Archives for posts with tag: hive

Top bar hive with cedar roof

Last weekend, I installed my first top bar hive. I have been planning and building the hive for a couple months so I was excited to move a recently captured swarm into this hive and see how they do. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d planned. I’ve included lots of pictures here to show off my hive, and then I’ll describe what happened.

My top bar hive

The roof of my hive was made with a bundle of cedar shingles that cost about $10 at my local lumber store. I made a ridge cap out of some old aluminum that I had lying around.

Cedar Singles

I decided to build a window on my hive so that I can open it up and see the bees without disrupting the colony. I built the window out of thick glass instead of plexiglas because it won’t warp in the heat and is much more natural of a product than plastic to have inside the hive.

Top Bar Hive Window

Top Bar Hive Window Open

Most of the hive was built using 1″ x 12″ pine material but the follower boards were made from plywood. The design roughly follows Phil Chandler’s top bar hive design, available for free. I also included a screened bottom on the hive using #8 screen that has 1/8″ openings.

Top Bar Hive Follower Board

As an added bonus on my screened bottom, I constructed a second bottom that sits roughly 1″ below the screen and has a removable tray that pulls out easily to discard Varroa and other debris from the hive.

Side of Top Bar Hive

Removable tray on top bar hive

The entrance to the hive is a 1¼” hole that I drilled while I was on-site, after the hive was situated and set up properly. The bees had no problem finding and using this entrance immediately.

Entrance to top bar hive

I used some small flagstones to keep the legs of the hive off the ground.

Leg of a Top Bar Hive

Disaster strikes

After setting up my top bar hive, I started moving bars of drawn comb from my top bar swarm trap to the full size hive. The first few bars were perfectly drawn and completely straight, but by about the 7th bar, I noticed that the drawn comb was beginning to curve a tiny bit off the bars. By the 11th bar, the comb started on one bar and then curved onto the adjacent bar, making it nearly impossible to pull out the bars cleanly, without ruining comb.

I initially solved this problem by simply separating the part of the comb that was curved from the bar, and then gently placing it in the hive, ensuring that the wax was straight under the bar. I had to trim more and more of the comb off the bar, and finally by the 14th bar, I had trimmed too much. The entire drawn comb of capped brood fell off into the hive! Oh no! Then as I was packing up the hive, two more combs fell off. And as I was trying to repair those, a fourth comb fell off! Complete disaster!

Fallen comb in a top bar hive

It was at this point that I took a breather, stepped away from the hive and tried to determine the best course of action. I had 4 fallen combs with brood and a lot of angry bees circling me. I didn’t have any tools to successfully repair the comb but I remembered a tip that I had just learned in my current beekeeping read. You can move fallen comb to the back of the top bar hive, separated by sticks to leave room for brood to hatch. After the brood hatches, you can remove the old wax. So that’s exactly what I did:

Comb separated with sticks

My first ever top bar hive installation could have gone a lot smoother, and I’m not sure if there was a better way to deal with the cross-combing within the hive. I’ve since researched some better solutions for preventing cross-comb in the first place, which I will be certain to start implementing right away. I’ve also read of ways to try and repair comb that falls off like this, so I may be adding a few more tools to my beekeeping kit for future visits.

This is counted as a strike against top bar beekeeping in my opinion. This was one of the harder things I’ve ever had to deal with while beekeeping. If this was my first time ever handling bees, it would have been overwhelming. But I walk away with another notch on my belt and I’m glad that I experienced this. I’ll now be better prepared for the future.


I recently built a swarm trap (AKA bait hive) to attract and capture honeybees in my own backyard. The above video shows the finished bait hive, which was based off a standard top bar hive design. I used the tips that I posted previously in my article How to Catch a Swarm of Bees while building this trap.

There are 17 top bars across the top, each with a groove filled with beeswax. The interior volume of the trap is exactly 40 litres and I rubbed lemongrass oil inside as well. I have since placed this trap, with attached cover, on my 2nd-floor balcony. I hope that a swarm of bees will find this to be an ideal location to live and move in.

To be continued… (I hope)

Character leaning against question markSo you’d like to keep bees. You’ve read, or perhaps experienced how awesome beekeeping is and you’d like to give it a shot. However, you have a small property or you’re worried about having bees in a residential area. Fair enough. I was in the same boat. So, how can you find somewhere to put a beehive?

Start with friends and family

If you don’t personally own a chunk of land that would be suitable for beekeeping, perhaps you already know someone who does. Check with your friends, and friends of friends. Maybe you have a coworker with a piece of land just outside the city? The best thing to do is to talk to people, get them excited about bees (in my experience, that’s not very hard), and then ask if they know anyone that would like to have a beehive on their property.

Ask a farmer

Most people – especially here in Canada – only live a short drive away from a rural area, filled with fertile land and plants that are just begging to be pollinated by honeybees. If this sounds like your area, then I have a suggestion that is almost certain to help you find a place. This plan comes with a 90-day money back guarantee, given you follow my directions precisely:

  1. This Friday night (put it in your calendar), sit down and draft a friendly letter to a farmer. Introduce yourself, and explain that you are beyond excited to keep bees, and you’re currently looking for somewhere to put a hive or two. Ask if they would be interested in having bees on their property and let them know that you will take care of the bees completely on your own, and require nothing of the farmer other than their land. Keep it short and sweet. Just about any farmer will understand the pollination benefits of having honeybees nearby, and many farmers actually pay people like you to come and install hives. The fact that you’re offering to do it for free should be enough.
  2. Don’t forget to include your contact information (Name, phone number, email address) on the letter.
  3. Print off about 20-30 of these letters. Stuff them in envelopes.
  4. On the weekend, get into your car and start driving out into the country. Whenever you see a farm, a property, or rural area that has good potential for your apiary, pull over and drop a letter into the mailbox on the side of the road. For an added touch, write the farm address on the outside of the envelope so that it has a personal feel for the recipient.
  5. Do not go any further than you would be willing to drive every time that you would inspect your bees. Remember you’ll have to drive there and back for every inspection.
  6. Come home and wait by the phone.

I must be honest… I haven’t personally used this tactic for finding a home for my bees, but this is only a small variation for how I found a home for my own family – dropping off letters in mailboxes. The hardest part is getting up and doing it, but once you’ve done it, you stand a very good chance of finding somewhere to put a beehive. Possibly even multiple locations.

In closing

One other point that I would like to make is that you should not be fooled into thinking that keeping your bees in a rural area is better for the bees. It’s often the case that urban areas are in fact better. Why is this?

Rural areas are often farm land, and farms are often mono-crops. In other words, only one type of plant would be available to your bees. If you surround your bees with a few kilometres of corn, they are not going to do so well, especially if those crops contain harmful pesticides. In the city, avid gardeners make it their mission to provide a variety of flowers that bloom from the first thaw in the spring to the first frost in the winter. This is perfect for bees, so don’t be afraid to consider the possibility of setting up a rooftop or backyard hive. As Luke Dixon puts it, “If you have room for a composter or water barrel, you have room for a beehive.”

Good luck, and please share your own stories about how you found a location for your apiary in the comments below.

Today I started an experiment with foundationless frames in my Langstroth hive. Specifically, I have installed a third deep box on my hive and intentionally left every second frame mostly empty. The only foundation that exists is a very small strip of wax foundation that I added to the top of each frame which should guide the bees into drawing out comb completely on their own.

Here’s a short video of what the frames look like now, and I will post an update in a week or two when they are drawn out.


A frame of honeybees Black Pierco plastic frames An inside look into the hive

Last weekend, the weather was perfect for doing a full inspection on my new hive. My friend Geoff accompanied me out to the bee yard to see my ladies. On the way there, we discussed our goals for this inspection because every beekeeper should know why they’re opening a hive and disrupting the colony. Each inspection should have a purpose. Our main goals for this inspection: look for signs that the queen is laying eggs, make sure the bees have enough room and check for any obvious problems.

We could see lots of activity around the hive, even from about 50M away. Bees were coming and going constantly — a good sign. We lit the smoker and got to work. This being the first full inspection for either of us, there was lots to see and be amazed at. We took each frame out and looked closely at both sides before replacing it exactly as we found it before. Geoff noticed one of the bees doing the waggle dance on the vertical surface of the comb. She was telling other workers where to go and find food or water. We also easily identified some drones by their big eyes.

Looking for eggs in the cells — a good sign that the queen is laying — was a bit difficult because the original nuc came with black Pierco plastic frames which make it difficult to hold up to the sun and identify eggs. Lucky for us though, we were able to spot the queen and watch as she found an empty cell and stuck her abdomen deep inside. There’s no better sign that your queen is laying eggs than actually seeing her do it!

There was still plenty of room for the colony to expand in this single hive body as the bees were mainly occupying about 5 and a half frames. There were also no signs of problems within the hive. We closed everything back up and then watched for a few minutes as bees came and went from the hive entrance. Successful first full inspection!