Riley’s Top Bar Hive Bee-down Strip

Putting top bars, back in a top bar hive, can be problematic. There’s no bee space between them and extra care is needed to avoid squishing bees. I’ve written about a couple of techniques that help. But they both take time and are not fool proof. A bee brush and smoker are often needed to help get the bees out of the way.

Top bar hive beekeepers are an inventive bunch. They have to be, as they essentially design, build and manage a unique beekeeping system optimized for their own criteria. They, by necessity, think out of the box. And in the process they often find gems in the ground others have passed over.

Riley N found this gem. Shared it with Adam Collins, who shared it with everyone at BeeSource. He writes:

I learned this from IBRed (Riley N from Modesto CA):

I was having a hard time during hive inspections, as I found it difficult to get bees to go down between bars as I tried to put bars back together.

I found that the bees tend to get squished between bars as you try to squeeze bars together, and on a hot day if can get difficult to be patient. I found this problem to make inspections longer than I wanted them to be, resulting in more stress on the bees (and me).

During my earlier thread on TBH Management, IBRed made a suggestion which I found so helpful that I wanted to pull it out and make a separate post of it.

He suggests having a tool which is simply a strip of wood, metal or some other material that is as long (or longer) than the top bars, and is about 1/16 of an inch (1.5-2mm) thick (height doesn’t matter so much). A long thin strip – kind of like a ruler.

To use it, you just move your bars close together, until you’re just down to the width of a bee – almost beginning to squish. Then you gently set your “bee-down strip” in that space, on top of the bees. The strip moves them down under the bar, as you’ve effectively divided that space to a point where it’s too small for them – but you haven’t injured them.

Then you squeeze your bars together against the bee-down strip, which keeps them from coming back up into the space. One you’ve got it pinched, you pull it up out and finish pressing the bars together. Presto.

I used a metal framing square and found it worked pretty well, but IBRed warns that anything thicker than 1/16 will allow a few bees to get their heads pinched. He crafted one by ripping a 1/16″ strip of wood with a table saw. You could probably use a lot of things.

I have found this tool and method to greatly increase both the speed and pleasure of an inspection.

You may know this method, or have one which works as well for you, but I find it quite difficult as a beginner with top bar hives to get useful and timely information regarding management. Forums are great, but compared to the activity and information available to Lang users – its a tiny pool of information.

I hope this helps you, and I encourage you to share your own ideas – however small.

The little things can make a big difference.


Bee-down strips have many advantages:

  • work consistently
  • requires less/no smoke
  • no brushed, irritated bees
  • quick
  • no tipped comb

What a neat solution! It’s as simple as can be. Yet, there’s lots of room for innovation. A bee-down strip:

  • can be made of various materials
  • incorporate a hand hold
  • could be tapered vertically, horizontally, or both ways
  • can be removed vertically, horizontally or rotated around on end

Although a purpose made bee-down strip would be easier to handle, thin top bar spacer strips can effectively be substituted for a bee-down strip. Yes, I’ve already got bee-down strips in my hives and didn’t know it. And yes, I’ve inserted those spacer strips and then tried to close the gap afterward.  🙂

Thank you Riley N for this gem and Adam Collins for sharing.


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4 responses to “Riley’s Top Bar Hive Bee-down Strip”

  1. This is a neat idea – I have lots of beginning tbh keepers ask me how I get them down and I didn’t realize that I had developed a bit of a “technique” I guess you could say – a gentle bump,bump,bump and they respond to the pressure and move away. And another method is (with a beveled top bar anyway…) to start with the bar I’m returning just above the next bar, touching it and gently and slowly moving down, touching against the next bar the whole time – basically walking them down under it. That’s not a good description – probably I will do that on film and make it part of the Gold Star How-To Video library. Picture’s worth a thousand words and alla that…
    Some other how-to stuff regarding techniques folks might find useful can be found there:

    • -bW says:

      Hi Christy

      I squished more than a few bees before I unlearned my Lang ways and learned those two techniques. And I still occasionally squish a few using those techniques when I bump them a little too hard.

      Here’s an idea. What about a wedged shaped bee-down strip? The top bars would be positioned with a wedge shaped gap. The strip is inserted. And then removed horizontally, as the top bars are brought together.


  2. Dick Barnes says:

    Neat idea…. i’ll give it a try… i don’t have too much problem getting the bars back in place….i go slow, starting with one end down and then slowly lowering the bar…which lets the bar push the bees down ahead of it….plus my girls are so sweet that they put up with a lot from me….my only complaint about them is that they haven’t produced much honey after 7-8 months….altho i’m told some bees are like that….

    • -bW says:

      Hi Dick

      I’ve used your technique also. It works great when the bees are docile and calm. But when conditions are crowded, the bees are running, or they are cleaning up some honey residue, even that first contact between the two top bars will often get a few bees.

      That’s when I need the smoker or bee brush, and a third arm to run them. Lacking that, I’m getting better at using my toes with the bee brush. But am still having problems with the smoker. 🙂

      Let me know how the bee-down strip works for you.

      Honey? It’s problematic for most everyone at one time or another. Next year will always be better.


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