Overview, Construction, Harvest, Miscellaneous


 1. What is a top bar hive (tbh)?

    A tbh is a movable comb hive.  Narrow bars, normally of wood, rest
across a container (usually a long box or trough), which forms the cavity
containing the bees' nest.  Bees build comb from the bars which are wide
enough to give proper spacing between combs.  A bar with its attached comb
and adhering bees can be removed from the hive and examined.  Each comb is
built naturally by the bees, suspended from its top-bar. (i.e., none of
the combs is enclosed in a complete frame.)  No **full sheets** of
comb-foundation *are* used.

 2. Are tbh's "legal" to use?

    Yes, in so far as I know, since all of the bars and combs can be
moved to enable inspection of the hives to comply with laws in those
states or municipalities that require inspection.

 3. What is a top bar (tb)?

    Top bars are the "slats" to which comb is attached.  Placed side by
side across the hive cavity/container, they form a roof for the hive.
Bars may be made from a variety of materials. They can be cut from scrap
or purchased lumber, may be made from tree branches or bamboo of
appropriate size.  The bars may be of any suitable length to reach across
the hive, but it is critical that they be of appropriate width (or
diameter) to provide proper spacing of combs for the species or strain of
bees involved.  An outer lid or covering is provided over the bars, for
additional protection from the elements.

 4. Who invented tbh's?

    It probably isn't really known, but according to Eva Crane
on p. 300-301 of her *opus magnum*, "Bees and Beekeeping", the earliest
knowledge of tbh development was in Sir George Wheeler's book, "A Journey
into Greece" published in 1682.  Wheeler describes basket tbh's. One of
his illustrations is reproduced on p. 301 of Crane's book.

    The Greeks for centuries have been utilizing upright, woven "baskets"
as hives.  Bars placed across the top of each basket individually support
the combs.  By removing each bar, the attached comb can be examined or
moved.  Evidently, due to the slope of the basket shape (narrower toward
the bottom), the bees do not attach their combs to the sides (or do so
only minimally).  Therefore each comb is movable by removing the top bar
from which it has been built.

    In Britain and North America, bar-type hives of various sorts were
often used in days of old.  However, the combs were invariably attached to
the sides of the hive as well as to the bars.  Therefore the
side-attachments had to be cut away in order for the combs to be removed.
This was not much of an improvement over straw skeps or simple box hives.

 5. When was the tbh invented?

    Loooooooong ago.  Obviously prior to 1682.

 6. Why was the tbh invented then further developed more recently?

    I can't say for certain, but it was probably to provide a means of
keeping bees, rather than of just "having" bees.  With a tbh it is no
longer necessary to kill the bees to harvest honey, nor are brood combs
disturbed.  In many areas of the world today, tbh's are used because the
"low tech" aspects of tbh's meld better with the social and economic
conditions at the present time.

    [Tim Haarmann]  You mention "low tech".  I like to think of the TBH as
a "moderate tech hive".  I think of a container of bees (used in many
parts of the world) with no moveable frames as low tech, the TBH as a
moderate tech. hive, and the Langstroth as a high tech. hive.  I often
talk to people about the "natural/ simple" aspects of the TBH, which
appeals to a lot of the gardening, hobby beekeeper types.  This is the
market that I think can best benefit from TBHs.  Who wants to sink $500
into a hobby right off the bat? A TBH is much cheaper and includes a lot
less equipment.

    [Tim Haarmann] I think the TBH has a lot to offer people in more
developed countries if we are willing to step away from the monster named
technology and embrace the beauty of simplicity.

    [Kevin Palm]  From information sent to me by Dr. James Tew of OSU,
(and this is from memory), he states that the TBH was designed to be a
transitional hive, helping beekeepers in developing countries make the
step from log hives to the much more "advanced" Langstroth hives.

 7. What are the advantages of beekeeping in tbh's?

    There are many in my opinion.  Some of them might be: a) the hives
are inexpensive and can be made by recycling scrap lumber or fashioning
the hives from existing materials such as bamboo, reeds, clay, etc.,
b) there are no supers to lift, frames to nail together, sheets of
foundation to put in frames, no extractor and supers with sticky combs
to store, c) bees are disturbed less as the hives are worked, d) more
beeswax is harvested since the combs are removed from the hive, e) the
honey is "comb honey" and if it is pressed or squeezed from the virgin
combs, it has a superior flavor...or so I believe. :)

    [Tim Haarmann]  Not to mention that a well built TBH is much more
attractive than a square, white, Lang.

 8. What are the disadvantages of beekeeping in tbh's?

    There are several in my opinion.  Consider these: a) the hives may
require more management in that the brood may have to be spread to get
good spring buildup or if the hive becomes honeybound, b) combs may
have to be harvested regularly during a heavy honey flow rather than
just adding another super, c) because surplus honey-combs are detached
from their top bars in harvesting the crop, and are not reused,
the tbh's are probably not capable of producing as much honey as supered
Langstroth hives with drawn combs, d) newly drawn and filled combs must
be handled carefully.  Older brood combs are very tough, e) finally, tbh's
may not be suitable for a beekeeper who must, psychologically, have the
very best and very finest of the latest technology in everything, or who
must produce more honey than anyone else.

    To prevent a "honeybound" condition (i.e., not enough empty comb
available as laying space for the queen), the brood portion of the hive
can be supplied with additional bars, to allow the bees to construct new
combs within the nest.  This provides ample laying room for the queen and
reduces congestion during the spring buildup.

    The routines involved with tbh inspection and harvesting just differ
somewhat from the procedures for movable-frame hives.

    [Tim Haarmann] You mention that the hives may require more management.
I guess I feel that they require less management.  I remember back when I
was using Langs and a beginning beekeeper.  One of my biggest frustrations
was knowing when to add a super so my bees didn't swarm.  To add to the
frustration, I always had to have a super put together and ready to go.
As you mention, the only management of a TBH is to make sure the bees
don't get honey bound.  This seems like a simple thing compared to the
confusion I felt when I first started using Langs.  Of course, it has
become almost second nature knowing when to super a Lang now, but back
then it was troublesome.  I just don't see this same frustration in new
beekeepers using a TBH.

    [Mike Allsopp]  I am not an avowed fan of TBH's.  My feeling is that
they are fun to work with, and very suitable under certain conditions
(strictly for hobbyist and sedentary beekeepers), but I am doubtful on
whether we should be encouraging their general usage.  I think I differ
from others on this due to four things:

 1. There is a lot of misinformation on the importance of certain
 features of TBH's, such as the slanting sides and the reduction in
 defensive behaviour. In reality, TBH's are just low technology,
 horizontal Langstroths. In East Africa these days they have given up
 the slanting sides as they make no difference.

 2. No-one has yet to adequately test the performance (in monetary
 return) TBH's and Langstroths. I have a guy in Cape Town doing just
 this at present. At first glance the TBH's are very impressive, but
 over a couple of seasons their total honey yield is far below that of
 standard Langstroths.

 3. TBH's should only be used if suitable hive material is available.
 How can we counternance the destruction of hard wood trees to produce
 TBH's or log hives, as is the practice in much of Africa?

 4. And the major reason: All of us bee people in South Africa are
 involved to a lesser or greater extent in "beekeeping development
 programmes" - advancing beekeeping in the rural and disadvantaged
 communities. In this respect I believe advancing the use of TBH's is
 the wrong approach. The aim of the programmes I am involved with is the
 rapid development of semi-commercial beekeepers that can compete with the
 established beekeepers, not the provision of one or two hives to each
 member of the programme. I suggest that using TBH's for these people
 retards their chances of ever becoming successful commercial beekeepers,
 rather than advances it. You can't easily follow honey flows or do
 commercial pollination with TBH's.

 9. Should a beginning beekeeper start with a tbh?

    It would seem that it might be best for a beginner to start with a
pair of conventional hives and the associated equipment if it is
financially possible.  Certainly in many parts of the world more help
and advice would be available than in others.  But the honeybees don't
care, and I really can't think of anything that should prevent a beginner
from using and enjoying a colony of bees in a tbh.

    [Tim Haarmann]  I have started a few people with TBH.  After about a
year, they are almost embarrassed to tell other beekeepers they don't use
the high tech Lang--go figure?   Sometimes I suggest a TBH to a new
beekeeper, and tell them that if they like beekeeping after a year or
two, then they can purchase some Langs and all the expensive equipment.
A TBH is not a very big financial investment i.e. perfect for a beginner.
However, most never want to give up their TBH.

10. Can tbh's be used for commercial honey production?

    In some sections of the world, tbh's are being used to produce honey
that is sold in local markets.  For the beekeeper whose goal is to
produce tons of honey and to make a living keeping thousands of colonies,
the tbh is probably not a suitable option.  Allen Dick suggested that
cut comb honey could possibly be produced profitably in tbh's.

    [Tim Haarmann]   Les Crowder, the president of the NM Beekeepers
Association promotes the use of TBHs.   Les uses them for comb and chunk
honey as well as some queen rearing.  He is a perfect example of someone
who has successfully integrated both types of hives into a commercial

11. Can tbh's be used to provide commercial pollination services?

    Dr. Wyatt Mangum is using around 200 Kenya tbh's to operate a
pollination service in North Carolina.  He loads the hives in the back
of a pickup truck and on a trailer.  Good, straight brood combs are never
replaced in his hives, so some of the combs are old and very sturdy.

    Wyatt prefers using Kenya tbh's because the sloping side gives him
a better center of gravity when he carries the hive.  He says that it
fits against his abdomen better.

12. What is a "honey cow?"

    Joel Govostes stated that in Bernhard Clauss' book on Botswanan
beekeeping, the locals refer to the tbh's as "honey cows."  Joel suggested
that I could just add four legs and a head....say, that got me thinking.  I
am going to use some 30 gal plastic barrels this spring for tbh's.  I'll
make a cradle with four legs for the barrel half to rest in.  Cut
out a cow head and neck...grazing?...looking alertly?...decisions,
decisions... add a tail.  I'll use an arching tin roof on top.  Then
paint the entire hive white.... paint the black spotting of the
Holstein (Freisen?) cow...eyes, etc.  Then I'll put it down in the
orchard...could have an entire herd.....yeah!

    [Tim Haarmann]  Just an interesting side note.  In Spanish we use
the term  "la colmena batea" to describe the TBH.  colmena=hive and
batea=trough.  This, because it looks like a watering trough for
livestock.  Aagghhh, a new twist to honey cow!



 1. How are tbh's made?

    A tbh is nothing more than a cavity with tb's and bees.  Make the
cavity in any way you can: new lumber, scrap lumber, plywood, particle
board, reeds, straw, brick, clay, bamboo, old cabinet drawers, metal or
plastic drums, large hollow logs.  Hives made of reeds or straw have been
plastered with cattle dung on the inside, then smoked over a fire to cure
the inside coating.  Sturdy cardboard boxes might work if they could be
waterproofed in some way.

    Joel Govostes has considered using large diameter PVC pipe cut to
an appropriate length, split lengthwise, then half-moon shaped pieces
glued or nailed to each end.  Would probably work.

    Paul van Westendorp commented that tbh's require quite a bit of wood
compared to the amount of comb, and that in many parts of the world wood
is very dear, very scarce.  In his work with developmental beekeeping
they make tbh frames out of wood then used woven material for the sides
and bottom.  He said the bees had no difficulties with this type of hive,
but "the logistics to implement it proved enormous."

    [Tim Haarmann]  Awhile back I purchased the cardboard Lang. nucs
they advertised in some of the bee magazines.  They are boxes made to
fit 5 Lang frames.  I was able to easily adapt them to hold TBs (working
with cardboard is a snap).  I weatherproofed the cardboard with a spray
sealer, and they lasted the entire season no problem.  Worked out to be
real cheap.

    I have used bamboo, other jungle material, even sheets of black
plastic to make hives.  They work OK, especially in the tropics, but
nothing can replace a solid piece of wood.  A few of the beekeepers in
my association have experimented with "pumice-crete" hives.  Pumice is a
locally available, light, volcanic rock.  Mixed in place of regular rocks,
it makes a light concrete.  This hives proved impossible to move, but
they are darn sturdy and can be passed down from generation to generation.
I am sure one of these days we will try and make one out of Adobe, just
to be southwestern about the whole thing.

 2. What are good dimensions for tbh's?

    Dimensions are not critical for the hive.  A good starting point would
be the size of three full-size, deep, standard brood chambers placed
side by side.  This should produce a tbh that would require 30 tb's.
Try 85cm long, 30cm deep, 50.5cm wide if you're more comfortable with
specific dimensions.  The only really important dimension is the width
of the tb which varies with the species of bee.

    25.4mm = 2.54cm = 1 inch

 3. How are tb's made?

    For Italian honeybees, the width of the tb should be 35mm, for
African bees, 32mm.  Paul Magnuson said that when the African bees
arrive in GA, USA, I can plane my 35mm bars to 32mm. [g] :)   The bars
can be cut on a table saw from new lumber or scrap wood.  If scrap wood
is used, avoid wood that might be treated or contaminated with
insecticides or noxious chemicals.  If wood isn't available, then tree
limbs or bamboo of appropriate diameter can be used.

    I cut a centered groove 1/4 inch deep the length of my tb's.  A
foundation strip is waxed into the groove.  On one side of the center of
the bar, I cut a 3/8 x 3/4 inch notch.  This notch is useful to observe
where the bees are, and how far comb has been drawn out.  The notches are
covered with thin strips of some material such as plywood or masonite
unless I wish to give the hive ventilation or provide more entrances.

    1 inch = 2.54cm = 25.4mm

    Joel Govostes has made tb's by using two strips that together would
total 35mm, then nailing them together with a starter strip of foundation
between them.  Clever!

 4. Are there different types of tbh's?

     Two general types: those with sloping sides (Kenya tbh) and those
with straight sides (Tanzanian).  The hives with sloping sides supposedly
allow the bees to build a natural, crescent-shaped comb that is attached
to the sides very little.  In practice, I have seen little difference in
the amount of comb attachment whether the sides are sloped or straight.

    If you wish to build a hive with sloping sides, try an angle of at
least 14 degrees from the vertical according to Ron Brown.  He published
an article titled "A TOP-BAR HIVE" in *The Beekeeper's Quarterly*, No. 44,
in which he describes making a tbh from the bark-lined strips cut off
logs at sawmills.

    [Tim Haarmann]  Interesting you should mention all this.  I have only
used the sloping sides, having been taught you must do it or the bees
will attach to the sides.  Of course, they attach to the sloping sides
as well, so apparently it doesn't really make a difference.  One friend
of mine tried lining the inside of his sloping hive with linoleum to see
if they would be less likely to attach.  It didn't work!

 5. What is a catenary tbh?

    This is a variation on the top-bar/natural comb concept.

    Joel Govostes has made a catenary tbh, and has kept bees in it
successfully.  This hive was "invented" in the mid-1960's in England by
W.B. Bielby.  It is well described in his book, "Home Honey
Production."  The hive has the sides and bottoms fashioned from a single
sheet of curved, thin plywood.  Such a hive is about the same size
as a standard hive, and is enlarged for surplus space by providing upper
storeys ("supers"), as with a conventional frame-hive.  The top-bars do
not form a covering in this case--a bee-space/passage exists between each
pair of top bars, again, like in a frame-hive.  The catenary-hive top-bars
are about 1" wide, this gives bees open access to combs above the brood
nest.  The typical inner cover and  outer cover are used on top.  The
colony therefore expands vertically in a catenary hive, and not
horizontally as in the usual (long) top-bar hives.   There are photographs
and drawings of this type of tbh on p.305 of Eva Crane's "Bees and

 6. Does a tbh have to have sloping sides?

    No. Sides can be straight.  Supposedly the sloping sides will result
in less comb attachment, but experience has shown that there doesn't seem
to be a great deal of difference.  Attachments are easily freed with a
hive tool.  I prefer to build straight sides.

 7. Where should the tbh entrance(s) be?

    The entrances can be holes either down the sides or at one end.  I
have one hive with a series of 3/8 inch holes down both sides, and the
bees use mostly the center holes on the east-facing side only.  The
remainder of my hives have a series of one inch holes (usually seven) on
one end.

     Since I keep my hives side by side on waist-high stands so that
I can work the hives without bending over, I have found it convenient to
have the entrance holes at the end away from where the hive is opened for
harvesting the surplus or inspecting the colony.  With the holes at the
end, the combs are oriented the "warm" way and form a series of baffles
which might help overwintering by reducing drafts.  If entrances are down
the sides, the combs are aligned the "cool way" and might be better in
hotter climates.  I have no data to support these suppositions.

    In the summer I open the notches in my tb's near the front of my
hives so that there are more entrances for the bees.  The tb's also warp
occasionally and make additional entrances. :)  I haven't tried a hive
with entrances only at the top.

    [Tim Haarmann]  When making hives, I like to extend my bottom board
out one end and that becomes the landing board (I'm sure you have seen
this design).  I then leave a 1-2 cm entrance all the way across the
distance of the landing board.    I then reduce the entrance in the
winter much like I do my Langs.  I think entrances are very over rated.
Look at nature, bees can use 100 different kinds and seem to be equally
as happy.  I think I'll try your hole method, sounds fun.  I like to use
old lang hive bodies as stands for my TBHs.  They are a little short,
but they get the TBH off the ground. Besides, I like the symbolism of
sitting a TBH on top an old Lang hive body.

 8. What size and shape should the entrance(s) be?

    It doesn't seem to matter much if there are enough of them and the
hive is strong.  Smaller diameter holes are easier to defend in case of
robbing.  Duct tape or pieces of wood can be placed over entrance holes
to reduce the number if management dictates that it be done.  I usually
reduce the entrance holes to two or three in the winter.  Entrances could
be made as slits the length of the end or side.

 9. Are covers necessary on tbh's?

    Although the tb's do form a "roof" for the hive, it seems desirable
to place some sort of cover over the bars to protect them from the
weather. I have taken sheets of cardboard and tried to waterproof them
with paint or a water repellent mixture.  These sheets seem to last about a
year.  The 5-V tin which is used as roofing in the USA makes a good cover,
especially if it is painted white to reduce heating. Sometimes the tin is
available as scrap.

    I place bricks or stones along the center line of the tb "roof",
let the tin cover arch over them, then load the tin cover down with
four bricks.  No cover has blown off yet in the Georgia summer
thunderstorms.  The tin covers can also be tied on easily.

    Covers could be made from plastic sheeting, thatch, large leaves, or
most any other suitable material.

    [Tim Haarmann]  We always make a cover out of plywood and then
either paint it or put metal on top.  I usually put a piece of 1X2 as
edging so the cover doesn't slide off in the wind.  We always have to
weigh down the covers with rocks.  A disadvantage is that spiders and
ants love to hang out in this space where the bees can't get to.

10. Can drums and other containers be used to make tbh's?

    It is my understanding that large metal drums (55 gallon US??) have
been used in Africa to make tbh's.  Those hives would probably need to be
shaded to prevent the metal from heating excessively.  I will be trying
some hives this next year, 1997, made from 30 gallon plastic, food grade
drums.  Blocks will be attached to stabilize the drums after I've
split the drums lengthwise.  With tb's along the top, the bees should
build lovely, crescent-shaped combs.  It will be interesting to
compare comb attachment to the sides with my present straight-sided hives.

    The plastic barrels are translucent and might need a coat of paint
to block the light out.  I'll try one "as is" and paint the others.
The *bees* will tell me what they prefer.

     Five-gallon plastic buckets, split lengthwise and provided with a
half-moon shaped "front" and top bars have been used quite successfully
for small demonstration colonies.

11. Can observation hives be made using combs and bees from tbh's?

    Yes indeed.  I made up an observation hive using a single bar, and
it was a delight. Just remember to make it wide enough for good bee space
to either side of the comb on the bar.  Make it whatever length you have
for the bar that you are using.  I used glass for the sides, with some
opaque clothlike material used as curtains to cover the sides.  Thin
plywood would probably work better for the side covers.

    I *unwisely* mounted in hive in the window of a small greenhouse that
had no temperature regulating system.  In August of that year it was 100F+
inside at times, and a meltdown resulted.  I didn't restart the hive in
1996, but probably will next year.  I missed not having it.  Don't know
where to put it...perhaps in my bedroom, but NOT in the greenhouse.



 1. How is honey harvested from tbh's?

    The combs are cut off or broken from the tb's after the bees have
been removed by brushing or some other means.  The combs can be used
directly to package cut comb honey.  I think I'll try marketing full
bars of honey, complete with the tb, taken directly from the hive and
sold to customers who can appreciate comb honey directly from the hive.
The combs and honey will require a good price, but some of my customers
are already spreading the word that my honey is "the best that they have
ever eaten." :) :)  [big, big grin]

    If it's desirable to have "extracted" honey, then the honey can be
crushed in a bag, squeezed by hand, squeezed with grooved paddles, or can
be hung in a warm, sunlit window to let the honey drip into a container
below the bag.

    I have made a press which has vertical plates that are pressed
together by a scissor-type automobile jack.  The honey flow downward
and collects in a tub below the press.  The pressed combs have very little
honey left in them, though there is a little clinging to the mesh bag
which contained the comb.  I wash bag off in a tub of water, use the honey
water to make honey pop, mead, or sometimes feed back to the bees.  The
crushed comb goes to my solar wax melter, and since it is virgin comb the
resulting beeswax is exquisite.

    No sticky combs and supers to be concerned about. :)  The press is
much easier to clean up than an extractor.  The result is less honey, but
more beeswax.  If I ever want more honey, I'll make more tbh's.

    I strain the honey through nylon hosiery (kneehi's work well), let
it set overnight, then bottle it if needed; otherwise, it stays in bulk
containers.  Some very small bubbles may rise in the honey for several
days after pressing.  I thought at first the honey was fermenting, but
I have come to the conclusion that pressing puts some air into the honey
under high pressure and this air is slow to come out.  Don't know for
sure...I may be wrong about this, but the honey wasn't fermenting.

2. Can tb combs be extracted and reused?

    Probably.  But I really don't care to get into that aspect for it
takes me back closer to my former days of beekeeping.  Imagine making a
rack to hold a tb with a screen against which the uncapped comb
could rest, then spin away in an extractor.    Or, how about this.  Take
a bucket with a hardware cloth support that fits the top, uncap a comb,
turn the bucket and support so that the support screen can be placed
against the tb and comb.  Rotate everything 90 degrees so that you're
holding the bucket by the bail and the comb is resting on the support.
Sling everything round and round...vertically??  Maybe two buckets on a
rotating tree that can be slung around horizontally???  Too much bother
for me...besides, I wouldn't get as much beeswax.

 3. What are some practical ways to "extract" the crop from tbh's?

    The previous questions answer much of this area.  I prefer to remove
combs as they are capped and press the honey out.  Ron Smithwick told me
of uncapping combs (in frames) and putting them upside down in an ice
chest which was then placed in the sun.  The chest heats up and the honey
drains from the combs.  This might work for trying to uncap and reuse the
tb combs, unless the combs became too hot and deformed.

    Pressing, squeezing, smushing seems the best way to extract.  Seems
that I have seen ads for a grinding centrifuge that separates wax and
honey.  That might work well, but I'll bet that the aeration of the honey
would impair the flavor in comparison to honey gotten from the combs by
pressing only.

    [Joel Govostes]  Here is another method of "extracting" natural combs,
once described by the late Mr. Allen Latham in his famous bee book:

    Take a large container, such as a pail or drum, and droop strainer
cloth (about the mesh of fly-screen or a little larger) across it,
hanging down about halfway.  Nylon mesh is a good material for this.
Secure the cloth well with closepins, drawstring, tape or whatever, around
the edge of the container, to ensure it will not sink down in any further.

    Next construct a simple square wooden frame which will fit over and
around the top of the container snugly.  Staple or tack 1/2" mesh hardware
cloth (metal screen) across this frame.  Set the frame onto the pail or
barrel, over the drooping strainer cloth.

    Now..."extract!"  Simply lay a large piece of honeycomb on the screen
surface, and using a wooden paddle or other implement, mash the comb
through the screen.  This is easy and rapid.  The crushed wax and honey
falls down into the strainer cloth, and you proceed with several more
combs until you have loaded up the strainer well.  Cover it up and place
it in a warm place, and over the next couple of days, almost all of the
honey will drain through the wax and down past the strainer into the pail.
It is remarkable how well the wax will "drip-dry" of honey this way,
especially if the unit is kept warm.  A number of the units can be made
up very inexpensively to handle even a fairly large crop.

    (sometimes a vehicle with the windows rolled up is a convenient warm
spot for draining, as the sunlight heats up the interior.  Just don't let
any bees or other insects get in there!

    Or--the unit can be set into a warmer made up of an insulated box or
modified old refrigertator, with the heat provided by an appropriate
arrangement of light-bulbs.  Just don't let it get too warm!  A
temperature of about 100 degrees works out well.)

    After pretty much all the honey has drained (2-3 days), lift the
strainer cloth with its mass of wax out of the pail, and then treat the
drained honey as you would any that came out of a centrifugal extractor.
The cloth containing the wax can be tied and hung out near the bees, who
will collect much of the residual honey through the material.  Then the
wax is ready for rinsing and melting into cakes.

    This method is quick, neat, and reliable, as long as the honey is not
unusually thick or granulated.  (Not to mention--it's cheap!) The finished
product will not look any different from honey taken from an extractor,
and will retain its fine, fresh aroma and flavor.

    The framed hardware cloth atop the container serves to rupture all
the cells thoroughly as the comb is mashed, so that draining is very

    Another way to support the mashed comb in the strainer for draining
is as follows:

    Cut a round piece of the same 1/2" mesh hardware cloth, the same
diameter as the inside diameter of the pail about halfway down.  Tack
this round piece of metal screen to some wooden legs or a frame which,
when placed down into the pail/barrel, will hold it about half way up off
the bottom.  Then you droop the strainer cloth down in over it as
described above.  The round piece of screen will thereby act as a sort of
"table", inside the pail, supporting the weight of the wax/honey mash,
and letting the honey pass through.

    Note:  Some of your harvested combs are bound to be of very high
quality particularly attractive, and they can be cut to fit into cut-comb
honey containers.  The leftover scraps can then be processed into liquid
honey as described above.

    As with any extracted honey, a froth of air bubbles and wax particles
will rise to the surface of the honey over the ensuing days or weeks.
This is skimmed off prior to warming and/or straining a second time
through fine mesh such as nylons.  The honey can then be bottled as
desired.  (The froth skimmed from the honey can be recycled and not
wasted, by feeding it (undiluted) back to your bees!) [end of JG's

    [Tim Haarmann]  It is important that if comb is anything other than
fresh, it isn't advisable to squeeze the comb too much, it seems to
disflavor the honey.  I gently break up the comb full of honey, put it
in a butterfly net, hang it, and let it drip into a container.  I then
take the rest of the comb and squeeze the honey out, but I keep this
honey separate from the other.  I like the stronger stuff, but some
people don't.

 4. Can comb honey be produced in tbh's?

    The honey that is produced in tbh's *IS* comb honey.  You will get
some beautiful combs that can be cut into sections and boxed.  If by
the question it is meant that sections or rounds be produced, then I
suppose that you could mix in frames or add supers to do what you wish.
But that's getting a little bit away from the utter beauty and simplicity
of the tbh.

    See also section on extracting, above.

 5. What can be done with the wax that is surplused from tbh's?

    Use it to make foundation, candles, wax your shoe laces, lubricate
screw threads before driving the screw, wax a string to make a tin can
chicken squaker or to make tin can telephones...the list goes on and on.

    Or sell the wax.  Beeswax from this virgin comb that is produced
when there are no Apistan strips on the hive should have no fluvalinate
contamination.  Should it not fetch a premium price, especially since
it is very light in color?

6. Why is a solar wax melter a perfect complement to a tbh?

    You will get more beeswax by keeping tbh's because of what you will
be doing and the management methods you will use.  The passive solar
rendering of the wax works well.  Moreover, solar melters can be cobbled
up from scrap wood just as can the tbh's.  Using a solar melter is a low
tech kindred philosophy to tbh beekeeping in my opinion.

7. What can be done with the honey/water that results from washing
    the combs that were pressed or squeezed to remove the honey?

    Use the mixture to make mead, honey pop, or add sugar (if desirable)
to feed your bees.  If you feed very dilute honey/water mixture, the
mixture may begin fermenting before the bees have had a chance to take it
in, and it may make a mess for you.  It may well be that the bees will
spend more energy harvesting the dilute honey than they will get out of
it according to some statements I have read.



 1. Who are some tbh beekeepers with whom to correspond and get help
    if needed?

    Well, I'm generally available to try to answer your questions based
on my somewhat limited experience.  Contact me at:


    Joel Govostes has been very helpful to others in the past.  His
email address is:


    [Tim Haarmann]  Don't hesitate to list me as someone willing to answer
questions.  Especially relating to TBHs out here in the west (New Mexico,

 2. Are there workshops or seminars on beekeeping in tbh's?

    Yes.  There is a great deal of training being done in developmental
beekeeping in several areas of our planet, and much of this centers
around tbh's.

    There are some tbh beekeepers who have done workshops and made
presentations at club meetings.  One outstanding individual who has
done this is Dr. Wyatt Mangum of North Carolina State University.  I
attended his presentations on the Kenya tbh and on his beekeeping museum
which he gave at the annual Beekeeping Institute at Young Harris College,
GA USA.  He is superb.  I don't know what he charges for his
presentations, but I'll bet that you'd find it worth every penny.

    Incidentally, Wyatt Mangum gave an informative workshop on producing
and judging (evaluating, selecting) queen cells.  He uses his tbh's to
produce the queen cells.  This was an afternoon presentation at the
Young Harris seminar that was targeted for smaller groups with more
directed interests.  Good information!

    I have heard of of an individual who does a workshop on tbh beekeeping
who is out on the west coast, USA if I recall correctly.  Can't recall
a name...I don't have any more information on this.

    [Tim Haarmann]  As to the above question, there is a person out
here that every now and again gives workshops.  In fact, you mention him
in your FAQs--Marty Hardison.  Coincidentally, he is my nearest neighbor
up in the Jemez Mountains (1 hour outside of Albuquerque).  We have a
Jemez Mountains Beekeepers Association headed by Marty.  Most of the 1/2
dozen beekeepers use TBHs.  It was Marty back in 1990 that showed me how
to make a TBH because he knew I was headed to the Peace Corps in Paraguay
and would be using TBHs to keep bees.

 3. What information on tbh beekeeping can I find on the internet?

    Here are a couple of good URL's to get you started:


    This is good information on Kenya tbh's provided by Conrad Berube.


    This is the transcript of a radio program generated by the Developing
Countries Farm Radio Network.  It is titled "An Improved Beehive You Can
Make at Little Cost."  The program is an excellent interview with
Dr. Gordon Townsend who describes making tbh's from drums or other

    Here are a few references that may help you if you can get your
hands on them.  They're books and magazines, not ASCI text files. ;)

    Crane, Eva  1990. "Bees and Beekeeping:  Science, Practice and World
Resources."  Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, New York.
ISBN 0-8014-2429-1.  This magnificent work has much on tbh's, especially
"Part III Beekeeping with Simpler and Cheaper Hives" p. 291-313. (an
aside comment:  If I could have but one book on beekeeping in my library,
this would be it.)

    Gentry, Curtis l984. "Small Scale Beekeeping." Peace Corps
Information Collection and Exchange Manual M-17.  Peace Corps, 806
Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20526.  This is a wonderful
publication with excellent information and especially delightful

The following journals have articles of interest:

    Brown, Ron. "The Top Bar Hive."  The Beekeeper's Quarterly, No.44,
Winter 1995/96. p.28-29. Instructions for making a quaint, Kenya tbh
from sawmill slab offcuts.  The end result is a bark covered hive that
resembles a log, a hive that would blend well into a garden setting.

Three references from Nicola Bradbear's "Beekeeping & Development:
The Journal for Sustainable Beekeeping":

    December 1994, No.33:  Hardison, Marty.  Queen Rearing in Top-Bar
Hives. p.3.  Marty cuts strips of combs and attaches them to the bars.
I've tried this, and it works well for me.

    Same issue, but p.8-9. Hertz, Ole. The Top-Bar Basket Hive.  This
article shows work by a Danish group with Gambia beekeepers.  Hives are
woven from palm leaves or grass then plastered inside with wet cow dung.
The hives are dried then smoked with burning cow dung and herbs.

    March 1996, No.38. Liseki, Stephen D.  Sugar Feeding Using a Top-Bar
Feeder. p.4-5. Stephen describes making a feeder the width of a top bar
and made to fit down inside the Kenya tbh.  It is much like the frame
feeders used in conventional hives.

    June 1996, No.39. Mbobua, Stanely K.  Facts About "A Frame For The
Kenya Top-Bar Hive"...a reply to previous articles. p.3-4.  Stanley
replies to articles by Luckhurst (B&D35) and Clauss (B&D36) about trying
to make frames for tbh's.  Stanley shows a frame for producing attractive
triangular sections of well-filled comb honey.

Here are some additional articles that you may be able to find:

   Berube Jr., Conrad.  1989. "The Kenya Top-Bar Hive as a Better Hive in
Developing Countries." American Bee Journal, August 1989 525-527 (note:
there is a link to this article on this webpage).

   Roling, Michael. l986. "A Novel Inexpensive Hive for Teaching."
Gleanings in Bee Culture, January 1986, 22-24.

   Roling, Michael. 1988. "Pail Hive II." Gleanings in Bee Culture, August
l988, 466-467.

   Krell, Rainer. 1990. "Kenya Top Bar Hive or Top Bar Hive for Developing
Countries?" American Bee Journal, February 1990, 133-134.

   Mangum, Wyatt A. 1987. "Building a Regular or Observation Kenya Top Bar
Hive.", Gleanings in Bee Culture, November 1987, 646-648.

4. What is honey pop?

    Honey pop is a "naturally carbonated" drink made by using honey,
water, some beverage base, and a yeast.  The result is a refreshing,
bubbly drink that has a trace of alcohol...or more than a trace depending
on the amount of honey you use, and how long you allow the yeast to
operate.  If you use too much honey and too much yeast, you will not have
honey pop, but rather you will have honey "BOOM" for the bottles will

    A recipe for honey pop was posted by John Iannuzzi on BEE-L some time
ago.  You will also find recipes and instructions included in the
beverage bases that can be purchased at businesses that sell home brewing
supplies.  Root beer beverage base is often found in grocery stores.

    I have ordered beverage bases, yeasts, and other supplies from:

   E.C. Kraus
   P.O. Box 7850
   Independence, Missouri 64054

Write for a free catalogue, and Ester will be happy to send you one.



 1. Where should tbh's be placed?

    This, of course, depends on your location with respect to latitude,
amount of precipitation, prevailing winds, etc.  If it's extremely hot,
shade is desirable.  Overheating in the sun can result in the combs
sagging or falling.  Remember, there are no wires or plastic reinforcing
the comb midrib.  Within a season or two, the brood combs will become
quite strong and remarkably durable.   Some Egyptian beekeepers visiting a
friend of mine in the Atlanta, GA USA area said that our hives need to be
in the sun more...that shade made diseases more of a problem.

    I place my hives on a stand so that I can work them without bending
over.  Paul Magnuson said that in South Africa, some hives were placed on
stacks of old tires which worked well, though the hives sagged a bit in
hot weather.  In cases where the hives are plagued by ants or other
crawling insects, the hives have been suspended by wires.

 2. How can damage to tbh's by bears, badgers, or other animals be

    Black bears have raided three of my tbh's at Ellijay, GA USA, about
80 miles N of Atlanta.  The bears ate the brood, pollen, wax, and most of
the honey.  I gathered the scrap wax for my solar melter, picked up the
bars and the rest of the hive items.  All were usable.  There were no
broken frames to replace as would have been the case in conventional
hives.  The bees were recovered and merged with another hive in one case,
but I don't know about the other two hives that were taken by the bears.  The
bees left or merged with the remaining hives.

    It hasn't been worth my time or expense to try an electric fence or
chain link fence enclosures.  Paul Magnuson tells of a friend in South
Africa who digs pits under his tbh's which are suspended by wires.  The
ratels or "honey badgers" attempt to get to the hives, but repeatedly
fall into the pits and eventually stop.  Paul and I concluded that the
pits would need to be too large for this to work with my bears. :)

   [Gerry Visel] If they are suspended rather than supported on the
ground,they could be hoisted up high enough to be impervious to bears.

 3. Do bees kept in tbh's get diseases and mites?

    Yes.  As far as I can tell, bees in tbh's have no special protection
against mites and diseases.  I use extender patties and Apistan as
directed.  A U-shaped piece of hardware cloth (sandscreen) attached to a
tb makes a good "feeder bar" if extender patties or patties of pollen
substitute are placed inside the U.

    It's easy to put Apistan strips into a tbh.  Just use the hive tool
to open a small slit between the bars in the area where the brood should
be, and insert the strip.  Since I have a notch on one side of the tb at
the center of the bar, it is especially easy to insert the strip.  The
colony isn't disturbed; no super or brood chamber has been lifted.
It's just as easy to pull the strip out though sometimes it's necessary
to use a thin hive tool to free the top of the strip from propolis on
both sides.

 4. How does management of tbh's differ from conventional hives?

    Most of the general principles with respect to tbh management are the
same as for conventional hives.  The beekeeper needs to manage for a
good population of foraging bees timed with the honeyflow. Tbh's can have
poor queens that need to be replaced. Principles of requeening, making
splits, evaluating stores for winter, etc. are all the same as for
conventional beekeeping.   But there are differences.

    With an end ("front") entrance, the brood nest will naturally be found
on the first several combs, and the surplus honey will naturally be stored
toward the rear (away from the entrance).

    Since the bees must expand laterally, it may be desirable to pay
more attention to spreading the brood to get good population buildup,
and it may require that you watch for the colony becoming honeybound.

    You may find it necessary to regularly remove capped surplus combs
and to shift bars that are being drawn more toward the brood area.
While some vertical queen excluders have been used, it is feasible to
place a fully capped comb between your surplus bars and the brood area so
that a honey barrier is present to help confine the queen.

    [Tim Haarmann]  Might be worth mentioning how much of the hive should
be used as the brood part and how much for honey.  I like to use 30 TBs.
The 10-12 closest to the entrance become my brood chamber, and the
remaining 18-20 are used to store honey.  If I give a new beekeeper this
formula, they seem to be able to deal with keeping their bees from
getting honey bound fairly easily.

    I think that using combs with honey as a barrier against the queen
moving works perfect.  With a TBH she is forced to actually walk around
a comb of honey to get to the rest of the hive.  In a Lang. she can move
to any of 10 frames if she wants to move up to another area of the hive.
For this fact, I think using queen excluders in a TBH isn't worth the
trouble.  Again, this whole fact is the reason bees get honey bound so
easily in a TBH.

5. How are tbh's worked?

    If the entrance holes are at one end, I puff a small amount of smoke
at the entrance, and wait perhaps a minute.  If a good honeyflow is on and
the weather is good, smoke probably would not be necessary with my
Italian bees but I use a little anyhow.  Some smoke is puffed underneath
the arching top covers in case paper wasps have started a nest under the
tin.  Next I remove the covers and the strip that covers the
rear half of the notches in my tb's which lets me see how far the bees
have drawn out comb.  If the bees seemed to be alarmed because of
inclement conditions in which I might need to work or some other factor,
most of the notches can be kept covered .

    Starting at the rear of the hive, I remove the first bar which will
probably not be drawn out completely, and place that bar in a holder.
I have made a cradle to hold bars as I work on them, but I also
use 5-bar nuc boxes or 5-bar "supers" to hold the bars that are removed.
Moreover, the stands on which I have placed my hives have supports that
are spaced far enough apart that they can be used to hold tb's.

    I remove a couple of bars, then work forward toward the brood area,
shifting the inspected bar to the rear.  Only a small gap of a couple of
bars is necessary to give plenty of room to remove bars.  Often there is
a small amount of comb attachment to the sides at the upper two inches of
the comb, but the attachments are easily freed with a hive tool.  If the
bar is then place on a cradle, the rough sides where the attachments were
can be trimmed smooth with scissors after which the bees are less inclined
to reattach the comb to the sides.  This is especially true if the wax is
scraped from the sides also.  Rarely there may be a few places where a
comb is attached to the bottom of the hive in which case the hive tool
will free it also.  All of the wax scraps go into the solar wax melter.

    Proceeding on to the brood area, I make my assessment of the hive
conditions in the same way as with conventional hives.  If a comb needs
replacing for any reason, I'll move it to the back of the hive for the
bees to clear it after which the comb and bar go to my solar wax melter.
I will place a new bar with a starter strip of foundation between two
straight combs so that I get a good comb drawn, especially during a good
honeyflow.  After finishing the inspection, I shift the bars forward and
replace the one or two bars I originally removed.
    If the hive has holes down both sides, I start at either end, work to
the center, then replace the bars. After that the other side can be
examined or additional work postponed until the next visit.

    After I finish inspecting a hive, I make notes about what was found by
writing in pencil on a 4 x 6 index card.  The card is kept in a ziplock
plastic bag held by a clothes pin nailed to the back of the hive body.
If the hive needs some additional work, I'll turn one of the bricks on
top on its side to get my attention.  When I go back to the hive, a quick
glance at the record card shows immediately what needs to be done.

    [Tim Haarmann]  The plain fact is the TBHs are a little more trouble
to work than Langs.  There is always a bit of comb to cut or straighten
out, etc.  No big deal, but sometimes people are freaked out how hands
on a TBH must be.  You really need to get in there and do a little
cutting, moving, slicing and dicing.  I am continually training my bees
by removing curved or misplaced comb.  I use a Maxant brand hive tool.
It is flat  and long and easily cuts the comb off the sides of the hive.
I think it might be the same as the Italian one you describe.

    [Tim Haarmann] TBHs work excellent for Africanized Honey Bees because
when one is working the hive, there is only a small opening (created by
removing a couple of TBs) for the bees to come rushing out.  Try a Lang,
and bees from all 10 frames come out as soon as you take the cover off.
This is useful information for those of us planning on using AHBs as soon
as they stop causing such an outcry (wishful thinking). I don't care what
folks say, those bees work hard and make excellent amounts of honey.

 6. What tools are commonly required to work tbh's?

    The same tools that are used with conventional hives: hat,
veil, smoker, hive tool, are helpful. I occasionally use gloves and a
long sleeved shirt.  I prefer a hive tool that is about a foot long.
Mine is made from a 12 inch shelf bracket, but the Italian hive tools
being sold by some suppliers in the USA are about the same size.  Many
kitchen utensils...spatulas, knives, etc. would serve well in working a
tbh.  Sometimes a spray bottle with water or sugar syrup or sugar syrup
with some mixture of "essential oils" comes in handy... I enjoy the odor
of peppermint. :)

 7. Is it necessary to use any foundation in tbh's?

    Unless some type of starter strip is used to establish a point for
the bees to build comb, the combs may be oriented across multiple bars
with the result that they are not movable.  A starter strip may be nothing
more than a 2cm strip of paper that has been dipped in melted beeswax.
Paul Magnuson describes gluing a hardwood strip about 10mm wide to the
bottom of a tb so that the strip, projecting downward, gives a point for
the bees to begin building.  He also has used two tb's to form a mold
channel on the bottom of a third tb.  Melted beeswax is poured into the
channel and, after a few moments of cooling, the resulting ridge of
beeswax can shaped further by the fingers to give a foundation strip.
Purchased foundation can be cut into 2cm strips and waxed into grooves
along the center bottom of the tb.  Joel Govostes said that he had read of
twine being dipped in molten beeswax and applied centrally along the
underside of each top-bar to make a starting ridge for comb construction.

    Thin sheets of wax can be made by soaking a smooth, thin board in cold
water, then dipping the board into melted beeswax.  The temperature of
the wax, number of dips, speed of dipping, all will determine the
thickness of the sheet.  The dipped board is plunged back into cold water,
then I cut around the edge of the board with a knife.  This results in two
sheets of wax which can be cut into strips.  Scissors heated in boiling
water work well for cutting strips.

    I have made my own foundation using a press foundation mold that my
brother made for me from rubber stamp polymer of a high durometer value.
Since the bees start building at the edge of the strip, I'm not certain
that it's worthwhile to try to mold any type of foundation imprint.  I
have noted that if I have a strip of beeswax on a tb and it is beside a
tb that has a waxed paper strip, the bees will work the beeswax strip

    Using a starter strip that is wider than about 2cm, or even 1cm,
appears to be of little value.  I tried using strips that were about 10cm
wide, found that the bees could build large combs downward from the edge
of the strip before the combs were built up and attached well to the tb.
This resulted in a comb breaking off the bar during the heat of the
summer with the newly built comb heavy from honey, brood, and the weight
of the attending bees.  I suggest that narrow starter strips be used.

    Some tbh beekeepers have tried using triangular bars with one point
of the triangle pointing downward, the base of the triangle forming the
roof surface of the tbh.  The downward point was dipped in melted beeswax
to give the surface for the bees to begin building.

    In the case of using tree branches or bamboo of appropriate diameter,
beeswax can be rubbed on the "bottom" of the tb's to give an appropriate
surface for the bees to begin building comb.

    [Tim Haarmann]  Some people have placed foundation on their TBs in
the shape they want the final comb to be.  The bees quickly draw it out
and it seems to make straight comb every time.  I personally don't
bother, because I would rather just give them starter strips and let them
do the rest.  I did have one colony in S. America that built their combs
perfectly perpendicular to the top bars.  I have kept Caucasians,
Buckfast, Italians, Africanized, a couple of those Howard Weaver hybrids
and have found no difference in their ability to build straight or
crooked comb. Some bees get it, and some don't.

 8. How can bees in tbh's be encouraged to build straight combs?

    If a new bar with a starter strip of some type of foundation is
placed between two bars with straight combs, then the comb that is drawn
should be straight if a good honeyflow is on and the hive population is

    I have one colony that has a propensity for building combs which
cross from one bar to another even though foundation strips are present.
Why this occurs isn't clear unless it is a genetic trait of the queen.
I have no evidence that this is the case, but if it happens next year,
I'm going to try another queen.

 9. What can be done if the bees in tbh's make crooked combs?

    I would remove the crooked combs and put the combs and bars in the
solar wax melter.  They can be replaced with a few straight combs taken
from other colonies or new bars with foundation strips.  I seek to
accumulate good, straight brood combs over the years.  This is a good,
practical goal, and is not difficult.  Some of the older, dark combs may
gradually be replaced if the size of the worker cells gets very small or
if a good portion of the cells become plugged with old wax.

10. Is the lack of 100% worker cells a problem in tbh's since no full
    sheets of foundation are used?

    During the spring buildup with a good honeyflow, mostly worker cells
will be drawn on combs built in the brood area.  Toward the outside of
those combs, more drone brood appears.  I don't worry about the
proportions...the bees know what they need.  Drone brood can be cut out
to aid in Varroa control.  Again, that comb would go into the solar
wax melter.

    I don't care what the makeup of the comb is in the surplus area, nor
if the combs are straight or interconnected somewhat.  They will be
removed eventually, the honey pressed out, then those combs go (yep!) to
the solar wax melter.

11. What can be done if a comb is stuck in a tbh?

    The only comb that can ever gives me any trouble is the first comb
that is in the tbh, especially if it is in a 5-bar nuc.  There may be
some attachments at the ends and also to the side of the box.  In this
case, I take a long, thin "knife" that I made by sharpening a hacksaw
blade, and slide the knife along between the comb and the side.  This
frees the comb from the side.

    What about the ends of the comb?  I use a simple solution devised by
Wyatt Mangum: take a piece of stiff wire and bend it into a Z shape. Make
the wire long enough to extend down to the bottom of the hive, with the
near end above the level of the top-bars.  Pry the bar away enough to insert
the wire at one end of the bar.  Push the wire all of the way to the
bottom. Pivot the wire to bring the bottom of the Z beneath the edge of
the comb, then pull upward which breaks the comb loose.  Repeat at the
other end of the tb.

    If the bar is stuck in an area of honey surplus bars, I simply tear
the bar off then free the comb with the hive tool, lift it out, and
deposit it in my collection tub.  It will eventually be pressed, so I
don't care if it is broken into several pieces.  Bees clean up any honey
that has dripped.

12. What can be done if a tb comb breaks?

    If the comb is a valuable brood comb, I would tie the comb back to
the tb and replace it in the hive for the bees to reattach.  It would be
necessary to use something like paper, window screen, or perhaps leaves
for the tying twine to pull against; otherwise, the twine will cut into
the comb, and the comb will drop down from the tb or even break off and
fall into the bottom of the hive.

    If the comb is not to be salvaged, move it to the rear of the hive
to let the bees clean it out after which you can melt it down for wax.

    [Tim Haarmann]  After about 50 transfers into TBHs, I think the
easiest, fastest and very effective method of attaching the comb is
simply using dental floss.  I cut the comb straight, have someone hold it
next to TB, and I use a needle to sew on the top bar.  Care must be taken
to sew low down on the comb because as you know, the floss tears the comb
a bit.  I simply go up over the TB and down low through the comb. Do this
4-5 times, tie the two loose ends of the dental floss and put it in the
hive.  By the time the bees chew the dental floss, they have almost
always attached the comb.  This method doesn't work as well in really
hot weather when you give the colony too many combs to attach, so be

    [Joel Govostes]  Better yet, make it a habit to manipulate the combs
*very carefully*, making sure any side attachments are separated before
lifting.  Don't try to "turn over" the comb to view the other side,
"frame-style."  Keep the comb right-side-up at all times, and always hold
it vertically.  The natural combs, being only supported at the top, cannot
take the stress of inversion.

13. How can the combs be easily ridden of adhering bees?

    I use a brush to remove the bees. Large goose feathers also work
reasonably well or a handful of grass might do the job. I haven't tried
using a blower.

    I usually brush the bees downward, very quickly into the gap in the
hive where the comb was removed.  The bees crawl rapidly back toward the
darkness of the undisturbed sections of the tbh.  Allen Dick suggests
that brushing the bees upward works better.  Haven't had a chance to
make a good comparison yet, but maybe this year I'll see how it works
for me.

    Shaking of combs should of course be avoided.  Natural honey-combs are
quite heavy and *will break* if handled roughly (making quite a mess!).

14. Is swarming a problem with tbh beekeeping?

    I don't have enough experience with tbh's to give an assessment of
this.  Since swarming is a natural phenomenon, there is no reason to
think that it should occur less in a tbh than in a conventional hive.

    Several of my tbh's swarmed this last year, and it didn't always
seem to be related to huge populations in the hive.  One of my colonies
was from a package that had a young queen.  That colony threw a massive
swarm when the hive was half filled with combs.  I thought it unusual
for a first year package to swarm, but others who used packages from
the same supplier had swarms also from conventional hives.  Was it just
a peculiar "swarming season?"  I look forward to this year for some sort
of comparison.

    Presumably the same techniques of managing swarming that are applied
to conventional hives should apply to tbh, except for adding supers.
Unless, of course, you do put supers on tbh's.  On a tbh, I'd spread the
brood, remove surplus combs that are capped, make splits if desirable,
and keep a young, vigorous queen in the hive.  One could go though the
hive and inspect the combs for queen cells, but I've never taken the time
nor had the inclination to do that.  I simply let them swarm and try to
capture the swarm to unite with a weak hive if possible.  Some swarms are
lost, but that's just the facts of life of beekeeping. :)

    [Joe Govostes]  The removal of 2-4 combs of mostly sealed brood, with
adhering bees (omitting queen), around the time of normal swarming
preparations is a good way to avert swarming.  The combs can be replaced
with empty combs or new bars with comb-guides, whichever are available.
The combs and bees thus obtained from 1 or more colonies can be
transferred to a vacant hive, or a weak colony in need of a boost.

    [Joel Govostes]  If transferred to an empty hive, they can be allowed
to develop into another producing colony, or the brood combs and bees can
be returned to the original hives after danger of swarming is past.  If
this is desired, the temporary "split" colony should be placed close by
the parent.  The bees in the "split" will likely rear a new queen in the
meantime, but upon re-uniting the bees will let one queen remain
(oftentimes the younger one).

15. How are swarms hived in a tbh?

    Hive the swarm in the same way as in a conventional hive.  Dump the
swarm into the hive and replace the tb's, or put a board and/or sheet up
to the hive entrance, dump the bees out, get some started inside, then
sit back and watch in awe as the colony flows inside.

    Realize that the colony has no surface area of frames with wired
foundation on which to disperse.  They will "festoon", or hang, in
bunches from the top-bars in order to begin building combs.  It is best
not to disturb or break their clusters at this point, until the combs
have been at least partially completed.  It is best to have some drawn
combs in place, and it's particularly good to have a comb with brood
underway. I feel that the bees are better disposed to stay in that case.
You may wish to feed the new colony at first to enable it to draw combs
rapidly. If a strong honeyflow is on, the sugar syrup may be ignored at

16. How do you best divide a tbh?

    I personally like to take at least three combs with bees, pollen,
honey, and brood and place them in a 5-bar nuc box.  The old queen is
removed with the combs, or I introduce a new queen in a cage.  Feeding
this nuc helps it become established before it is put into a full-size
tbh.  My 5-bar nucs have only two entrance holes, but I still need to
watch for robbing to get started, especially if I have put a feeder jar
on top of the nuc.

17. How can a package of bees be installed in a tbh?

    Handle them much the same way as for conventional hives.  Remove a
few of the tb's and dump the bees out into the hive.  If you've placed
any drawn comb in the hives up toward the front, there may be room in
the hive to put the opened package on its side inside the hive.  The
container of sugar syrup that came in the package can be supported by a
couple of pieces of wood, some stones, or twigs placed inside the hive.
The bees can feed on the remaining sugar syrup.  I remove the plug from
the queen cage, and suspend the cage between two bars or over at the side
of the hive.  I really prefer to use thin, hardware cloth queen cages
that Wyatt Mangum has designed.  Those cages are described under a
"requeening" question a little farther on in this faq file.

18. Can bees and combs in a conventional hive be converted to a tbh?

    Sure.  Just shake and brush the bees off the frames and cut the combs
out of the frames.  Lay the combs down on a surface that has four or five
pieces of twine oriented at right angles to the length of the comb.  Place
paper, screen wire, leaves, or something at the bottom of the comb to
prevent the twine from cutting into the comb.  Place the top bar at the
top of the comb, bring the twine up to the top and tie securely.  Lift
the comb and tbh up and adjust the position of the comb.  Put it in the
hive, and the bees will firmly attach it to the tb in a few days.  This
method works well for utilizing combs that are taken from feral colonies
in trees or combs removed from a dwelling.

    Paul Magnuson suggests that the comb can be wrapped in a U shaped
piece of chicken wire that has about a 1 inch mesh, the wire being
stapled to both sides of the top bar.

    All of this takes time.  I prefer to switch from a conventional to a
tbh by turning the conventional hive body upside down so that the frames
aren't down in the rabbet but are resting on the edge at a level where
tb's can be interspersed and drawn.  Move the tb's to the tbh, put
the frames toward the rear of the tbh and let the bees clear them out,
then salvage the wax.  Cover the gaps on the conventional frames with
cardboard, duct tape, or large leaves until tb combs are drawn or the
the frames are cleaned out.

19. Can queen excluders or queen barriers be used in tbh's?

    Some beekeepers have cut queen excluders to fit vertically in the
tbh's and attached them to tb's.  It should be easy enough to do if the
hive body is rectangular, but I've seen excluders that Wyatt Mangum has
made for his Kenya tbh's with sloping sides.  I think that he has used
plastic or metal slotted material, cut it to size and shape, then put a
wood frame around it.

    A filled, capped comb forms a good  honey barrier for the queen, but
mostly I just don't worry.  If the queen has gotten into the surplus area
combs, I'll simply cut out the area where brood was found, press
the honey, and...into the wax melter with the rest.  If the comb is nice
and has brood in it, I'll shift it to the brood area or use it for a nuc
if desirable.

    I also use queen excluder tb's which are made by cutting a wire
queen excluder into sections of 5 or 6 wires if I remember correctly.
Blocks, thin pieces of wood, and a shorten bar are assemble to a tb so
that the queen excluder section is at the bottom level of the tb, with
the shortened tb below it.  A starter strip on the shortened bar enables
comb to be drawn out and good spacing preserved.  I have used one of these
excluder bars in the first hive that I made which has only 15 bars.  A
10-bar shallow super worked well with the excluder bar.  The excluder bar
has also been used with 5-bar deep "supers" to grow queen cells.  I plan
to use excluder bars on 5-bar nucs this spring to get combs drawn in
5-bar supers.

20. How are tbh's overwintered?

    The same basic principles of overwintering that apply to conventional
hives should apply to tbh's:  adequate food reserves, provide good
ventilation, insulate hives if necessary, provides entrances for flight
on warm winter days, perhaps medicating for nosema if advisable.

    There are some other things that can be done with tbh's.  A plywood
or other type of partition can attached to a tb to make a "division bar"
similar to "follower boards" used in conventional hives.  This bar can
be placed in the hive to reduce the volume.

    Paul Magnuson has suggested using sheets of newspaper to drape over
the bars and down inside the hive to reduce the volume.  This has the
advantage of being removable by the bees as they need more space during
spring buildup.  He also suggested using pesticide-free old sacking to
put on the top of the hive for insulation.

    I have used sheets of 1/2 inch foam insulation sheathing to make
insulation boards for the tops of my hives.  Leaving two or three of the
tb notches uncovered in the cluster area provides ventilation holes.
In some initial tests, I found that a colony to which I did nothing
survived our north Georgia winter weather as well as those that were
insulated and in which the internal volume was reduced.  What you might
need to do will, of course, depend on your location and colonies.

    Allen Dick has commented that in Western Canada many singles are
wintered indoors, stacked up with only bottom entrances.  It "seems
(that tbh's are) a natural for indoor wintering."

21. How are tbh's fed?

    This is the joy of tbh's.  Combs of honey and pollen can be switched
from one hive to another very easily, but if sugar syrup is needed it's
easy to put feeder jars or baggies *inside* the hive.  I also use a
"feeder bar" made by attaching a U shaped channel of 1/2 inch hardware
cloth (sand screen) to a tb.  Candy, extender patties,or pollen substitute
patties can be placed in the channel of the U.

    Joel Govostes has fed dry sugar by placing it on top of conventional
hive bars.  I'm going to try a frame, perhaps 8 x 10 inches, made from
1/2 or 3/4 inch square stock, for feeding dry sugar this winter.  A sheet
of newspaper will be placed on top of the bars, an opening torn at the
ventilation holes, the frame laid on, a cup of sugar poured around the
hole, all covered with a sheet of newspaper, the insulation sheet and tin
cover replaced, then...let's see what happens.  I enjoy experimenting.

    Wyatt Mangum has made feeders out of plastic jugs and pvc pipe.
His feeders plug into an entrance hole on his Kenya tbh's and function
much like Boardman feeders.  They seem to work very well.

22. Can quality queen cells be produced in tbh's?

    Certainly.  Most of the procedures used to produce queens in conven-
tional hives work as well in tbh's.  There are also some advantage to
using tbh's as well.  I have made up bars with downward extensions and
pivoting cross bars to which queen cell cups are fixed for grafting.  I
raised the queen cells in 5-bar queenless confined nucs.   A 5-bar nuc
above free-flying queenless colonies work well for me for queen rearing
in which case I use the queen excluder bar described in a previous

    The best way for me to get queen cells is to use the method described
by Marty Hardison in "Developmental Beekeeping", No.33, December 1994.
He took a brood comb from a colony in which the queen had desirable
qualities, cut strips with eggs from the comb, then tied the
strips to bars with monofilament fishing line.  It's easy to use a low
wattage soldering iron to melt beeswax onto a bar, then wax the
comb strips to the bar... or queen cell cups to a bar if I'm grafting.
This method of using strips is very much like the "Miller Method"
described in Laidlaw's book on queen rearing.

    The usual result is six or so queen cells formed per bar.  Not
all of them will be of good quality.  The largest and best formed cells
are cut out, waxed to a bar with the soldering iron, then a cage is waxed
around the cell to confine the virgin queen when she emerges.  I introduce
virgin queens into mating nucs, or simply use the "ripe" cells directly.

    I have tried using the 4.5 inch flower pot nucs which Dean Breaux and
others have described, but I had limited success in mid-summer due to
heat primarily.  In the cool of the coming spring, I'll try them
again.  Three tb's, each half the length (about 25cm) of my full-size
bars, are used with each flower pot.

    A 5-bar mating nuc either made by dividing a 5-bar nuc in half and
making entrance holes at both ends, or simply making up a small nuc half
the size of the regular 5-bar nuc, gives me better results.  It's possible
to stock the nucs with a cup of bees gathered by brushing bees off brood
combs, but what I like to do is to take a brood comb with bees, larvae,
and pupae at different stages, cut a section out of the center of the
comb, then saw the bar in half.  I end up with two functioning combs for
my queen nucs.  Try that with a conventional frame. :)  A dollop of queen
candy can help the nuc get a good start. Small feeder bars are useful for
holding the queen candy or marshmallows and other commercial candies which
seem to work well.  I give the nuc a ripe queen cell or introduce a caged
virgin queen, then check back in a couple of weeks.

    [Tim Haarmann]  It might be worth mentioning to people to standardize
the dimensions their hives and top bars.  That way when you start moving
brood and honey around between hives, or queen rearing, everything is
much easier.  With some of my friends who use different dimensions than
I do, when exchanging stuff, we have had to cut too many combs and bars
to make it worth it. Seems like a simple recommendation, but one worth

23. How are tbh's requeened?

    Well, I have found that if I leave mine alone with their endeavors,
they will requeen themselves. :)  But if one wishes to put in some
specific queens that were ordered or were raised, then most of the
procedures that you may have read about will probably work.

    I really prefer to introduce a queen by having that queen "at work"
in a 5-bar nuc box, and then transferring at least 3 bars of brood and
workers along with the queen into the colony from which the old queen has
been removed.  Guess I could not worry about removing the queen and
just let the two of them fight it out, but such outcomes aren't certain.

    If I am introducing a queen only into a colony, or a virgin queen into
a mating nuc, the queen cage designed by Wyatt Mangum works better for me
than the conventional wooden cage. Wyatt uses 1/8 inch hardware cloth
(sand screen) and shapes it into a U.  He staples or nails the screen to
some 3/8" square stock, puts some of the stock down the sides...stapling
one piece and leaving the other for a "door".  If the door piece is made
about 3/8 inch short, a plug of candy or a minature marshmallow can be
used to confine the queen until the hive workers eat it away.  Wyatt
wraps some small wire around the top of the cage and uses the wire to
suspend the cage between two bars.  Since the cage is about "bee space"
in thickness, it goes between the combs very nicely.  You can make the
cage whatever size you wish, but about the size of a conventional queen
cage is certainly large enough.

    This last year I tried raising queens in nucs around the periphery
of my beeyard at Canton where I have 16 tbh's.  I think I did a good bit
of requeening when virgins on mating flights returned to working hives
rather than to their nucs.  Didn't plan it that way, and the bees
didn't consult me. :(

24. Can tbh's be supered?

    Yes, if you're willing to lift supers.  I have tried supering by
removing a tb at the front of the hive to allow the bees to go up to
the super.  They will do it, but they'll also draw out the comb below
and make it difficult to put a comb back.  It's no big deal.  That comb
can be removed and "extracted", and two bars put back.

    The queen excluder bar which I described earlier works very well.  It
helps to have a drawn or partially drawn comb in the super to bait the
bees below and to give them a good path to move up. Sometimes they may
start building comb from the bottom up if you don't do this.

    When the super is filled, there may be a little comb attachment
to the tb's on the tbh.  If so, a piece of fine music wire or nylon twine
can be pulled and "sawed" along between the tb's and the bottom of the
super.  This frees the super nicely.  You can tilt the super on end, use
the hive tool to quickly free any comb attachments at the ends of the
combs, put the super back down, lift the bars out, brush the bees off,
and put the comb into a collection tub.  Leave a half inch of comb on the
tb's, set the super back on the hive, and you've finished with that.

[Dave MacFawn] I am in the process of modifying a Kenya Top Bar hive
so I can install standard supers over the bars toward the rear of the
Kenya hive (the bees have their brood chamber toward the front
of the hive and the honey is stored toward the rear of the hive).

The beauty of using the Kenya hive is that I will be able to
pull individual brood comb out and not have to disturb the honey
supers since the standard honey supers will be located over the
rear honey combs.  I have to date made the Kenya hive top bars
the standard 19 inch length and made them installable in a
standard hive body if desired (transfer brood, eggs, honey
between hives).

    [Joel Govostes]   I have used top bar hives before, which were supered
like regular hives.  The brood top bars were about 1" wide, but spaced to
1 3/8"  center-to-center with small nails.

    [Joel Govostes]  Here is a simple and fairly reliable method of
preventing the attachment of comb between the stories, if you add supers:

    Lay a sheet of thin plastic (as used in weatherproofing or on
plastic-sheet greenhouses) over the top bars, leaving about 1.5 inches
clearance around the perimeter (or a central hole) to allow the bees
access from the lower part of the hive to the super.  The bees usually
will not attach the combs much to this sheet, if at all.

    Double sheets might be even better.  That way, if the lower sheet is
propolized to the bars, and the upper sheet to the bottoms of the combs
above, the sheets willl just separate when you lift the super off.
Plastic can also be used between each additional super (i.e., if you're
using honey supers with top-bars only, and not full frames.).  There is an
added benefit, too, in that the plastic will normally prevent the queen
from going up into the supers.

    A simple "frameless" super can be made by constructing a box about 6"
deep or so, and fixing top-bars or dowels across the top inside.  Set the
bars in about 3/8" down from the top to provide a bee-space, and space
them 1.5" center to center for the proper honey-comb spacing.  The bars
can be coated with beeswax on the underside, or set up with comb-guides as
previously described.  If the bees build cross-combs it is not such a
problem , as the combs do not require removal for inspection.  When
ready to harvest the super can be freed of bees, taken inside, flipped
over, and the combs cut out.  No need to remove the supporting bars.
[end of JG's suggestions]

25. What species or strains of bees have been found best for use in
    top bar hives?

    I can't be of much help with this question yet.  Of course, the hives
are excellent for dealing with strains or species that are naturally very
defensive since the hive is disturbed less as harvesting of combs,
or inspections of brood areas, is done.

    The Italian bees that I keep seem to do well in the tbh's, but I have
heard that Caucasians have a propensity to spread the brood horizontally
better than Italians.  This next year I'm going to try a couple of
colonies headed by Caucasian queens for comparison.

    Tim Haarmann remarked earlier that he has seen no difference in the
ability of the several different strains of bees in building straight
combs.  "Some bees get it, and some don't."