Archives for posts with tag: top bar 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.


Yesterday I checked in on the bees that I captured last Friday. In exactly 4 days, they have drawn comb on 7 bars, they have collected nectar and pollen, and the queen has been busy laying eggs. Bees continue to amaze me.

Just in case you missed it, here’s the swarm capture video.


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)

Today I help my friend Geoff build his top bar hive. Here are a few quick photos from the build.
Plywood and wood

Top bar hive follower boards

Top Bar Hive

The Thinking Beekeeper - A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives

I have been anxiously awaiting the publication of this book since I first heard about it. The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives, by Christy Hemenway explains – in fantastic detail – what it means to practice truly natural beekeeping, specifically in top bar hives.

Towards the end of last beekeeping season, I read Phil Chandler’s book, The Barefoot Beekeeper (full review here) which introduced me to the concept of top bar hives and what it means to be an intervention-free beekeeper. While Chandler’s book is wonderful, and highly recommended, I found that Hemenway’s book, The Thinking Beekeeper, provided a more complete explanation and breakdown of becoming a top bar hive beekeeper from scratch.

This is a perfect book for a beginner beekeeper and may actually become one of my top recommended books for anyone that is new to beekeeping and wants to approach beekeeping as naturally as possible.

The book begins with a history lesson on beekeeping and offers a look at some of the most common beekeeping practices – such as the use of wax foundation – and the impact that these practices may have on bees.

Further into the book is a full instructional guide to getting up and running with your first top bar hive. Aside from full plans and instructions on constructing your hive (which are regularly available for free on the Internet), Hemenway breaks down everything that you need to know as a first-time, top bar hive beekeeper. From installing your bees to collecting honey, overwintering, and then even managing your hive the following spring to ensure you’re left with the strongest colony possible.

One of the best parts of this book are the top-down (bee’s eye view) diagrams of the hive at specific stages along the way. These diagrams are extremely helpful for understanding how you manipulate the bars and follower boards throughout the season. I now have a much better understanding of how to have a middle entrance in a top bar hive and still allow the winter cluster of bees to move in a single direction consuming honey. Pure genius.

Towards the end of the book, Hemenway briefly describes the most notorious pests and diseases that every beekeeper should be on the lookout for, and finishes the book with a few of her personal thoughts and stories.

If you’re even remotely interested in top bar hives, or learning more about intervention-free beekeeping, I highly recommend this book to you.

Order this book from

The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives
By Christy Hemenway
Published Jan 1, 2013