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