When it’s hot, working a top bar hive can cause comb failure. Comb failure in a hot top bar hive can destroy a colony. When it’s too hot, a beekeeper must not work a top bar hive.
To prepare a top bar hive for hot weather:
- do all invasive type management early in the season
- prop up the covers to provide air circulation and shade above the top bars
- assure the colony’s water source
- open all hive entrances
- do hot weather feeding outside the hive
- not work the op bar hive
Did I forget to mention that when it’s too hot, a beekeeper must stay out of a top bar hive?
Hot weather seldom bothers feral colonies. They:
- select an elevated, protected location near water
- choose an insulated cavity with thermal mass and air drainage
- easily control broodnest environment
- firmly attach comb when needed
- vigorously defend the broodnest against intruders
- will abscond when necessary
Beekeeper managed hives are almost the exact opposite. These colonies:
- are often placed in a hot, dry location on the ground
- are in thin walled, poorly insulated boxes with little to no thermal mass
- work hard to control the broodnest environment
- have comb attachments, burr and brace comb removed to allow beekeeper access
- are routinely invaded by a beekeeper whose intrusions disrupts hive ventilation
- are genetically selected against absconding
As most of a colony’s heat problems are beekeeper related, it’s possible for a beekeeper to mitigate most of them. A beekeeper can:
- locate colonies in a protected location with some shade and air drainage
- assure a clean and abundant water source
- open all hive entrances
- elevate covers to provide air circulation and shade above the top bars
- leave comb attachments intact to be quickly repaired and combs re-attached
- never ever work, move, disrupt, feed or harvest from a top bar hive when it’s too hot
Just Cool It
When it’s too hot:
- go to the lake
- sit on the patio
- enjoy life
- drink some mead or lemon aide seasoned with fresh mint leaves
Don’t worry, the bees are ok:
- they are in the best location possible
- they have a good water source
- the top bar hives are preped for hot weather
- your early season management has prepared them for this time of year
- bees have survived for millennia without mans help, right?
What’s Too Hot
When is it too hot? Solar intensity is probably more important than an absolute temperature. Some factors to consider:
- is the hive in the shade?
- is it cloudy?
- how long has the hive been exposed and accumulating heat?
- what’s the angle of the sun?
- is it early morning, or late in the evening?
- is the wind blowing?
- how intrusive is the contemplated work?
- how long will it take?
- how old is the comb?
- how heavy is the comb?
That’s variables that require experience to understand. When in doubt just stay out.
Time to Mush
Here’s an interesting experiment. Get a small, scrap piece of newly drawn, empty top bar hive. Notice how stiff it is. How easily it’s handled. Did you have to cut it free from the hive?
Now, let it set in the sun. At 30 second intervals, squeeze a edge and attempt to pick it up:
- how does its feel compared to when it first came out of the top bar hive?
- how long before you can’t even pick it up?
For me, in early summer, it take 2 minutes then the comb looses all its mechanical strength and turn to mush.
Now take a old, dark piece of brood comb and repeat the time to mush experiment above. What did you discover?
I’ve seen 60+ year old brood comb that’s tougher than shoe leather. So, tough that it was difficult to cut it with a knife. Don’t let your top bar hive comb get like that! 🙂
Why Not Work It?
A top bar hive beekeeper actively works and focuses on the comb in the broodnest.There, the bees are working hard to control the temperature. And in a top bar hive, those cooling activities continue even as the hive is worked. Even when it’s hot, the comb is stiff and requires a serrated knife to cut attachments.
But as comb is worked, it is moved away from the hive’s cooling activities and the beekeeper’s focus. Comb on a top bar stand or toward the rear of a hive, can quickly overheat and suddenly fail.
The beekeeper’s perception is that all comb is as cool and stiff as the comb he’s working with. The worked comb doesn’t sag. There is no warning it’s about to fail. Instead, it suddenly collapses into a pile of mush, much to a beekeeper’s surprise.
The attributes that make a top bar hive so enjoyable to work are a liability when the weather is too hot:
- it’s easy to lose track of time
- there’s no heavy lifting
- hive parts aren’t scattered all over the place
- there are few angry bees to move the beekeeper along
Through time, the heating effects become cumulative and are compounded by the longer working time required by a top bar hive. New, heavy, unsupported comb becomes weak under such conditions.