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Author Topic: I hate my top bar hive - what can I do?  (Read 12010 times)
tillie
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« on: April 30, 2011, 09:05:03 PM »

My top bar hive has so many problems and I want to scream.......A couple of weeks ago, I visited the hive to fix a huge problem.  There was honeycomb attached to old comb on the bottom of the hive and to the sides of the hive body so that I couldn't lift the top bar without tearing the top bar off of the comb - a discovery I made when this actually happened.

My son-in-law and I went into the hive a week or so later and took out the problematic comb - a horrible mess because without being attached to a bar, we had to reach in and lift it and tons of bees out of the hive.  Then the bees were all gooed up with honey and many, many died.  We scraped the comb from the sides of the hive and got the old comb out of the bottom of the hive. 

In the mayhem we had no idea if we had killed the queen in process or what.

So it's been a couple of weeks and I returned today to see if there were evidence of the queen.  I pulled up a top bar and it came out fine - second bar I pulled - brand new cross comb. 

There's no way to repair cross comb that I can figure out.  You can't rubber band it into the frame as you would with a Langstroth because there is no frame.  You can tie it to the top bar with kitchen string but the bees fray the string and die from getting tangled in the frayed ends. 

I cut the cross comb which fell to the bottom of the hive and I just pushed it to the unused end of the hive.

Then I made my way toward the brood and on the third bar I lifted, it happened all over again.  The top bar pulled off and there again the dripping top of the comb full of honey was looking up at me.

I have no idea how to handle this mess.

Is there any suggestion anyone has?  I'm ready to burn it, but I would kill the bees and couldn't live with that.  I can't think of a way to move them to a Langstroth hive - you can't shake top bars from this hive - they break off.  Last time I looked three weeks ago, there was tons of capped brood and larvae which I can't abandon.

HELP< HELP> HELP

Linda T frustrated beyond belief in Atlanta
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Scadsobees
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« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2011, 09:19:23 PM »

Rubber band the comb into empty langstroth frames?  Then put them in langstroth boxes...just like a cutout....would be better than torching them rolleyes.
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tillie
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« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2011, 09:25:37 PM »

There's a thought - the comb is deeper than a Langstroth but I could take brood combs and divide it between two frames. 

I don't think I'll ever do a top bar again......way, way too frustrating.  And everyone writes about them like it's so simple, but not for me.   Cry Cry Cry Cry

LT
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« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2011, 09:28:36 PM »

just take the brood come.  make sure you move the queen.  let them rob out the top bar.  might save you feeding and clean up  grin

just cut the comb to fit as you would with any cut out.  there's usually comb at the top or bottom that doesn't have brood anyway.
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« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2011, 10:57:09 PM »

Ya, move them to a lang.   Make the comb fit.
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BjornBee
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« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2011, 07:07:56 AM »

Unused section of the hive? Happened again? Burr comb? Attached to the bottom?

Someone sold you a bill of goods on what sounds like a hive that would require absolutely no forethought of maintenance on your part.

A couple things from just your comments tillie?

You mention an unused  section of the hive. My advice, and the way I inspect my top bar hives, is to go through the bars from the end that has no comb. So I might take out three or four empty bars, then prograss into larger and larger comb (mostly honey) and into the brood chamber. I can guarantee that if I started at the brood end, I might also tear some comb.

Of course bees will occasionally connect comb to the sides. While it is minimal, it does happen. Especially in areas that it happened previously. Most folks with top bar hives have a serrated knife handy and as the progress through the combs pulling each out, the look to the next comb to see if it is connected. Then you simply slice the comb disconnecting it from the sides, so the comb does not rip. Some kind of a knife is a given for top bar hive inspections.

By ripping the comb previously, and perhaps not cleaning it up properly the first time, you actually allowed bees to repair broken comb, which many times adds to the way they build awkward comb, compounding the problem.

I have top bar hives that have never connected comb to the sides. In fact, yesterday we went through a top bar hive for a class of beekeepers, and not one comb was connected. But I have others that seem to connect an inch or two of every comb to the sides. But this is no different than the risks you run in any other type hive, where they will sometimes build double walled comb on foundation, build cross comb, etc. There is usually a reason. So without understanding why, I can see you frustration.

Did you build the top bar yourself? Or did you buy it? Are the frames the proper width? (I hate those that come with two different size bars. Only adds to the problems.)

I always say, if others can do it...so can I. And so can you. But it seems that your inspection procedure, your understanding of what to expect, and how to correct the situation, is way off. I see this with other beekeepers, with other hives, and with other problems.

Good luck regardless of what you do.
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« Reply #6 on: May 01, 2011, 07:23:13 AM »

>There's no way to repair cross comb that I can figure out.  You can't rubber band it into the frame as you would with a Langstroth because there is no frame.

Unless you build some frames.

>  You can tie it to the top bar with kitchen string but the bees fray the string and die from getting tangled in the frayed ends.

Agreed.  Which is why I'd build a few frames.  You don't need a lot of them.

>Then I made my way toward the brood and on the third bar I lifted, it happened all over again.  The top bar pulled off and there again the dripping top of the comb full of honey was looking up at me.

Some of it is also learning to cut the sides loose right off.  A brand new comb is soft and likely to be attached.  An established comb is tougher and if you cut it loose before is likely to not be attached the next time.

>I have no idea how to handle this mess.

You can always do a cutout and tie them all in Langstroth frames if you really don't want a top bar hive.
>
Is there any suggestion anyone has?  I'm ready to burn it, but I would kill the bees and couldn't live with that.  I can't think of a way to move them to a Langstroth hive

The simplest cut out ever...
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FRAMEshift
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« Reply #7 on: May 01, 2011, 04:48:55 PM »

Linda, I would start with the question of why you wanted a top bar hive to start with.  Most people like them because they don't involve heavy lifting.  If your reasons are still valid and the problem is that you don't have frames in the hive, why not put frames in the hive.  If your box is not Langstroth standard size, you will have to build custom frames.    OR....

You could build a box that holds standard frames.  This is what we have done.  Long hives are just Langstroth hives that have been stretched to hold more than 10 frames.  Ours hold 33 frames in their 4 ft length.  So we have the best of both worlds.... frames and no heavy lifting.

I have always thought it was strange that as soon as people think of a horizontal rather than a vertical hive, immediately they assume you must have only top bars instead of full frames. 
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tillie
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« Reply #8 on: May 01, 2011, 06:17:07 PM »

I wanted the top bar hive to learn from it and because I've been mesmerized with watching Sam Comfort in action and hearing Wyatt Mangum talk - hero worship - like I feel for Michael Bush.

So I threw money at the problem for the moment and ordered from BackYard Hive this fancy tool he has developed for cutting the comb loose from the sides of the box.  I also ordered something I could have easily made myself but it made me feel better to order it - something else he has called a "bee herder" to gently get the bees off of the comb.  Might address my wish to shake the combs like I do with the Langstroth.

I may sound like I'm ready to throw in the towel, but really I'm not - I just want to solve the problem without hurting the bees.  It has not been at all satisfying to open it for the last three times.  I just celebrated that they made it through the winter in good health but haven't had a good experience with them so far this bee season beyond that celebratory moment!

So the reasons for me to have the TBH are still there - need to learn, wish to experiment, desire to try something new and different, not heavy lifting - I just want to have a satisfying experience.

This summer my daughter and son-in-law whose yard is home to my top bar hive are moving and we'll have to do something with the hive then.  They will rent out their house, so maybe we'll leave it and convince the renters to let it be or maybe we'll dismantle it at that time like a cut out and move it to their new place of residence in a Langstroth (or to my house).

Linda in Atlanta
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tillie
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« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2011, 08:32:00 PM »

Bjornbee,  I want to make sure you know that I didn't expect to put a top bar together and have it take care of itself, but I have felt somewhat resourceless about how to take care of it.  I built this one myself so my first concern was that I had built it poorly, but I had help from two guys good with wood and tools and we followed a plan.....

but I didn't consider how to deal with the adhered comb.  I do what you said you do - I start from the end of the bars where they haven't gotten to it yet and move toward the honey and then the brood.  The brood combs in this hive are good - older now and not stuck anywhere, but the honey combs are doing this attach-to-the-sides number.

The frames in the hive are all the same width - don't know right now exactly how wide but we made them according to the plan from the top bar guy who can't be named on this forum.

Quote
By ripping the comb previously, and perhaps not cleaning it up properly the first time, you actually allowed bees to repair broken comb, which many times adds to the way they build awkward comb, compounding the problem.
  I may not have gotten every cell but we did remove the broken comb previously and scraped the cells off of the hive sides and removed the comb at the bottom of the hive to which it was adhered, but again, may not have done enough since they did it again with a completely new top bar and cleaned (supposedly) sides!

I've faced all kinds of challenges in my beekeeping from floods to hives with two queens and have figured it out - this just seemed more frustrating than most.

Thanks for you input and for everyone's so far - I obviously need more patience and a better approach to unsticking the comb.

Linda T in Atlanta
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« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2011, 11:25:57 AM »

Linda T,
What you need is a mentor in your area to come over there, pat you on the back, and reassure you that everything will be ok!  Once you have a helping hand you will be fine.  Here is what I would do!  Post this on the big three forums.  “Need help with top bar hive in Atlanta.”  If you were near Wheeling, WV it may cost you a BLT (toasted) and a Coke and I would have you fixed right up.  I’m not unique.
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AllenF
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« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2011, 01:56:59 PM »

That's funny Dave.
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« Reply #12 on: June 18, 2011, 07:23:22 AM »

Linda, sounds like you got one like my best foundationless lang (actually all of mine are narrow frame foundationless). In spite of keeping the frames tight they have built out the honey cells so that I have fat combs extending into frames on each side. It also doesn't help that 19 inch langs are just a little to long to for straight comb without the natural wave that the bees like to make. Another issue that led to this is my feeding them non stop since this one is a cut out colony and I want them to pack it away this summer.
It has taken weekly adjustments and trimming to keep the frames moveable and even then three of the outer frames are more or less one unit of stored honey. In spite of all this I do have some good comb and will keep after it with some trimming here and there or culling others to get what I need.
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« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2011, 10:26:33 AM »

I am glad to have read these posts. I had my doubts about these hives before, now I am sure they will not be in my future. I like the good ole 8 frame boxes and will stay with them. I do have some 10 framers, but trying to work away from them.
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« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2011, 07:43:49 PM »

I use a breadknife that's about 10 inches total length to cut my combs loose in my topbar. The bees really seem to want to attach the broodcomb to the sides a lot.
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« Reply #15 on: June 26, 2011, 11:17:56 PM »

I have a Langstroth I put a top bar into.  Just one.  It was the best drawn comb from the start.  I have a long cooking type knife made from cheap stainless I use to cut the comb from the sides before I lift it.  It's inevitable, they want to attach it because it stabilizes it.

In that same hive I have a medium and shallow frame I put in the swarm hive I caught them in.  They've built comb off the bottom bars.  I can't remember having to separate the bottom comb from the sides.  In nature they don't have beekeepers or frames to keep the comb from falling, and this is structure.  Keep trimming it from the sides and they'll eventually keep beespace.
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« Reply #16 on: July 05, 2011, 12:06:28 PM »

Hi Linda--I feel for you and your frustration! I remember my first year of tophives being less than completely smooth sailing, but it all had a lesson to go along with each frustration.

Perhaps topbars are not for you, and there would be no shame in it.

As M. Bush mentioned in another thread, the key is to using good combs as guides. When feeding in extra bars, make sure they follow perfect comb. My first installation, I left a bunch of crooked bars and paid dearly. Some were lost, some were able to get cut out and tied on better, etc. It was frustrating, but the bees still did great.

Once you have some nice combs, you will always have those for guides. My bees still do some cross combing, but it's manageable. Good luck!

For cutting side attachments, the best thing I have found so far is a very long, thin, fish filleting knife. I also use it to pry the bars apart when they are tight and stuck together.
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tillie
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« Reply #17 on: July 05, 2011, 05:14:10 PM »

Great suggestions - I've decided to pretty much leave it alone this spring.  I'm moving next week and after that I am moving the comb into two Langstroth's and then starting over from the beginning next year.  I have learned a lot in these two years of top bar and plan to do better in my next attempt!

Linda T
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« Reply #18 on: July 10, 2011, 08:19:13 AM »

 Tillie
 I have decided on my next ktbh to drill a hole on either end of each top bar
I will then use thin bamboo sticks inserted into the holes in the top-bars
I will use either #1 piece of bamboo and make it look like a "U" or use #2
and make it look like a "V"
 I understand this is not traditional but I feel the bamboo will do a good
job it helping the comb stay right where the bees want it
I tried this once before but lost the bees before they began building full comb
my other has no support but so far so good

Tommyt
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« Reply #19 on: August 12, 2011, 11:30:58 PM »

I think that learning to work a top bar hive is somewhat of an art. Working a lang is too, but it's made easier by a more complicated hive (in terms of its construction and accessories), and more importantly - by a much bigger "support group" of other beeks, mentors and time-tested information.

Your original post gives me mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I think it's good for people to hear that using a tbh is not that easy. And in my opinion, it's a steep learning curve. But I think it would be sad to see you give up on these hives. I think that you should learn to master it. It will deepen your experience and your skill. In order to manage one well, you can't look at it from a langstroth perspective. You have to see it as a set of loose bars in a long box, with all other structural elements made only by the bees.

You have kept bees in langs for years and have learned to manage them. Learning to handle the tbh will get you even closer to the bees. Sam understands that.

I had a great teacher once who told me that we should greet frustration with a welcoming - it means that we have found an opportunity to learn and grow beyond what we are when we meet it.

If you overcome these early (and quite common) frustrations to find the joy that others find in the tbh, it will make much more inspiring reading in your blog than the story of how much you dislike them. You will empower others in the process, as you are one who shares your experiences. Right now, you're just scaring people off trying them.

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