Most of the literature and websites out there about beekeeping tend to focus on the traditional box beehives, known as Langsroth hives. However, a more appropriate hive technology for the backyard beekeeper is called a “Top Bar” bee hive. We chose to build ours, but you can buy one too.
What Is a Top Bar Bee Hive?
These DIY hives are low cost and simple – perfect solutions for backyard beehives. Top Bars have been used in developing countries for many years because of their ease of design, low maintenance and low cost. They can be made from salvaged materials, and even hollowed out logs.
Like the Langstroth hives, top bar bee hives also have removable frames so you can collect the honey, but the frames are added along a horizontal plane instead of vertically building up. And you don’t even need to include a comb to get the bees started. While it results in less honey, you do end up getting more beeswax – which has its own many uses.
The Top Bar Bee Hive is so named because its frames only a “top bar”. They do not have sides or a bottom bar. In other words, the beekeeper does not provide a foundation for the bees. Rather, the bees build their own comb so it hangs down from the top bar.
The hive body is V-shaped in order to keep bees from attaching the comb to the hive-body walls, which would keep the hive owner from being able to lift the bar out of the hive. The top-bar design is a single, long box with all the frames hanging in parallel. It looks sort of like a boat (think Noah’s Ark) when finished.
One drawback of a top bar bee hive is that honey cannot be extracted by centrifugal force using a honey extractor machine because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. Also, bees have to rebuild the comb after each harvest, making the honey yield less than traditional hives, but the beeswax yield much greater.
Like the Langstroth hive, bees can be induced to store the honey separately from the areas where they are raising the brood, making it less likely that bees will be killed when harvesting from a top-bar hive than some other designs.
How To Build a Top Bar Hive
There are as many ways to build a top bar bee hive as there are beekeepers, so don’t be too bogged down in the differences. One thing is usually the same all-around, however, and that is the width of the bars. To the left you will see a picture of me with two of the top bar hives that we built as part of our Urban Homesteading Group in Denver, Colorado. They were based on a different design, but the dimensions for the bars were the same, as was the concept of the V-shape to keep much of the comb from being attached to the sides of the hive body wall.
Where Can You Buy Top Bar Bee Hives?
Sometimes people just are not comfortable with carpentry. Maybe they have no tools. Or maybe you just don’t have the time and would rather buy something that you know is built with high quality than to try and make due on your own. Don’t worry – Top bar bee hives are often less expensive than more traditional hives and you can buy them online and have them shipped straight to your house, along with all of the gear you’ll need to get started with keeping bees.