To stock a tbh with bees it’s import to consider:
- a location
- a source for bees
Tbh bees have the same location requirements as bees in other hives. They need a location that’s:
- got good air drainage
- has maximum biodiversity
- close to a clean and reliable water source
- free of environmental pollution and contaminants
In addition, a tbh must be level before installing the bees. They use gravity to reference comb building. So, choosing a level site results in less work for the beekeeper.
There’s been some discussion about bees preferentially orienting comb aligned with earth’s magnetic field. My top bars are generally aligned slightly west of true north. That’s way off from magnetic north here.
Would the bees draw out straighter comb if the top bars are along a magnetic north-south direction? Ian Rumsey has rotated hives and monitored natural comb. Check out his experiments.
Time is a critical element. A large cluster can raise enough brood to replace colony losses. A smaller cluster, struggling with comb-building or cold weather, can’t raise enough brood to replace colony losses.
Starting a smaller colony later, when the weather is warmer, improves their chances. But don’t start them too late, as a colony must develop enough strength to successfully over winter.
The best gauge for determining the installation time, is the bees themselves. Watch what bees naturally do. When do the first swarms appear in your area? That is a good time to start a smaller colony. A larger colony could be started a brood cycle or two before that.
In my climate, dandelion bloom is a good reference. Bees are installed two brood cycles or about 6 weeks before dandelion bloom. With fewer bees, installation shouldn’t be more than one brood cycle before dandelion bloom. Remember, I live in Wyoming. If you live in Florida, dandelions probably won’t work for you.
A swarm is a good source of bees. These bees are already organized for a new start. They quickly orient and start to work. But their character is unknown. The bees are requeened later if they have some undesirable traits.
Capturing swarms using a top bar based swarm box allows transferring the swarm with the least possible harm.
The best source for bees is a beekeeper’s own hives. If frames can fit below the top bars, a split can be made and set below the top bars:
- it’s the least disruptive choice
- the bees quickly re-orient themselves
- have a ready food source nearby
- they continue rearing brood
When using a split:
- keep the frames together
- let the bees expand the broodnest at their own pace
- make comb corrections as needed
Once the bees establish broodnest comb on the top bars, move the frames into the honey storage area. Then harvest them at the end of the season. Or lay them on the bottom board, at the back of the hive. After the bees reclaim them, remove and used again somewhere else.
If the top bar width and frame widths are compatible, the frames can be attached directly to the topbars with woodscrews. As the bees expand the broodnest, they incorporate the frames into the top bar comb. Then it can be managed just like any other top bar.
Surplus bees can be shaken from established hives. Or an entire hive can be brushed into a tbh:
- a conventional hive is moved off to one side
- an empty tbh is set on that spot
- the tbh is leveled
- all the bees are shaken or brushed into the hive
- the vacated conventional equipment is set on other hives
Package bees can also be used. They are convenient. But they are my least favorite source. They usually have fewer bees than is available from a hive or a swarm. Queen acceptance can become a problem. And their character and health is often unknown.
The bees don’t have any stores in a new tbh. So, feed must be available inside their new home. Providing feed outside the hive is risky. Weather may interfere with the supply. And honey bees, from other hives, are attracted to the feed. Once the feed is gone, they rob the honey stored in the fledgling hive.
Bees need a warm environment for comb building. That heat comes from the environment. And the bees can create it inside a cluster, if there are enough bees and they are well fed:
- bees are plentiful and well feed, comb is quickly drawn, even when it’s too cool for bee flight
- if the weather is warm and feed is available, a smaller volume of bees can draw comb
- if it’s cool, and the cluster size is too small to generate enough heat, little comb is drawn
- hungry, cold bees don’t draw out comb
So, be sure bees in a new tbh always have plenty of feed until they are well established on their own comb and are making a living. Check out my Feeding page for ideas.
Shaking or brushing an active colony into a new tbh, is disruptive. If the bees aren’t from a swarm, it takes more than a week for them to re-orient and organize enough to effectively start a broodnest. Except for feeding, don’t disturb them until they settle down.
Some bees abscond or leave a hive when it’s disturbed. Others kill their queen. Sometimes this disruption is so great that bees will draw a small amount of comb at the hive’s far end or in several separate locations. But after they re-orient, the cluster moves forward and begins constructing a typical broodnest just inside the entrance.