that propolis build-up which is a feature of Hoffman side-bars is now absent; the second being that it's now almost impossible to squash bees when closing-up frames; and the third and perhaps most important is that frame-spacing can very easily be adjusted to suit the bees' spacing preference. Standard (Hoffman) frame-spacing here is 35mm - but my bees seem happiest (i.e. very few inter-comb adhesions) at 34mm, and I might even try 33mm next year to see if I can stop this altogether. And such adjustment is just so easy to do.

    To enable frame screw-spacing to co-exist with existing Hoffman frames, it's necessary to insert the screws into the side of the top-bar lug immediately to the outside of where an adjacent Hoffman spacer would normally contact the lug - as inserting it inside the Hoffman spacer risks the screw damaging a neighbouring comb if the frame should be pulled out vertically without the bars being separated first.

    Hope at least some of the above is of interest.
    LJ
    A Heretics Guide to Beekeeping http://heretics-guide.atwebpages.com/

  16. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by little_john View Post
    Well - the way I'd look at this is ....
    Wonderful advice LJ, really appreciate it. The woodscrew spacer seems simple yet robust.

    And I agree the chopstick top bar would be rather flimsy, I was just curious if that was the biggest reason or if I was overlooking something else. Especially with extra-deep frames like the Layens I'll probably want the extra load-bearing strength of a wider bar. In Sam's hives the boxes are only 6 inches deep, so they work for him. But my TBH's are 9 inches deep, and the Layens are almost 16..

    I do really like the way your frames are built out, simple and efficient. Thank you for sharing the pictures.
    - Nick - SW Michigan, Zone 6b (Lake Effect, ya know?). Extra Deep Horizontal Hives.

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