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 beneficial 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 will help you find out if top bar hive plans are for you.
Top Bar Hive Plan
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.
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 a DIY job gives it an edge over the Langstroth in less developed states.
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 constructed 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. It is also why it is so popular in third world countries. However, studies show that bees are usually less likely to attach their honeycombs 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 a doubt, construct their comb in whatever shape or size of home that you will give them. That said, you do not want to make your hive too small and risk them not making enough honey for it to be worthwhile. 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 through various websites if you don't think you are ready for the task of constructing your own.
Special Product Features
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 is made of a single 1.5 inch board. Combined with the attached comb, the bar is going to top out at about 15, or maybe 20 pounds.
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 need to lift.
Because top bars are horizontal hives, they can be placed at a height that is convenient for you, without bending over or using a stepping 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, you can anticipate a roof (made by other bars) unless you decide to remove them all. This allows them not to feel frenzied or bothered.
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.
Because most top bar hive plans are custom made, it is difficult to procure replacement parts or pieces that will fit into the hive without having them made beforehand for that exact purpose. This is why most of the experts recommend having your hive made in dimensions that may be easily exchanged at a later date when the need arises. There are several blueprints for some very nice top bar hive plans found online. And as the amount of these plans and the popularity of top bar hive plans grow, there is a movement to make those plans more “standardized.” With more standard hive plans, the accessibility to new hives and parts for them become easier to come by when exchanging with other beekeepers or are to be sold.
While the design makes lifting the comb out physically easier, it also leaves the comb without much support. Newly constructed combs are delicate, and it is easy to break the ends off, especially for those without practice. There is no good way to re-attach these pieces. Also, the bees are capable of building without extra support or a frame in whatever direction they please. This can make for some awkward attachments and spacing issues.
That brings us to another potential downside. Because top bar hive plans require a more natural approach to beekeeping, it can be very demanding and possibly even overwhelming to a new beekeeper. If you decide to go with a top bar hive, know that you will have to become highly skilled very quickly to succeed. Also, since they are not the most popular type to be used, it may be difficult getting advice on how to use them with expertise if you feel you could use some help.
How it Compares
We picked a couple of similar products available on the market to see how they compare.
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. The 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 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 a high quality product.
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.
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.