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Author Topic: Pros and Cons of Top Bar Hives  (Read 8303 times)
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« on: April 25, 2006, 11:48:15 PM »

I am interested in building a TBH but I would love to hear more about them from those who have used them. Maybe a noob list of pros and cons?
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« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2006, 12:13:15 AM »

All hail Michael Bush
http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm

Excuse me a second here....
Casts a summoning spell.
Come forth Michael Bush and answer 3 questions of the wizard.

Question 1. What are the pros of TBHs?
Question 2. What are the cons of TBHs?
Question 3 Will you give me a million dollars?

I hope that helps.

Sincerely,
Brendhan
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« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2006, 12:29:55 AM »

The apprentice hangs his head in shame for being lazy and not doing more research…..

BTW…If he gives you the mill, can I get half?
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« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2006, 07:19:14 AM »

Pros:
Cheap - you can build an entire hive without having to buy anything from a bee supply

Natural cell size - the bees will build their "natural" cell size.  You can find a lot of debate thru out the forum on this.  Does it help varroa? Does it reduce honey production to build wax?, etc. etc.

Cons:
Comb is very fragile until it becomes aged.  
Extracting can be an issue.  If you like cut comb or don't mind chopping and straining then no problem.  Once again the issue of not being able to reuse the comb and the honey loss due to building comb from scratch.  There is an extractor on the market now that supposedly allows extracting from TBH.  I have not seen any comments from anyone who has tried it yet.  But once again, this takes away from the cheapness of TBH if you need to invest in a specific extractor.


Pro or Con? (depends on your point of view)

Can't use standard equiptment.
Different management style - horizontal vs. vertical
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« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2006, 08:30:56 AM »

I pick up my package of bees today, and am going to install them into my TBH that I have built.  I actually built two TBH, and have two Packages coming - but I am a little nervous about placing them both In TBH - so I am going to start with one - to see how it goes, and to learn.  

Can any of you that have managed TBH give me any tips or advice to get started.  I know I plan on direct releasing the Queen (actually going to do it in my Lang hive also).  One thing I am curious is how fast does it take the bees to start building comb - and the Queen to start laying eggs since there is no drawn out comb to start with?  Does it take longer to get a hive established with a TBH?  And should I feed - feed - feed these bees for comb production, or will there be enough with nectar flow to get them going?

Thanks.
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« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2006, 08:49:39 AM »

They will start making comb almost immediately.  As they draw the comb,  the queen will lay eggs in the cells even before they are fully drawn.  As the egg/larvae develops, they will continue to draw out the cell around it until it is capped off.  I know many folks advise not to disturb a package for a week, but if I where you, I wouldn't wait a week to find out they decided to not use your topbars as a guide and are drawing the comb in a different direction.  The sooner you can verify or correct them, the better off you will be.

By all means feed, feed, feed.   It takes a lot of nectar/syrup to make comb,  so don't let the supply be the hindering factor.

BTW, if you are using foundation in your Langstroth hive,  don't be surprised if the TBH draws comb quicker.

Good luck and keep us informed.

I'm hoping to start my first time at queen rearing in a TBH this weekend.
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« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2006, 10:44:54 PM »

>Question 1. What are the pros of TBHs?

Many have already been mentioned.  But they are much easier to build.  Can be built from scrap lumber (free).  Are easy to work (no lifting supers).  The bees stay calmer, because less of them are exposed (no gaps between the top bars).  No foundation to buy or put in.

>Question 2. What are the cons of TBHs?

They require more frequent attention. You can't just walk off and leave them for months you have to keep an eye on things.  If the comb starts getting off you'll need to take steps to straigtnen it.  When it fills up you'll need to harvest a little now and then.  A Langstroth you could throw a bunch of supers on in the spring and come back and harvest them in the fall.  A TBH would have to be harvested several times to keep it from running out of room.  If this is in your backyard this is not a problem.  If the hive is 50 miles away, this IS a problem.

>Question 3 Will you give me a million dollars?

No.

>how fast does it take the bees to start building comb - and the Queen to start laying eggs since there is no drawn out comb to start with?

There is no drawn comb in a langstroth either, unless you happen to have some on hand.  They willd usually draw enough comb for the queen to start laying in in about three days.  When the cells are only 1/4" deep the queen will lay in them and the workers will continue to draw them out.

> Does it take longer to get a hive established with a TBH?

No.

> And should I feed - feed - feed these bees for comb production, or will there be enough with nectar flow to get them going?

That depends on your climate and your blooms.  Here, right now, there is a flow.  Not a major one, but they are more interested in the nectar than honey I have left out.

There are pictures and a little commentary on my web site on top bar hives and on natural cell size and foundationless (which top bars are).

www.bushfarms.com
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« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2006, 09:21:50 AM »

So installed both package of bees yesterday - One was a standard Langstroth, and the other the TBH.  How much easier it was than last year when doing it my first time - actually it was just my comfort level.

I did however direct release the queen in both hives - and I am unsure as to acceptance.  I first installed in the Lang - and I could swear they started balling the queen - but I quickly closed up.

The TBH was fanning like crazy when I introduced the queen - so maybe all is good.

Question:  when is a good time to check both hives to see if queen was accepted and if she is laying?

Than Langstroth was all drawn out comb - so I assume if she was accepted she should have immediately started laying eggs.  Just don't know how soon to break open the hive.
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« Reply #8 on: April 28, 2006, 07:31:33 AM »

>Question: when is a good time to check both hives to see if queen was accepted and if she is laying?

I'd look on the outside every day, if it's convenient (like in your backyard) but, unless something appears amiss,  (like them clustering all on the outside of the box or making that dissonant "queenless" hum) I wouldn't open them up for at least a week or more.  Let them get settled.
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« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2006, 08:57:54 AM »

I checked the two hives yesterday - I probably should have waited but curiosity got the best of me.  I was more curious because I direct released the Queen, and was worried if she was accepted or not.  I first checked the Lang - and found both eggs and Larvae - so it looks like it is going good.  I have a hard time finding the queen though, and did not find her.

I next checked the TBH - and that is also going good.  They have started building out about 4 or 5 of the Top bars, and there are also eggs, and larvae.  They are building out really nice and even - right where I put the wax coated slats.  This natural comb looks really pretty.  I noticed that it seems very fragile though.  One thing I found out when working them is to bring the Top Bars back down from the top instead of pushing them back together - the bees have a tendency to hang out their heads at the top of the bars and I started to crush them.

One Question - I noticed, and I don't know if it is because it is now exposed to the weather, but my Top Bars are really tight, and I had a hard time fitting the last one back on with out much force.  I thought about maybe planning the side of one Top Bar so that it will fit a little loose.  Anyone have this problem?

I am going to wait another week to check my other TBH.  But I look forward to seeing how these two hives pan out.

Thanks.
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« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2006, 09:23:56 AM »

>One thing I found out when working them is to bring the Top Bars back down from the top instead of pushing them back together - the bees have a tendency to hang out their heads at the top of the bars and I started to crush them.

It takes some practice to get the hang of it.  But you're on the right track.

>I noticed, and I don't know if it is because it is now exposed to the weather, but my Top Bars are really tight, and I had a hard time fitting the last one back on with out much force. I thought about maybe planning the side of one Top Bar so that it will fit a little loose. Anyone have this problem?

You need them loose or on a humid day they will actuall pop up because they don't fit anymore, or push the end off the hive.  The will change in size becaue of the humidity and also because propolis will build up between the bars.  An exact fit is NOT what you want.
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« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2006, 02:00:52 PM »

Thanks for the reply Michael.

So did I mess up by making my Top Bars an exact fit - if so then I am going to have a problem.  I made both my Top Bars that way.  I guess I missed that part of the design when researching - my fault.  So how would you suggest I fix that issue?  Like I said - my first thought was to plane my last top bar down on one side enough so that the bars move freely.  Actually I probably could make a new Top Bar and re-insert.  But would this mess up my spacing?  Thanks for any suggestions.
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« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2006, 06:22:30 PM »

I built my top bar hive, sort of like a combo TBH and Lang.  The top bars all hang comb, but I put 3/16 notches on 4 spots on all of the bars.  This formed 3/8 inch squares, so the bees could actually surface.  I then made a vent/feeder to put on top.  Then I have a regular top to go on it.  I sloped the sides at a 221/2 angle, screened the bottom, ect.

     My main goal was to actually see if "housel positioning" applied.  I found that it really doesn't.  I do alternate Y's and I's in my Langs, but in the TBH, there are y's and i's at all angles!

     I removed a swarm for somebody, and they took off really well in it.  I think it is interesting, but I will probably only ever have the one.  If I make another, it will be more of a long hive, with frames sideways.  I think MB makes that type of hive.

    But it definately is the cheap way of going about things.
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« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2006, 06:22:59 PM »

>So did I mess up by making my Top Bars an exact fit

Yes.

> if so then I am going to have a problem.

Yes.

> I made both my Top Bars that way. I guess I missed that part of the design when researching - my fault. So how would you suggest I fix that issue?

Take one bar out and split the gap between the front and back.

> Like I said - my first thought was to plane my last top bar down on one side enough so that the bars move freely. Actually I probably could make a new Top Bar and re-insert. But would this mess up my spacing?

Well, actually they need at a minimum, an extra 1/4" at the front and back anyway because half of the bees space between any two combs comes from the next comb and on the ends there is no next comb.  And more won't hurt.  Look at a ten frame langstroth.  There's a good inch left over on the outsides.  If you put them in a typical eight frame hive, there is 1 1/4" left over.
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« Reply #14 on: May 07, 2006, 12:56:57 AM »

OK.... My father built me a cool topbar hive from some plans on the Net but I have a few questions.

First, my topbars have a groove cut into them that I had planned to insert a 3/4 inch by 16 inch peice of plastic foundation for the bees to start from. Is this OK to use and what should I use to secure it? can I glue it in? It fits pretty snug without anything.

Second, this hive has 24 bars. Should I leave any bars with no starter foundation?

I could not find 1/8 hardware cloth  to make a screened bottom but my wife found some of that plastic stuff you use for crafts where you pull yarn through it. I have no idea what it is called. It comes in sheets and has 1/8 holes. Does anyone see a problems there?

My Dad is thinking about building some more of these and maybe selling a few. What would something like that sell for?

I will be taking some pictures of it tomorrow and posting here for ya'll to take a look at...

I have a 3 lb package coming this weekend for this hive. I am pumped!
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« Reply #15 on: May 07, 2006, 08:56:33 AM »

First, my topbars have a groove cut into them that I had planned to insert a 3/4 inch by 16 inch peice of plastic foundation for the bees to start from. Is this OK to use and what should I use to secure it? can I glue it in? It fits pretty snug without anything.

If they are pretty tight,  you can give them to the bees as needed and they will secure them to the bars as they draw the comb.  I have never used plastic foundation, just wax strips secured with melted wax.  

Second, this hive has 24 bars. Should I leave any bars with no starter foundation?

If your worried about the starter strips warping or falling off before the bees get to them,  then you can wait and add bars with strips as needed.

I could not find 1/8 hardware cloth  to make a screened bottom but my wife found some of that plastic stuff you use for crafts where you pull yarn through it. I have no idea what it is called. It comes in sheets and has 1/8 holes. Does anyone see a problems there?

Believe it or not, I know exactly what your talking about. I would have some concerns with using it.  First it is not UV protected and it doesn't take long to become brittle and break.  I have seen people make wind ornaments out of it and they don't last.  Secondly, mice and other varmits can chew right thru it and have access to the comb and brood.  If determined, I bet the bees could chew thru it too.

My Dad is thinking about building some more of these and maybe selling a few. What would something like that sell for?

Whatever someone would be willing to pay wink  Shipping cost may be an issue.

I will be taking some pictures of it tomorrow and posting here for ya'll to take a look at...

Let's see it....
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« Reply #16 on: May 07, 2006, 10:04:23 PM »

I built my top bar hive in a humidity-controled shop class and paniced when I noticed a 9/16" gap between the last top bar and the back.  The humidity swelled those bars up and now, the bars fit perfectly!  I checked the measurements (1 3/8").
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« Reply #17 on: May 08, 2006, 12:28:06 AM »

OK... Here is a link to our site and the pictures of the top bar hive my dad built for me. I order a 3 lb package of Italian ladies that I should be able to pickup Saturday. Our website is not finished yet but I am working on it...

Any comments about the hive are welcome...

http://hh-farms.com/bees/
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« Reply #18 on: May 08, 2006, 07:44:28 PM »

>First, my topbars have a groove cut into them that I had planned to insert a 3/4 inch by 16 inch peice of plastic foundation for the bees to start from. Is this OK to use

It could work.

> and what should I use to secure it?

There's the rub.  I've used wax starter strips and waxed them into a groove.  I've seen wood starter strips, which can easily be glued (with exterior wood glue) into the groove.  I suppose you could find some kind of glue that would work.

>Second, this hive has 24 bars. Should I leave any bars with no starter foundation?

You need some kind of comb guide.  Be it a starter strip or a triangular piece or a wooden starter strip.

>I could not find 1/8 hardware cloth to make a screened bottom but my wife found some of that plastic stuff you use for crafts where you pull yarn through it. I have no idea what it is called.

Plastic canvase.

> It comes in sheets and has 1/8 holes. Does anyone see a problems there?

I don't know how it will stand up in the outdoors, but it shoudl work.  1/8" hardware cloth is available from Brushy Mt. or Betterbee.

>My Dad is thinking about building some more of these and maybe selling a few. What would something like that sell for?

I've seen some very expensive ones on the web.  But, most people who build one do it because it's cheap and easy.
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« Reply #19 on: May 09, 2006, 11:13:22 AM »

Michael,

Just to clarify what you are saying to do - you stated to take one bar out and split the gap.  

So should I take out one bar, and then just add equal wood slats w/ out groove and strip on both ends of hive?  This would make a very large gap between first comb and end comb?

Thanks.
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« Reply #20 on: May 09, 2006, 12:58:59 PM »

No No No. Take one bar out, any bar without comb built on it. Then push all the remaining bars together and you then should have an equal gap at the front and back. No need to add any thing after taking out the one bar.
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« Reply #21 on: May 09, 2006, 01:47:34 PM »

OK.  So what about the opening that leaves?  will it create any problems?  It would definetely be used and an entrance/exit.  Or am I still not understanding this?  Thanks.
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« Reply #22 on: May 09, 2006, 02:33:51 PM »

You don't have some sort of top/cover over the bars?
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« Reply #23 on: May 09, 2006, 02:40:22 PM »

jgarzasr,

Here is what my top bar looks like. Does yours have a cover to keep the rain out?

http://hh-farms.com/bees/
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« Reply #24 on: May 09, 2006, 03:03:17 PM »

Quote from: jgarzasr
OK.  So what about the opening that leaves?  will it create any problems?  It would definetely be used and an entrance/exit.  Or am I still not understanding this?  Thanks.


jgarzasr,

You can cut shims to fit.  When I built my TBH, I purposely put a lip on the front of the hive to make up the space between the first comb and end wall.  I then add all the top bars  working my way to the back.  I then just fill the last space with various shims to fill it out so the bees do not make an entrance.  I don't plan on worrying about the spacing in the back because I will remove combs for consumption before the get all the way back.  I wouldn't want to have to pull a loaded bar straight out.  I always remove the empty back bars and pull the loaded bars back a bit before pulling them out.

I'd cut a shim about 1/3 of a bar and put that in the front.   Then just fill in the back with whatever is needed.  AS the seasons change, you'll only have to worry about the back shims to account for expansion/contraction.
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« Reply #25 on: May 09, 2006, 09:51:44 PM »

>Just to clarify what you are saying to do - you stated to take one bar out and split the gap.

I'm saying leave half of the gap at the front and the other half at the back.  Each bar includes a HALF of a beespace, so the first and last bar need at LEAST another 1/4" space to make the beespace there.  Ten langstroth frames don't fit tightly in a ten frame box either, and they shoudln't.  The excess should always bee at each end, not in the middle.
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« Reply #26 on: May 09, 2006, 11:00:30 PM »

I will be installing a 3 lb package in my new topbar hive this Saturday. Any advice on the best way to do it? I had planned to hang the queen in between bars about 3 bars from the entrance but I am not sure if that is best. Should i hang it candy down? Should i just set the queen cage in the bottom of the hive? I will be picking up this package shortly after it is put together so a direct release is probably not a good idea....
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« Reply #27 on: May 10, 2006, 07:35:56 AM »

>I will be installing a 3 lb package in my new topbar hive this Saturday. Any advice on the best way to do it? I had planned to hang the queen in between bars about 3 bars from the entrance but I am not sure if that is best.

Where do you want the brood nest?  I kind of like mine near the back so I can stack supers on the front, but you can hang the queen wherever you like.  I would staple the metal strip (there usually is one, but you can add some kind of strip if there isn't) to the center of one of the bars.  It needs to be sturdy because the bees will hang from the cage.

> Should i hang it candy down?

If it's from California, there probably won't be any candy.  Put it where ever you like.  If it's in your back yard, I'd just leave the cork in and come back and relase her in four days.

>Should i just set the queen cage in the bottom of the hive?

No.
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« Reply #28 on: May 10, 2006, 08:57:40 PM »

Quote from: jgarzasr
OK.  So what about the opening that leaves?  will it create any problems?  It would definetely be used and an entrance/exit.  Or am I still not understanding this?  Thanks.


jgarzasr,

Here are some pix of how I did it.



You can see I left a 3/8" overhang into the hive with a top cap (darker piece on top right). This leaves a gap between the end wall and the first bar.


Then on the other end, I just fill the excess space with shims to prevent them using it as an entrance.

Hopefully this helps you.
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« Reply #29 on: May 10, 2006, 11:41:05 PM »

Thanks all... Good advice all around... I will post sat eve to tell how it went..
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« Reply #30 on: May 25, 2006, 04:29:08 PM »

Well I finally got a chance to go out and do a check on the hives - it has been mostly rainy cool weather and have not had a break to get in and do a check.

So yesterday I went out and checked both my new TBH's - and all is looking good.  The first one I started has drawn out about half the bars - the first couple bars about 3/4 drawn out with the rest partly.  All are filled out with eggs/brood, and pollen.  The second hive (which got started a week after to first) is actually doing better - they have about the same amount of bars drawn - but more of the bars are drawn out completely.  Do they eventually draw out the full length of the bar?

On both of my TBH's I got to see the Queen - which on my two Langs - I have never seen the Queen - I don't know if that is luck, but it was nice to finally spot her.

On one of the TBH's my tight fit of the bars actually started to buckle up - so I removed the last bar, and I plan on cutting a couple shims to even out both sides.  Will the bar removed at the end create any problems?  I know they may start using it as an entrance.

Also I stopped feeding sugar water - but on my check I noticed there wasn't hardly any nectar/honey - but mostly brood and pollen.  Should I continue to feed?

Thanks - and if anyone can respond to my questions - I would appreciate.
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Michael Bush
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« Reply #31 on: May 26, 2006, 07:54:20 AM »

>On one of the TBH's my tight fit of the bars actually started to buckle up - so I removed the last bar

The humidity makes them change sizes.  Tight fit is not a good thing.

> and I plan on cutting a couple shims to even out both sides. Will the bar removed at the end create any problems?

No.

> I know they may start using it as an entrance.

That IS my entrance.  Putting in shims will just make it tight again.


>Also I stopped feeding sugar water - but on my check I noticed there wasn't hardly any nectar/honey - but mostly brood and pollen.

Normal for a hive building up.

>Should I continue to feed?

Is there nectar and pollen coming in?  If there is I wouldn't.
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Michael Bush
My website:  bushfarms.com/bees.htm
My book:  ThePracticalBeekeeper.com
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"Everything works if you let it."--Rick Nielsen
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