Top Bar Hive Plans Beekeeping Review : Natural Approach To Beekeeping

Top Bar Hive

There are not many people who don't enjoy the effects of natural honey. From its warm sweet taste to its medicinal properties, such as being a natural antihistamine, it is a benefit to all. And for those that have learned to keep bees, and then harvest both the honey and wax made, it has an added benefit. It is a hobby that can be very calming and soothing. There is nothing quite like connecting to nature in this way. However, to get involved in such an endeavor requires some decisions to be made. The first of which we are going to discuss in length. What type of hive should you get? There are quite a few options out there. And each has its advantages and disadvantages. The key is to find what is going to be the best for you and the plans you have for your hive. This review is to help you find out if top bar hive plans are for you.

Top Bar Hive Plan

Top Bar Beehive

Top Bar Hives (TBH) are beehives that are not generally referred to as the most widely used. That place belongs to the Langstroth bee hive plan. They are given this place for its design that makes the commercial and large-scale production of honey and crop pollination beekeeping relatively easy. We will discuss them later.  The Top Bar Hive plan is much different and therefore tends to be suited well for smaller operations and also the "all natural" beekeeper. Unlike the classic Langstroth, it highlights the use of top bars that sit horizontally and allow the bees to build a natural comb that hangs down from it.

Product Specs

Top Bar Hive plans can vary greatly. In fact, most Top Bar Hive owners build their own. While it may not be the most widely used throughout the US, the fact that it can be made by hand gives it an edge over the Langstroth in poorer and underdeveloped areas. They are normally horizontal rectangular wooden boxes with a cover that allows for easy access to the combs that are attached to the top bars that hang inside. It really does not take a lot of woodworking skills to accomplish a well put together hive. Nor does it require expensive or hard to come by materials. They can be made from commonly found materials at any hardware or DIY store and put together rather simply.

There are essentially two different types of these plans: the Kenyan and the Tanzanian. Both are relatively the same just with differing side walls. The Kenyan has side walls that are sloping downward while the Tanzanian has square or vertical ones. This makes the Tanzanian design easier to build and is also why it is so popular in third world countries. However, studies show that the bees are usually less likely to attach their honey combs to the sloping sides of the Kenyan as they are to the sides of its sister hive.

If you are planning on harvesting any serious amount of honey from your top bar hive, there are a few specifications you should keep in mind. Bees will, without question, construct their comb in whatever shape or size of home that you give them. With that being said you do not want to make your hive too small and risk them not making enough honey for it to be worthwhile to you. Nor do you want to make it so large that removing a top bar and the comb attached to it becomes too difficult or risk breaking the comb. Most top bar hive plans recommend making the box wide and shallow to allow for easy handling and at least 40" long to ensure you get a good supply of honey.

There are pre-built top bar hives that can be purchased though various websites if you don't think you are up to the task of constructing your own.

Pricing

Because top bar hive plans can be constructed on your own and from various materials, the price of one could be no more than what you believe your time is worth if you already have material. If not, then what it costs you to build one could be anything from a few dollars at the local hardware store to a couple hundred, depending on the exact type of materials you decide to use. There is the option to buy a prefabricated one online somewhere. These tend to be around $300 for a good-sized one made from quality materials. Unless you have a lot of other beekeepers in your area, you will probably be hard-pressed to find a ready-made model for sale in close proximity.

How it Compares

We picked a couple of similar products available on the market to see how they compare.


COLIBROX--Top Bar Bee Hive with 12 Top Bars Backyard Bee Keeping Hive...
  • PERFECT QUALITY--A brand-new, unused, unopened, undamaged item in its original packaging (where packaging is...
  • A new, unused item with absolutely no signs of wear. The item may be missing the original packaging, or in the original...
  • An item that has been professionally restored to working order by a manufacturer or manufacturer-approved vendor. This...

Weight

One of the best things about top bar hive plans is that there is no heavy lifting involved. Honeybees and honey can be rather heavy. With a top bar hive, you have only to lift the cover off to access the bars and combs. The bar, made of a single 1 1/2" board and the attached comb combined are going to top out at about 15, maybe 20 pounds. With most other designs, such as the Langstroth, in order to access a certain comb, you must first lift off the other combs housed in frames that sit on top of it. There could be as many as eight or nine other frames on top. So that is somewhere around 100 lbs that you may have to lift.


Access

Because top bars are horizontal hives, they can be placed at a height that is convenient for you, without bending over or using a step stool. Also, they can be made with a window on various sides to allow you to see inside and check on them without bothering the bees and exposing them unnecessarily. When you do need to open the hive to retrieve a comb or fix something, there is always somewhat of a roof made by the other bars over the bees unless you decide to remove them all. This allows them not to feel as frenzied or bothered.


Simplistic Design

This hive plan is simpler and requires fewer materials to build than others, making it the obvious choice for those with fewer resources or DIY enthusiasts. It also is the choice for those that are interested in more natural beekeeping practices. There is no way to use a foundation, queen excluders or drone frames with the TBH.

Price

Generally $100-$500

Ease of Use

Assembly Time

Design Quality

Warranty

Pros

  • No heavy lifting involved
  • Can be placed at a height that is convenient for you
  • Simpler and requires fewer materials to build than others

Cons

  • Difficult to get replacement parts or pieces that will fit into the hive without having them made beforehand for that exact purpose.  
  • Lack Of Comb Support
  • Experience​​​​/Difficulty
    That brings us to another potential downside. 

Busy Bee's -n- More Complete 8 Frame Langstroth Bee Hive includes...
  • Includes 16 High Quality Pine Brood Frames (9-9/16" x 19")
  • Includes 8 High Quality Pine Super Frames (6-5/8" x 19")
  • 24 Food Grade Plastic Foundations, Coated with Real Bee's Wax

As we mentioned before, the Langstroth is probably the most commonly used hive. Popular enough that most people, upon seeing one, know exactly what it is. Most other hive plans are questioned about as to what they are and how they are used. Langstroth's design is to house the combs in frames as opposed to one top bar for more support. These are placed in a box with a cover. As your hive grows, you can simply add another box on top. As they are so popular, you can find this pre-made from a variety of manufacturers and the parts are all interchangeable and easy to get replacements for. This makes it very easy to use and keeps assembly time to the very minimum. There are several brands and models to go with, most being very similar to to exchange parts easily. All are made of wood of some variation, so do your research to make sure you are getting quality. The price on the Langstroth can vary greatly depending on the size you get and if there are any additions to it such as frames with foundations and FlowHive technology.

Price

Generally $100-$500

Ease of Use

Assembly Time

Design Quality

Warranty

Pros

  • Lots of options when it comes to maintenance practices
  • Compact design makes it easy to transport
  • Equipment and information is ready-made and easy to obtain

Cons

  • Heavy to lift without help
  • Every time you have to do anything with the hive you end up disturbing the bees.
  • Do not follow the natural building habits of bees.

The Warre beehive is a combination of the Langstroth and the top bar. While it is built with boxes that stack vertically, like the Langstroth, the boxes house top bars not frames.  The top bars are smaller than those not used for a Warre hive. It is also important to note that Warre has not just a cover, but a roof with a box built underneath that holds wood shavings. When you want to add a box, do so from the bottom instead of the top as you would with a Langstroth. Like the Langstroth to do any removing or checking in the bottom boxes you first have to take off the upper ones. While not quite as popular as the Langstroth they are still easier to find pre-made than the Top Bar, and they are fairly simple to construct as well, although, there are many more parts to put in place. The Warre is made from wood, and so are the others that we have covered.

Price

Generally $100-$500

Ease of Use

Assembly Time

Design Quality

Warranty

Pros

  • Closer to nature in design
  • Inexpensive to build
  • Boxes are smaller and therefore lighter than the Langstroth

Cons

  • Boxes can be heavy to lift
  • Yields less honey than Langstroth
  • Top bars don't offer much support to the comb

Conclusion

After researching this and other types of beehives, we have found that we really like several aspects of the top bar hive. In light of recent problems with diminishing bee populations around the globe, we encourage those who can, to start their own hive and begin your love affair with bees. They are indeed fascinating creatures and offer so many benefits to everyone. However, it is important to get a hive that suits your needs and the needs of the bees. This is one reason that we can recommend the top bar hive for those who are really looking for a more natural approach to beekeeping. This hive allows bees to construct their comb in their own unique way as they would in the wild. It also allows for easy management of the bees without interrupting them more than necessary. We think the top bars are worth looking into for yourself whether you are just starting out with bees or you are looking for something a little different from the norm that gives you more natural options.

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