Having my own honeybees has been a desire of mine for years – decades even. I can eat honey all day long, and there’s just something about having a honey-factory out back that seems like a touch of magic. Empty it one day, come back in a few weeks and lookee – more honey! These bees are tireless and work constantly building up honey stores, pollen stores and tending their babies. All I have to do is give them a home and a nice location where flowers and water are easily accessible.
To this end, I finally revisited my desire last year on a lark when doing some research into top-bar bee-hives. Formerly I was looking at a few hundred dollars here and there to gather the equipment together for a nice Langstroth hive – your typical white box beehive – and that was one of the reasons why beekeeping remained on the back-burner. However, when I discovered top-bar hives for the first time, a light-bulb went off and back-burner became front-burner.
Top-bar hives are extremely simple and very inexpensive to build. They are the poor-man’s beehive – tho you don’t have to be poor to build one. They are also very friendly to bees. They allow bees to form their own comb to their own preferred dimensions as far as cell-size is concerned, and in maintaining the hive, you never have it completely opened up like you would with a Langstroth hive – you only have three or four bars off at a time, if that. The result? Less stress on the bees all around.
The only drawback I can see is that the resulting honey combs are not in a frame that can be stuffed into a centrifugal extractor, but for a small beekeeper, that’s a tiny setback if that. Other than that, I can see no other cons to this type of system and the next step became gathering the wood and building this thing.
After reviewing several top-bar designs, the TBH I settled on can be found here. The design and construction was simple and required few woodworking tools. Basically just a saw to cut the wood and a table-saw or similar to trim the top-bars to the correct width. I kept with his dimensions for the most part except I’m only using a single width of topbar – 1.5″ wide by 3/4″ thick. And rather than cutting the corners to use for comb-guides – I found the same thing precut as trim at the local hardware store and used that instead. The design is easily adaptable to what you have on hand and/or can get easily.
For the entrance, I used five 3/4″ holes up high on one of the ends. They’re up high for a reason. When it gets really hot, there’s always the possibility – however remote it may be – that a heavy honey-comb may soften and fall to the bottom. This usually results in a tidal wave of honey streaming out across the bottom. The bees can easily panic and try to get out, only to have the honey blocking their entrance and drowning many bees and causing the hive to overheat even more. With the entrance up high, the bees will be up and away from the honey and still able to get out and moderate hive temperature. Additionally, since hive-beetles like to have a landing board in front of the entrance, I omitted that from my hives. The bees don’t need it anyway and if it helps keep the beetles out, so much the better. And finally, I opted on a wide-stance footing for the hive, lifting it up to counter-level to make it easier for me to manage and also up high enough to make it hard for skunks to conveniently gnaw at the wood and try to get to the bees. Several violent windstorms have passed and there was nary a problem from the hive. It’s not the most convenient in walking around, but is an amicable trade-off.
I don’t have any step-by-step construction photos for this particular article – but will certainly compile some from the next hive I build. Nevertheless, once you have the basic dimensions and see some good assembled photos, there’s really not much more to say – these things are extremely simple and easy to put together.
I built it late last spring. I put it outside then started hunting for bees. I got myself on the waiting list for swarm-calls, and kept an eye out for opportunities. I did not want to buy bees – why do so when they frequently pop up around here as nuisance bees? Last year was a bust for me tho – no calls sadly. You have to be patient tho – the opportunity will come.
Mine came twice this year. The first time I didn’t get the message until it was too late and another beekeeper had harvested the bees. But the second time I didn’t waste any time securing the rights to the bees and they’re mine. I’ll be getting them this next weekend – a nuisance hive in a wall of a workshop/game-room. When I do I’ll be sure to document it as much as possible. It should be a simple cutout – the panel is soft and will be easy to peal back and the bees are in one 16″ wide cavity, just waiting for me to relocate them into my new hive. I’ll have to get a suit tho – while TBH management is suit-optional, a cutout of a hive is suit-necessary. Mine should be in by the end of the week. Other than that, a couple sprayers of cold sugar-water, a smoker, a knife or two, string to tie the brood-combs to the top-bars and various sundry items and I’m set to get me some free-bees.