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Author Topic: Is 5 feet the best length for the TBH?  (Read 2515 times)
Adam Foster Collins
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« on: August 12, 2011, 10:29:13 PM »

I have several tbh's built to 4 feet lengths. Most sources will suggest that to be the best size. It certainly works best for common lumber dimensions. But as I near the close of a second season with these hives, I wonder if 5 feet might be the best.

The key with tbh's is to keep space in order to avoid swarming and (if honey is an interest) to maximize honey production. As the season progresses, you have to remove honey if the hive gets full in order to give them room. But often the honey isn't capped yet, or not cured. They've got nectar coming in, but you're pressed to remove comb to make more room, and they might actually be able to put quite a bit more in - but it's hard to tell. Then there's the fact that bees will move nectar around within the hive. Removing comb restricts that ability.

Then you have the problem of what to do with what you remove. Do you crush and strain, keep it in the freezer and feed it back? And often it's already getting late enough so they are slower to build comb. Then they're trying to deepen comb, and you've got to re-space them.

This year, the season has been slow. Cold, wet spring. Cool summer. Still chilly a lot. So the four foot hives seems to be more than enough. I haven't taken any honey out of my overwintered hive, and my new colony has another foot to go before it's out of room. However, last year was a great year, and I had a first year colony fill a hive right up and need more room. Others I have read about in the forums have had to take honey out already this year in other parts of the continent.

My Question: Would a 5 foot hive might actually be the most versatile for all regions and the fluctuations in production? At 5 feet, with sides made of standard 1x12 lumber, a tbh would have the volume equivalent of about three full deeps. It seems to me that a hive that size would be much easier to keep from swarming - and to keep space late for honey storage.

I'm wondering if 5 feet and that 10 or so more bars (which might offer 40-60 lbs more storage) might be just the key. It wouldn't eliminate the need to manipulate things - but it might make things simpler. And it would allow the bees to use the comb more effectively if it's left there longer; filling them up more, ripening more and capping later. Wouldn't that reduce some of the issues for a tbh keeper?

What are your thoughts?

Adam
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2011, 11:32:24 PM »

I think 4 foot works fine.  Five foot will work but you have to work at getting them to fill it.  For the same work you could just harvest a little more often... but five foot with a follower isn't a bad plan.
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Adam Foster Collins
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« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2011, 09:42:38 PM »

4 does work pretty well, Michael. True enough.

And it is true that one would likely have to keep moving empty bars into the drawn comb in the storage area to get them to draw out.

But I don't think that's as much work as having to harvest. If you have to harvest, then timing becomes much more of an issue. If you're too slow, the bees have nowhere to put incoming nectar, and you're losing valuable time. They can easily get honeybound. If you just have more length, they can keep going back of they're pressed for space. And I think they would.

Also, harvesting means crushing and straining, or storing. Both are work one way or another. It would be easier to "store" them right in the hive with more room to just move them back, and to move empty bars in. That would mean just one sticky-kitchen-crush-and-strain-ceremony per year, rather than two. That seems like less work to me.

I'll have to give it a try to see, but in two seasons (one really good, and one really slow) I've had hives full end-to-end. One of mine has got one bar left today, and goldenrod is just starting. That means I've got to be on top of it. Nothings fully capped yet. If I had a 5 footer, I'd have 9 or ten open bars yet to work with.

Adam
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« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2011, 08:16:17 PM »

It actually seems like a great idea. My first year, 2 colonies competely filled the 4-foot hive with nearly all brood. I bet 5 feet would have slowed them down on swarming. And, with a good follower board, you can shrink the hive down to any size you want for winter, just like with a 4-footer.
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Adam Foster Collins
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« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2011, 11:31:41 PM »

I think it could be really useful. According to Michael Bush, Brother Adam's studies of beekeeping found 5 feet to be the largest top bar hive he came across. I'm not sure how far and wide he traveled. But here in North America, I think there are a lot of regions that would fill a 5 footer in a good season.

But I have only theory at this point. All I know now is my hive is nearly full with a fair amount of flower time to go, and another foot in my hives would give the bees the space to store 45-60  more pounds of honey. They might not always use it, and I would still likely have to move bars around somewhat to get the space used efficiently, but it would just add more flexibility to the design without a lot more material cost, labor or the complexity of trying to figure out how to super the tbh.

Adam
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« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2011, 03:45:38 PM »

I don't know much about it, but..  can't you harvest some of the full bars and replace them with new bars?  Or harvest all but an inch or two from the bar and put it back to be rebuilt?

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Adam Foster Collins
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« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2011, 12:14:38 AM »

Sure can.

But then you have to time it right to when the honey is capped, and if they don't cap, they can get too full and swarm before you pull honey. And if you pull honey, then you have to deal with it; or store it.

I'm trying to figure out how to make it most flexible and get around having to pull honey off before the season is over.

Adam
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« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2011, 05:00:51 PM »

The question really begs to be asked in context of where you live and the average honeyflow. 

In Texas, 5 feet is too long. I know, I have some. But in the north where there is a phenomenal honeyflow to brood up on, perhaps 6 foot is needed in some situations. Don't forget the depth and width also are part of that question. Deeper means more volume.

In the middle of the Empty Quarter in Saudi, a 1 foot TBH is too long.

So it all boils down to location, micro climate, and honeyflow.  Probably a rule of thumb might be that those in the US above Zone 2 would be best served by a 5 footer. Below that a 4 footer.

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Adam Foster Collins
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« Reply #8 on: August 18, 2011, 08:46:00 PM »

Good points McCartney. Location is always an important consideration. We could easily use more space up here, but other areas might never fill it. That's some of the trouble with top bar hives, as people are looking for standards to follow when they build their hives.

I guess I should have asked, "Is 5 feet the best length for the TBH in Northern, North America"...

Adam
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« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2011, 06:27:15 PM »

Great points. I forget sometimes how variable beekeeping conditions are. As already mentioned, our first year, 4 feet was not big enough. And it wasn't an issue of pulling honey, as there was little/none to pull. It was all brood.
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« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2011, 11:44:15 PM »

OK -  the majority say four feet is adequate. How about width? Has anybody tried 2ft width and a corresponding depth? Would the comb be too heavy? How about dowels or paint sticks hanging  from the top bar? Thanks in advance - I love this place!
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Adam Foster Collins
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« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2011, 08:27:58 PM »

When I was designing my hives, Micael Bush advised me (through a discussion forum) to avoid going longer than 18 inches for a bar length, as he found that any longer than that, and the bees would begin to curve the comb and stray off the guide on each end.

Beyond that, the combs would get pretty heavy and therefore more difficult to handle without breaking. I have seen 20" bars and hives more than a foot deep, but to me, the resulting combs are too big to manage easily.

I have 18" bars, and combs 10" wide at the base, and 11 inches high (so a box built with 1x12 sides at 72 degree angles. My combs weigh about 6 lbs average full of honey.

Adam
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« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2011, 09:45:07 PM »

Thank you Mr Collins and also about closing up the bars behind you as you go. cool
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