A colony doesn’t mindlessly work floral sources. When they have enough reserves, and their population is optimal, hive activity decreases including foraging.
Exceptionally large surpluses don’t naturally occur. Storing an excess surplus would:
- needlessly increasing foraging risks
- stress bees as they prepare for winter
- clogs open cells needed for overwintering and spring brood rearing
Unfortunately, if left to this natural behavior, a beekeeper won’t have much honey to harvest. Managing comb and free space is necessary to produce much surplus honey in a top bar hive. Enough comb space must be available so:
- the bees are not quite ready to hunker down
- they still have enough space to store a surplus
- most of their winter stores are left intact
- honey production ceases early enough allowing overwintering
Frequent harvests are one way to manage comb and free space. It’s a delicate process that requires a thorough understanding of:
- typical seasonal nectar flows
- individual colony capabilities
- overwintering requirements
- effects of divergent weather or flow conditions
- equipment limitations
- too much, too soon, makes hungry, demoralized bees that need feed
- too little, not frequent enough, cause the bees to hunker down, reduces foraging, curtails brood rearing
It’s best to move judiciously when harvesting honey. Better to harvested less than too much.
When a top bar hive has enough room, honey production consists:
- of rotating full combs away from the broodnest toward the rear of the hive
- and inserting empty comb or top bars nearer the broodnest
Remote comb is protected from pests. And can be harvested later in the season:
- when colony overwintering needs and resource are easier to access
- and it’s more convenient to harvest most of the honey at one time
Adding Top bar hives
When producing the most honey per hive isn’t a priority, and more honey is needed, running another top bar hive is easier than pushing less hives for maximum production.
Top bar hive Versus Lang
Top bar hives typically yield less honey per hive that vertical hives. That difference increases in areas with late season nectar flows.
Early in the season, my top bar hive’s honey production surpassed my conventional hive’s production. They easily kept up, even while having to draw out new comb.
But that changed as the season progressed. When the top bar hive had drawn about 2 deep supers worth and packed it with honey, they hunkered down:
- hive activity diminished
- the bees became complacent with their situation
- they continued to draw out some comb, but at a reduced rate
- honey production quickly fell behind my conventional hives
Other top bar hive beekeepers report that bees reluctantly work past 20 top bars.
Lower yields a benefit?
A lower honey yield is an advantage when a beekeeper is more interested in bees, pollination, or queen rearing than producing tons of honey. It actually gets in the way!
Did I say that? 😉 Yet, after processing semi-truck loads of honey, that’s the situation I find myself in. As a hobbyist, I have more honey than I can use or parcel out.
So, you’ve managed your top bar hive for honey. Not it’s time to Harvest it.