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Top-bar hives and comb honey

“I plan on starting my first hive next spring. In researching which type to start with I found the top bar and liked it because I like the idea of comb honey. Reading on your site, I found two articles about using foundationless Langstroth frames. For the less-than-novice beginner, which would you suggest between those two types? Is there a third option I should consider?  Thank you very much for your help! David.”

I decided to answer your question as a post, because other folks often have the same question. I’m a little hesitant, however, because strong feelings (rants, slurs, epithets, curses, etc.) will rain down upon any recommendation I make. Anyway, nothing new, so here goes.

I have kept both Langstroths and top-bar hives for a number of years. I produce only comb honey and I don’t own, use, or otherwise touch an extractor. I keep bees as naturally as I can, although I have been known to use organic acid treatments on Varroa mites.

My current top-bar hive is a godsend. When I need some queens, it provides queen cells. When, I need a few quarts of worker bees, it overflows with extra APUs. If I want a comb or two of brood to boost a Langstroth, I steal it from the top-bar hive. I do nothing for this hive; I just steal from it. It is my go-to source for live bees and I don’t even know where the colony came from—it just moved in one July day a few years back.

That said, I’ve never collected an ounce of comb honey from this hive. Now, as you can tell, my bees love this particular structure and they thrive in it, but I have yet to figure out how to get comb honey from it because I can’t keep the queen out of the combs. In a Langstroth hive, this would be called “unlimited brood nest” management, meaning the queen can go wherever she pleases. And she pleases to go everywhere.

So, at some point, most combs in a top-bar hive become darkened because they get used to raise brood. Comb that was used to raise brood is unsuitable for comb honey. Now, I’m sure there are those beekeepers out there who know how to control their queens in a TBH, and if we’re lucky, they will write in and explain. However, I have had no success with that.

I do all my comb honey in a Langstroth because I can control where the queen goes. Many people do this with a queen excluder, but I don’t use one. I put section honey supers—either squares or rounds—above the brood boxes and I find that the queen doesn’t particularly like to lay in these. Am I saying she never lays in these? No, now and again a queen will go up lay a dozen or so eggs and leave. So yes, that particular square has a few brood cells. At harvest time, I just cut out those cells and use that comb at home. It’s not a big deal.

When I want to produce cut comb honey, I just put a super of shallow foundationless frames (with starter strips) above one of the section honey supers. I’ve never had a queen go past a section super to get into a shallow-frame super. Never. Ever. And the bees make really nice comb honey up there.

The way I see it, the Langstroth gives me a number of options for comb honey. I can do round or square sections, I can do cut comb or chunk honey, or I can do all four on one hive. A Lang is my clear preference for comb honey.

I think you could do basically the same thing with a Warré hive, but I’m not the one to ask since I never had a Warré. And like I said, I’m sure you could get at least some comb honey from a top-bar hive if you knew how to manage it. Still, I strongly recommend a Langstroth for comb honey because of all the options.

As much as top-bars are touted for beginners, I think they are harder to manage for the products you want and they tend to be extremely variable. Some very good beekeepers have trouble with top-bar hives and I think the different styles, geometries, and sizes all make a difference. I was just lucky with mine and it does what I needed it to do—produce bees.

So there you have my opinionated opinion. Anyone can chime in here and help David with his decision.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

These combs came from the same super. One has dry cappings, one has wet.
Squares of comb honey in wooden section boxes.

Comments

Joe
Reply

My opinion on TBHs is that they are wonderful BUT nobody ever tells you that they require opening and robbing small amounts of honey very often. The bees fill the boxes up in relatively short order and then become ‘honey bound’ and prepare to swarm. With a Lang you have the luxury of adding supers for them to work on and prolong the time between harvests. Just my opinion . . . I kept a couple of TBHs for a while but have gone to Langs. Also my bees never got the word to build straight comb and always had a tangled mess of conjoined combs and tunnels that made a huge mess whenever I tried to work them.

Simon Cavill
Reply

I would personally never ever recommend a top-bar hive for a beginner. Frame hives allow you to inspect comb directly and by doing so you can see how the queen lays eggs, how the brood develops and how it changes throughout the year. In addition, you can observe how healthy brood should look and also monitor for signs of any diseases or pests.

In short – A frame hive will help you develop all the basic skills you need to be a competent, confident beekeeper. Then after a couple of seasons, you can broaden out into other hive types such as top-bar (if you must, as IMHO they are really only suitable for a semi tropical environment). A frame hive will also let you create comb honey that can be harvested easily without too much disruption to the bees.

HB
Reply

David,

I started with a Top Bar Hive. Never even laid eyes on a Langstroth hive before I became a beekeeper, and I didn’t find the TBH challenging in the least. The bees I have kept in my TBH have always been very neat I guess, with a well defined surplus honey area from which to harvest comb honey. One year I supered my TBH with a Warré hive box and that worked out great. On the other hand, the box I harvested from my Warré hive this year was obviously visited by the queen, so some of the harvest was suitable as comb and most only as extracted honey. Personally I prefer my TBH over the Warré hive. It’s less complicated, as far as parts and pieces go, but I do appreciate the options that a vertical hive provides such as an easy way to emergency feed the bees or to treat for varroa. The one thing that both my hives have that I absolutely LOVE LOVE is windows. As a beginner, you can learn so much through the window and not disturb your bees. Best of luck to you. – HB

You Can Call Me Jane
Reply

We just started keeping bees this past spring and are using top bar hives. We started with two nucs and now have three hives- each spanning 20+ bars that we’re hoping make it through the winter.

Regarding Simon’s first paragraph above, I would say that the top bars have been phenomenal for being able to inspect comb directly and we’ve learned so much about brood and everything else because of the ease of inspections- and the need to do them often. We can’t compare top bars with anything else, but we have found that they require frequent attention. We’ve dealt with some swarming, all colonies re-queened themselves at least once and we didn’t feel we could take any honey this first year (in fact, we’re feeding them to give them a boost). We’ve enjoyed them immensely, but my husband will be building a Lang or two this winter so we can try them as well.

I will also note that our queens have pretty regularly stayed out of the very back of the hive. If we wanted to take comb honey from them, we could. That said, I have no idea if we’re doing anything to encourage this or if it’s luck:-).

NinetyEight
Reply

As beginners, my sweetie and I are happy with our top-bar hives. We can inspect comb directly and by doing so we can see how the queen lays eggs, how the brood develops and how it changes throughout the year. In addition, we can observe how healthy brood should look and also monitor for signs of any diseases or pests. 8)

Or we can just peek through the observation window when we do not see the need to disturb the girls.

And Michigan is hardly semi-tropical.

Ken
Reply

Well, I started with a Lang hive and have done well. I haven’t used an excluder and supered with mediums. I got lots of honey, some comb from foundationless frames (really they were just bars paced like you do frames) and the queen stayed in the 2 brood boxes. Next year could be different.
I helped a friend of mine get started with a top bar hive he built and installed a package into. He has done really well. He harvested a few bars from the very end and got 2 Gallons of honey his first year, and no brood in it either. Next year could be different.
(The window is really handy).

Roy Travers
Reply

Hi Rusty

You have mentioned that you do not have an extractor and only rob comb honey. Does that not place an unnecessary burden on the bees to continually make new comb? Surely by extracting and then replacing the empty comb back in the hive you are only asking the bees to repair the comb, as opposed re make it. After some repairs, then they can refill with honey a lot quicker?

I would be very interested to have your views.

Regards

Roy

Rusty
Reply

Roy,

Bees work their entire adult lives, which in spring and summer, is four to six weeks. You can’t extort any more work from them because they give their all. They build comb or repair comb, and then they go out to forage. In truth, they are a lot safer at home building the furniture than they are out in the fields foraging for nectar. Outside of the hive, they are blown away, drown in storms, eaten by birds, attacked by spiders, swatted by humans, hit by cars, doused with pesticides, and chopped with lawn mowers . . . talk about unnecessary burdens. A normal hive loses about 1000 bees per day in the summer, and believe me, they are not the ones at home excreting wax.

The real loss with comb honey production is to the beekeeper. Because more bees are building comb and fewer are foraging, the beekeeper has less yield per hive. But that is the beekeeper’s decision; the bees don’t really care. If they have all the comb and honey they could possibly use, that doesn’t’ stop them from making more. And if they don’t have enough room for more, they will just swarm so they can start making fresh comb in a new place.

Bees are programmed to do what bees do. They evolved in a world where animals attacked their hives and ate their brood and honey. I can assure you that the bears, skunks, and raccoons that ate the honey did not bother to extract and replace. Bees evolved to handle these situations. Relax. I can assure you my bees are well cared for.

Roy Travers
Reply

Hi Rusty

Thank you for your response. For me the issue is the loss of yield per hive. I live in Zimbabwe and therefore have what you probably call the African killer bees to contend with. They are very efficient hoarders, and I want to take every advantage of their expertise!

Regards

Roy

Roy Travers
Reply

Hi Rusty

Thanks for your comments. For me the issue is maximizing yield per hive. I live in Zimbabwe, so have what you probably call the African killer bees to deal with. They are very efficient, so I want to capitalize on their expertise!

Regards

Roy

peter murless
Reply

The reduction in yield is minimal. Top-bar hives can be hung easily away from ants and badgers!

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

There are many worthwhile opinions here . . . hope you are still reading. Let us know.

David
Reply

I am amazed, happily surprised and very grateful for all the knowledge shared, advice given and opinions expressed. Thank you all very much. I joined the Wasatch Beekeepers Association in the Salt Lake City area. Most of the commercial and hobby keepers use Langstroth hives but there seem to be enough top-bar hives in use to prove their successful use in our inter-mountain climate. It is definitely not subtropical.

Based upon what I have heard at the association meetings and read here, I like the idea of starting with one or two Langs each with two brooder boxes and then supering with medium or shorts with top bars. They would get me started with the comb honey I want. I have read and heard a lot about bees and their culture and many of the traits they have in common but it seems that hives can take on unique personalities. I can’t wait to see what my first family of 25,000 bees will be like.

David
Reply

One more question. I will order queens and their workers sometime before next spring. Based upon what I have seen in this area, they will probably be some species of Italian bees. Based upon your experience with top bars, is there a genus and species that is better adapted or suited for top bars and comb honey? (Rusty, did you notice I didn’t use cone?)

Rusty
Reply

David,

Yes, I noticed. But there are not species of Italian bees; Italian bees are a subspecies of Apis mellifera called Apis mellifera ligustica. I don’t know if any bees are more suited to top-bar hives than any other, but Italians are preferred for comb honey.

David
Reply

One more question. Based upon your experience with top bars is there a genus and species of honey bee that is better adapted or suited for top bars and comb honey? (Rusty, did you notice I didn’t use cone?) Seems a species of Italian is most popular in this area.

Rusty
Reply

Asked and answered.

David
Reply

Based upon all of your combined experience is there a genus and species of bee that is better suited for top bar comb honey?

Rusty
Reply

Do you not trust the system?

David
Reply

I have another question. Seems most of the bees around here are of the Italian subspecies and the vast majority of the hives are Langstroths and not with top bars. Have any of you found that some other subspecies is better adapted for top-bar comb honey? When I buy my first bees next year I want to get the best suited for what I want.

Rusty
Reply

David,

Everything about beekeeping is give and take, plus and minus. You’re not going to have a perfect set-up. Generally speaking (and you can always find exceptions) Carniolans overwinter a little easier. They maintain smaller clusters and eat less food. So if you have cold winters, which I assume you do, you might want to try Carniolans. By they way, they are also a subspecies called Apis mellifera carnica.

On the other hand, Italians are considered the best for comb honey because they produce light and dry cappings. They are also known for producing larger crops of honey, but they also need more honey in the winter. In my opinion, Italians are bit more disease-prone and harder to overwinter.

There is no reason you can’t use either one, but don’t expect either to be perfect. If you are curious, I have gone exclusively with Carniolans and I get gorgeous comb honey. I probably don’t get as much as I would with Italians, but I like the fact that when I open up my Carniolans in the spring, they are still there.

David Williams
Reply

Another option, which I’m going to try next spring, is the long hive. Also called a horizontal hive. It is basically a Langstroth-type hive that is long enough to hold 20 or more frames. The brood chamber is all on one level. The cover is made in two sections so that you can put supers on either or both sides. It has many of the advantages of Langstroth and top-bar hives, and its own disadvantages.

Doug
Reply

You can keep the comb fairly straight in a top-bar hive by ensuring it’s perfectly level front to back and side to side. To keep the queen out of the honeycomb, make sure there is always at least one empty bar between the brood comb and the honeycomb. That being said, top-bar hives are better for low-production hobby use—if you want lots of honey and easier maintenance, go with a Lang. If you want hands-on fun and a little honey, go with a top bar.

Heather Parker
Reply

Comb honey is honey, intended for consumption, which still contains pieces of the hexagonal-shaped beeswax cells of the honeycomb. Before the invention of the honey extractor almost all honey produced was in the form of comb honey. Today, most honey is produced for extraction but comb honey remains popular among consumers both for eating ‘as is’ and for combining with extracted honey to make chunk honey.

Gerry
Reply

I know it is recommended that TBH is used by beginners, but I find managing them properly to be awkward. The Langstroth Hive has always been my preference. Maybe it is just that I am used to it. But, with the langstroth everything is laid out and organised. Why leave it to chance and hope that the bees build straight comb etc.?

Rusty
Reply

Gerry,

I don’t know many people who recommend top-bar hives for beginners. I think they are difficult to use, especially if you want more than garden pollination. But I think they are attractive to beginners because they are a little cheaper, and you don’t need so much stuff to get started. I’m glad I have one, but I would never get another.

One thing, though: My top-bar bees always build perfectly straight comb. I don’t see that as an issue.

Aram
Reply

Rusty, change in direction from top-bar hives to the section honey. You mentioned that your queens rarely ever go into sections, even w/o excluder. I am curious, do you think it is a function of the width of the sections, or limited squares. Namely, if the section width was 1 inch vs 1 3/8 inch, do you think she would more readily go in there? When I look at the frames from Walter Kelley, they are very wide, but have small oval opening for bees to enter. Maybe having that small opening is enough to deter the queen. I looked at the beebehavior.com, and Romonoff sections are not nearly as wide, to ensure that they fit into existing frames. I wonder if his DIY sections would work with your system. I hate excluders, but don’t want to set myself for failure if I don’t use them. Looking forward to your honey in sections post in the comb honey series.

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

I got confused when I read this because I already wrote the next comb honey post but I haven’t posted it (and your question made me think I had posted it). I think your question is at least partially answered in that post, “Managing bees for section honey.” I want to check a couple of facts before I put it up.

I would never use an excluder with sections. It takes an act of congress to get bees into the sections in the first place, so I can’t see making it even more disagreeable by using an excluder. The way I see it, you have a choice of maybe a few damaged sections, or no sections at all.

BeeG
Reply

I’m a TBH guy. The major problem I see here is seasonal mismanagement of the combs in a TBH. Pure white miticide-free TBH honeycomb is a thing of beauty. Manage comb in the fall and let it be. Use a TBH queen excluder if you want or just let her roam. Les Crowder draws pictures on how to do this in his book. In a Lang I feel removed from the bees as if I’m forcing them into something. Once roof opens I see it all at once in a TBH. Winter and spring active management of a TBH is easy. The Lang and TBH approach I like that idea; have 1 of each is a god idea.

Daren
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Very glad to have found your website as I am an accidental beekeeper. Short story, we a building a permaculture farm here in Colombia, South America and wanted bees to be part of our design. We contracted with a local guy to place and manage them for us in exchange for honey, but once we paid him for the boxes and bees, well, things went south as they say. We now hove three surviving Langstroth style boxes out of four (one didn’t make it). Of the three one seems strong, lots of bees at the entrance coming and going, the other two, not sure, but seem a little weak to my beginners eye. The boxes he sold us are old, and not well made so I built a Top Bar Hive and want to go with it – we have African bees here and I’ve read that it’s a good way to go with them. Using Les Crowders advice on how to transfer from a Langstroth to a top bar, I plan on giving it a try. Having so far very little hands on experience – I have only so far watched about 100 hours of videos (no exaggeration) and read many books and I feel confident I can pull it off – Or at least willing to accept the consequences if I don’t. My question, finally, is this: Here in the tropical Colombian Andes Mountains we have a dry season and a very, very wet season, which we are in the middle of now, and an average temperature of about 80º. Each season is about 3 months long. Should I wait until the rainy season has passed to attempt this transfer? Also, if you know of any resource for information on managing bees in the tropical weather I would love the tip. Reading the seasons here has been tough for me so far as I grew up in NYC. I’m a far way form home!

Thank you very much, I appreciate your help.
Daren

PS I would like to recommend a book called “Honeybee Democracy” by Thomas D. Seeley if you haven’t read it already. Absolutely fascinating.

Rusty
Reply

Daren,

Yes, I frequently recommend Seeley’s book; it’s one of the best.

Next, I know little about managing bees in a tropical environment. But to transfer your bees, I would go more by temperature than rainfall. So, with an average in the 80s, I would go ahead and do it . . . just my opinion.

Daren
Reply

Thank you, I think I will then. Hopefully I can get some pictures too.

Daren

Roy
Reply

Hi Daren

I live in Zimbabwe in Africa and all our bees are the African variety. No problem as far as I am concerned for you to transfer them in the rainy season.
Roy

Daren
Reply

Thank you Roy.

Daren
Reply

Roy, I was wondering if you would have an opinion on something I am about to try with my bees. They are currently in a Langstroth style box but I want to transfer them to a top-bar hive. Here is what I am going to do:

I built a small top-bar hive, I guess you’d call it a nuc hive, only about 19 inches long and will fit 15 top bars (1 1/4″, I have African bees). What I plan on doing is placing this on top of the Langstroth, creating a super. There is a hole in the bottom of the top-bar hive to let the bees travel up and the remaining open space on the top of the Langstroth will be sealed. I will leave the entrance to the Langstroth as is for the bees to come and go and close up the entrance to the top-bar hive while I have it set up this way – the idea to to get rid of the Langstroth. I will wait a few days and check back to see if/when the queen travels up, when she does I will put a queen excluder in between the two boxes and wait for all the brood in the Langstroth to hatch out before removing the Langstroth. Once that is done I will move the topbars to a regular size top-bar hive (44″ long) and harvest the comb from the Langstroth or feed it to the bees. Do you see a problem with this method? Any suggestions to improve on this?

Thank you,
Daren

Rusty
Reply

Daren,

In my opinion, this will work fine as long as you have all your equipment so it fits together. The queen may move up easily, or she may have to be convinced. If the hive is not expanding at the moment, she may be harder to convince. Other than that, it should work, although it sounds like a lot of work.

Daren
Reply

Thank you Rusty,

By convincing, do you mean finding her and placing her in the top bar? Or is there another way to convince her?

Rusty
Reply

Daren,

Try putting some brood in the top bar. Cut a comb out from the Lang and tie it into the top bar.

Roy
Reply

Hi Darren

I fully agree with Rusty. Good luck…

Roy

ChrisM
Reply

Hi, I have a top-bar hive. When building the first one I read about how so many of them have problems being rather small. Reading some of the comments to this article I often want to say to those people, “did you consider building a bigger hive?” My one is 12″ wide at the bottom, 19″ wide at the top. My top bars are the same length as 19″ lang top bars. The hive is 1.2 m long internally 47″. This has an internal volume of about 140 litres. And in terms of comb volume is slightly more than 4 deeps. We got the bees as a swarm. The hive was brand new and there was no comb of any kind in it. I only gave them about 8 bars to start with (1.25″) and they made perfect straight comb on four bars within the cluster. Gradually this has filled out to about 20 full bars. We are in winter now, the bees are Carni. There is about 8 bars of brood comb and about 12 bars of capped honey. There is no brood in the honey bars where I also use .25″ spacers between bars to make the centres 1.5″ in honey area. No problem with queen going beyond the brood area, never lays in the honey area, if she did the brood would die of cold. Although it is winter, the winter here is mild and there is brood, there is still pollen coming in and there are food stores also on the brood combs. So, it all works well for us here. It is possible that a Lang hive would be even better and we have never attempted to make comb honey, nor have we ever sold honey comb nor intend to. I don’t intend to critcise other hives or styles either. I really like my hive so much and hope everyone has just as much success with theirs. Speaking of small top bar hives, I have read about one in treatment-free forum in the UK that throws at least half a dozen swarms a year (i.e. making bees) that hive is even smaller than the ‘standard’ top bar hive and while I don’t know if all the swarms survive once they leave the hive has no disease and the owner has enough honey for personal use. The swarming seems to help in respect of managing varroa. I think Rusty has a pretty sweet setup, so no reason to change anything. I would however be interested to know size of Rusty’s hive and wonder what would happen if he got one of the dimensions I am using. There are always differences with food, climate, bees and bk, but regardless it is interesting to try stuff.

Rusty
Reply

Chris,

I haven’t measured my tbh in years, but it holds 23 bars and each comb in about 1.5 times the size of a deep frame, so a rough estimate is 1.5 x 23 or 34.5. That is, it holds the equivalent of about 35 Lang frames, or about 3.5 deeps. The colony in it now has persisted for five years.

ChrisM
Reply

Well, sounds pretty similar. Thanks for reply. I conclude you have a fantastic colony in your TBH.

Rusty
Reply

It’s awesome.

DaveF
Reply

I love this site for all the wonderful comments, ideas and opinions on TB hives!

Can someone tell me – how do you transfer the honeycomb from a rescued hive (like when the bees start a hive in an irrigation box) to a TB hive. With a Lang. hive I just remove the foundation and rubberband the comb to the wire support the frames, but with a TB I can’t figure out how to transplant the comb. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Occasionally help a neighbor.

Rusty
Reply

Dave,

You can still use rubber bands, as long as the comb is firm. Or you can make a sling with string. Just wrap it around the comb and the top bar five or six times.

Craig
Reply

I started a top bar and a Langstroth hive this spring as a newbee. Both hives are flourishing. I use 1-1/4 inch wax starter strips to guide the bees in both hives. On my Lang, when my first deep was 80% full, I added a second deep with same starter strips. A week later, my second story had comb building from top and bottom of frame. Comb from bottom was not straight and had to be removed. Suggestions?

Rusty
Reply

Craig,

I would do what you did, just remove it. Maintenance is part of beekeeping.

David
Reply

The reason I started raising bees was to pollinate my pomegranate orchard. I live in the middle of about 1000 acres of chaparral about 6 miles from the coast, San Diego, CA. I started with 5 std Lang hives. But now, I have almost exclusively TB hives.

In 2010 I built 6 top bar hives. They were the classic design, wide on top (19″) and tapering to about 6″ on the bottom, about 30 frames wide. I generally leave them alone, opening them every few months at the most except in June/July when I take honeycomb. In the fall I will feed the hives that don’t appear to have the proper level of reserves. I have never treated them for anything. I just let them bee. I used to re-queen the weak hives, but now I just let them bee. In the past when a hive got weak, if feeding didn’t help, then I mostly let nature take its course, which usually involved the hive dying and then either a swarm would take up residence or wax moths would move in and destroy the comb.

Now in the spring I try to collect and introduce swarms if i have an open hive or two. I would estimate that my average hive lasts about 3 years before it dies out. Last year I did my first split of a TB hive and that worked out well. I plan to do this again because i currently have one empty hive. When a hive is empty I and I think it will remain so for months, I now remove the comb, put it in my chest freezer for a week, then store until the next swarm season (or until I do a split).

My chief complaint with TB hives is the bees tend to attach the comb to the walls of the hive and this makes comb inspection a little harder & more time consuming. So to prevent this I created top-bars with sides made from paint stir sticks. These were time consuming to make for my trapezoidal shaped hives, and then I decided to build TB hive with straight sides do that I could have frames that looked like a Lang frame without a bottom. This worked great. I put the paint stir sticks on the sides of the TB frame and the bees attach the comb to the sides. Makes it very easy to remove and inspect frames. Also allows you to have 1.5-2x more production frame.

The horizontal TB hive is also easier to use in other respects. On one end I created a section where i put the feeding bottles if needed. i can now add/remove bottles in the hive without disturbing the hive and by placing the bottles on the opposite side to the main entrance (the hive also has 2 side entrances), wasps are no longer a problem when feeding. I also designed a pollen trap that can be inserted into the hive – it is 3 frames wide and straddles the side entrances of the rectangular horizontal hive. I also made frames that act as hive-volume reducers (a full frame with a piece of wood that inserts pretty snugly against the sides and bottom so bees can get past it) and queen excluders so i can keep the brood out of the honeycomb production section.

The sage bloom is now waning and I am so tempted to go out to get a taste of fresh sage honeycomb. I can’t wait!

Rusty
Reply

David,

Creative tweaks to a top-bar hive! For some reason I’ve never had my top-bar bees attach to the walls. My hive has the traditional sloped sides, but they’re still clean after about ten years of constant use.

By the way, I always wondered who pollinated pomegranates, so thanks for that. The sage honey sounds great.

peter murless
Reply

To Daren in Colombia. A good book to get is called Beekeeping in the Tropics by Smith. He worked in Tanganyika in the fifties. Also the loss in yield of a top bar hive as compared to a movable frame hive is only 10 percent. Nobody has mentioned that in a top-bar hive there will be less disease build up problems because you are removing old wax which can harbour spores.

Amber Bishop
Reply

Hello, I have been keeping Langstroth 8-frame hives for 3 years now and am considering horizontal hives. I think the horizontal approach would be so much easier to manage, easier to see the frames and know what is going on “across the whole hive” vs. going through one stacked box to the next. I mean, the bees could expand their brood area as large as they like, the beek could easily see the capped frames, etc. Yes? But what about the extra space in it? When compressing for winter, for example, there’ll be a large open space to one side and just a divider board between. Would this big of a space of “dead air” help insulate them? Or?

And, here’s a comb question: Isn’t comb built sized for different purposes? Such as drone brood comb which later gets used for honey storage, etc. I am feeling concerned that when I just did my first split (today!) I used frames of honey from a dead-out and empty frames from the same to fill in space. I didn’t really reduce my original 3-deep hive except by removing 4 frames of brood/eggs/larvae and the queen into a new box. But what if, likely I did, shuffle the frames about so badly, placing different sizes with different purposes willy-nilly about the two hives?!

(Of course I did keep to the proper pattern of honey-brood-honey, but still! Maybe taking on this additional complexity is just going too far, or…? 🙂

Thanks, Amber in Southern Oregon

Rusty
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Amber,

I’m going to pass this on to the long hive specialists to see if they can give you a proper answer.

Chris Mitchell
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Amber,

I only own top bar hives though we are also employed to look after Lang hives and others.
For a non-commercial permanent apiary, I think that long hives require less lifting, less bending and are more suited to easy management. The underlying reasons to use 8 frame boxes instead of 10 frame boxes are the same goals. Given that you have colonies on Hoffman frames then I think should use a long hive of Hoffman frames (NOT a top bar hive). This way all your frames and colonies retain an interchangeable standard frame. Normally (in our local environment) about 30 to 40 frames are good for a long hive. Yes, they can, in theory, expand their brood area full length, but they do not. As soon as there is a couple of full comb of stores/honey in the hive, the queen will not set up a second brood nest. So, poorly maintained long hives can become swarm producers if the brood area is very small and honey bound. If there is up to 3 pollen frames at one end of the hive adjacent to the entrance, then you have their brood nest you can follow this with winter stores (here this would be roughly equal volume of brood and stores in our temperate climate here) then there is a follower board (divider board) we would put in 2 or 3 of these each more than an inch thick. Our top bar hives do not have a hive mat because the bars touch/seal. In a long hive, you need 3 or 4 hive mats and this does kind of limit you to working in groups of 8 or 10. But that’s ok. Generally, we subscribe to a book written https://archive.org/details/cu31924003100306 by Ed Clark. So, we actually want to keep the sides of the hive cold so that warm moist breath of bees will condense on sides of the hive, whereas we have insulation/duvet/etc on top of the hive to try to keep the roof area as warm as possible and so heat does not escape easily through the ceiling. When the hive expands in spring, you can insert foundationless frames with a triangle or starter strip under the top bar. Only ever put one between any two combs of brood. If fully drawn within a week, you can add two next time in different places. As the brood expands you can work toward all-new brood frames and cycling out old empty manky frames. If you are going after comb honey and are foundationless they will go banana’s making drone comb to begin with. Once they feel they have balance and are comfortable they’ll stop doing this. Don’t panic. With regards combs built for specific purposes, the bees will rebuild and reconfigure comb to suit themselves. Also mixed comb; comb half drone and half worker is common. Ultimately, it is quite a different style of keeping bees. If you make splits you can have a smaller colony or equal size colony at each end of the hive with a gap between follower boards in the middle. I have kept up to four Nuc colonies in one hive with screwed in divider boards and entrances placed so as bees are not accidentally going into wrong hive. Don’t be afraid to plug an entrance and drill new one as your management requires. Ok, hope that some of that was of help. Cheers Chris.

Vivien Hight
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Hi Amber! It was great talking with you last weekend!

Let’s look deeper into this: when you say, “easier to see the frames” I’ll be more detailed. The Observation windows on a Valkyrie Long Hive don’t run across the entire face of the hive body. They measure 5″ x 7″ (approx.) so you can see a large portion of frames #2-8-ish. If the second window is added, the same area is visible on frame #18-23. So, when a beek lifts an individual frame out of the Valkyrie, one wonderful benefit is not losing all of the heat and humidity within the hive (with careful placement of the Canvas Inner Cover and Triple-layer Wool blanket). Another benefit is using the Observation Windows to verify colony movement, check for burr comb, etc without actually opening the hive. The grandkids love peeking in it, as well.

Yes, the colony can expand across as many frames as they like– all the way to #24, and yes, each frame (once lifted out of the hive body) is easily examined for… well, whatever you’re looking for. In the winter, if a “fat cow” colony filled only, say, 13 frames, the extra space doesn’t become an issue as they won’t need to heat the empty space, only the cluster itself. I’ll defer to Naomi for more on this. I recommend that the empty space be filled with old blankets, a sleeping bag, a pillowcase filled with sheep’s wool or Alpaca fleece or something similar.

“Additional complexities” –rather REDUCING additional complexities– are why the Valkyrie was created. Let me know when you’re ready to move ahead with yours, ok?

Stay healthy! Vivien

Naomi Price
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Amber,

These are comments directed to your comb question. A horizontal hive can be viewed as a vertical hive (2-3 boxes) that has been placed on its side; brood at one end near the entrance, and honey surplus to the other end away from possible robber bees. Usually, the first frame nearest the entrance is left in place as the colony’s dance floor for communication; all other frames could be adjusted while respecting brood togetherness.

Frames with foundation dictate worker cells unless the drone green frame is also offered. A foundationless frame could be offered in place of the green frame. Bees will build drone burr comb wherever they can in the horizontal hive as in a vertical if not given a proper place for drone cells. Frames of mostly drone cells could be used in the dance floor position and again after the last brood frame.

Foundationless frames allow the colony to decide where to build worker or drone cells; sometimes they will do both on the same frame. When mixed, drone cells are mostly built to the horizontal hive’s side away from sun exposure. Shuffle frames according to your management preference, keeping the drone cells to the hive’s side in which they were built; marking on the frame’s top could be a beekeeper’s reminder when returning the hive’s furniture.

Side note: I just overwintered a two-frame colony in a Valkyrie long hive. This colony was gifted to a friend’s queenless hive found during inspection last week.

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