Top Bar Hives

The Idea

Kenyan top bar hive.

The Details

A top bar hive or tbh is a long, horizontal hive with removable combs. It consists of just three parts:

  • the hive body
  • the top bars
  • and a cover

Tbhs :

  • are simple
  • are cheap
  • have many advantages
  • have few disadvantages
  • and are especially suitable for natural beekeepers

They are easy to build, using readily available local materials. And they can be purchased as well.

Hive Body

The hive body is a trough-shaped box with enough volume for a bee’s nest and enough room for the beekeeper’s needs.

The hive body is completed by providing an entrance for the bees. A hole is often cut. Or the cover can be propped up and a gap left between the top bars for a top entrance.

Top Bars

A Kenyan top bar hive without its cover and half of the top bars.

The top bars are wood bars whose width mirrors natural comb spacing. They set on top of the hive body covering the opening. And the bees attach their comb to them.

Top bars are removed for colony management without damaging the bees or comb.

Cover

A cover protects a hive from the weather. It sets above the top bars. And is securely fastened to the hive.

That’s it! A tbh is a beehive that’s as simple as it gets.

Advantages

  • bees build the broodnest their way
  • less colony disturbance
  • minimal beekeeper exposure
  • no heavy, repetitive lifting
  • cost much less than an equivalent conventional hive
  • produce the highest quality honey and wax
  • no extracting equipment needed
  • self contained
  • no extra storage space required
  • facilitate comb rotation
  • easy to build
  • an ideal educational hive
  • an ideal urban beehive
  • won’t break apart when dropped
  • weather tight
  • won’t tip over
  • adaptable to local building materials, conditions, needs

Disadvantages

  • confound conventional beekeepers
  • produce less honey on a per hive basis
  • can’t be disassembled to reduce weight
  • not compatible with standard equipment
  • comb is fragile
  • heavy to move
  • take longer to work
  • hives must be level when drawing comb
  • not suitable for large-scale, migratory, feed lot beekeeping

Examples

Here are a few examples. Most of these are built using conventional lumber.

And here are more top bar hive images from Google.

Building a Tbh

Most tbh beekeepers design and build their own hives. It is the best way to get into a tbh.

  • their simplicity and low cost makes them an ideal hive for the DIY guy
  • going through the design process forces an evaluation of the bee’s and beekeeper’s needs

I’ve got more to say about building tbhs. Check out building a tbh. And my tbh plans as well.

Buying a Tbh

Not too long ago, tbhs couldn’t be bought. If a beekeeper wanted one, he had to build it. Today, manufactured tbhs are available for purchase. For my needs I find some of the manufactured tbhs:

  • way too expensive
  • too complicated
  • too small
  • and some are too frail

But my needs might not be yours. So, before buying a tbh, it’s important to determine its suitability for:

  • the beekeeper needs
  • the bees needs
  • and the demands of a particular location or climate

And it’s probably a good idea to look over my Build page.It can help a beekeeper evaluate a hive’s suitability. Then spend a little more time with Google looking at all the different kinds of tbhs. There are some beautiful and functional ones out there.

Help

Already have a top bar hive? Here are some thoughts on how to manage them.

-bW

80 Responses

  1. Bob Platt says:

    Good Morning Sir, I am an American living in the Ukraine and interested becoming a keeper of bees. My plan is to use the standard European bee hive with Hoffman frames. I’ve never kept bees before and I am swining in the dark. I do not speak Russian so getting help from any locals is not going to happen.
    What advice can you give me on my plan. Would you mind if I came back to you in the future for advice?

    Thanks

    • -bW says:

      Hi Bob

      The best advice I can give is to get in touch with the locals. I suspect you can communicate with them in some fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few would speak English.

      And it’s important not only for the local beekeeping knowledge, but in any country with a long beekeeping history like the Ukraine, there are probably many traditions and laws that one should know about.

      Ukraine? My grandparents are from there and my grandfather kept bees. The Ukraine language was the language of my mother’s home. And, as a child, I would set in the porch swing, speak and sing Ukrainian folk songs. But today, I only know a few song fragments and nothing of the language. I would like to visit.

      So, I’m not much help. But I think my attraction to long, chest type hives must spring from some Ukrainian influence. 🙂

      I would be interested in your experience. Let me know how things go.

      -bW

  2. John Shields says:

    Greetings,
    A friend and I constructed Top Bar Hives to the Chandler specs that we filled with swarms last October. We are raw beginner beekeepers and would like to share our journey with other like minded beekeepers, and draw on their experience to “get it right” for both the bees and ouselves.
    We live on Phillip Island,a Tourist/farming community some 100klms from Melbourne,Victoria,Australia.
    Looking forward to hearing from somebody. John Shields.

    • -bW says:

      Hi John

      You must be in the thick of all things beekeeping now, while we wait in depths of winter here in Wyoming. Let me know how things go for you.

      -bW

    • Laura says:

      Hi there
      I am in the process of trading regular Langstroth hives for someone to build me Topbar hives. I am a 71 year old woman, I cannot lift the 8 frame supers easily any more. The Top bar hive is the answer for me!
      I Have been harvesting my own honey, using a potato masher and a honey bucket with strainer and spigot. Foundation was hampering. Now I can harvest one bar at a time with no foundation in the way. I can either render the wax or set it out close to the hive. They will havest the wax and clean out ALL traces of honey.
      I believe in letting ” bees be bees” and do not invade their home except once or twice-year. I provide water in a 5 gallon bucket with packing pellets floating in it for bee landing. I use screen bottem boards and dust the bees with powdered sugar at least once a year. (mites)
      Also anytime I am at a plant nursey and there are bees on a plant – I buy it. I try to provide them with plent of food at home. That way the won’t go looking somewhere that someone uses chemicals.
      My advice, don’t mess with them a lot. I lost a queen “checking my hive” then I lost the whole colony! With a topbar, you can peek in the window to see what is happening or raise up a bar or two. If it is building up, add more topbars. I am excited about the coming top bar hives.
      I live in Georgia, USA

      • -bW says:

        Hi Laura

        Thanks for the note.

        If you still have Lang equipment, you could try a long hive along with your top bar hive? With a long hive you could still use your brood frames. And then use foundationless frames for your honey harvest.

        Enjoy that tbh.

        -bW

    • Matt says:

      Hi John,

      I am also located on Phillip Island… I have just assembled a TBH and was going to transfer hive that has installed itself in my compost bin… I a VERY new to this and was wondering if it might be possible to drop in and take a look at your hive for tips? (I am in Cape Woolamai)

      cheers
      Matt
      matt@maramoja.info

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