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Preparing a top-bar hive for winter

In spite of all the winter alterations I’ve made to my Langstroth hives, I’ve never done anything to my top-bar hive. Previously, when the temperature dipped into the 20s for more than a day or two, I’ve moved it into the garden shed, a space I keep in the 40s so things don’t freeze. I don’t like this method, mostly because I need help moving the hive, but also because I have to keep monitoring the outside temperature and deciding when to move it. And when the hive is in there, I have no room.

This year I’m going to do three things to the top-bar hive to make it similar to the overwintering Langstroths:

  • Add a feeder eke above the top bars
  • Add a woodchip-filled quilt box above the feeder
  • Add ventilation holes to the gable ends of the roof

I’ve never needed a feeder eke before because the gabled roof is hollow, which provides plenty of space above the top bars for syrup-filled baggies, sugar cakes, and pollen patties. But adding a quilt box will close access to the “attic” space, so a feeder eke below the quilt box will be necessary if I want to feed.

Since the hive is large (approximately 36 inches by 20 inches) I am going to add two cross pieces on the inside of both the eke and the moisture quilt so they don’t fold into parallelograms.

The thing I haven’t figured out is how to keep the hive aligned when the finished parts are stacked in place. The roof is telescoping, but when you put a telescoping roof over a shallow eke, it gets kind of squirrelly and slides out of place easily. With two shallow ekes below it, it will be even worse.

I’ve thought of using a hook and eye on each end of the roof, but I don’t know if they come long enough to reach from the roof to the hive body. I’ve also thought of using a tie-down. It’s the raccoons and possums that are most likely to knock the roof off—and there are plenty of them around. So until the hive is propolized into a unit, I will need to hold it together somehow.

So I’ve measure the hive, drawn a sketch, and now I’m off to buy 1 x 3-inch boards. I already have a hole saw*, hardware cloth to cover the vents, and all the necessary fasteners, such as screws, nails, and staples.

This doesn’t seem like a difficult project. Besides deciding how to critter-proof the roof, the hardest part will be finding 1 x 3-inch lumber, which my local Home Depot doesn’t always keep in stock.


*Please note: Microsoft Word keeps trying to make this read “whole saw.” I actually have a whole saw—a whole hole saw—but try convincing Microsoft of that.



Feeling your pain… I love Microsoft Word as much as I love my mac.
Got any pictures of a possum? – HB


Possums are like armadillos; the only time you can get up close and personal is right after they’ve been run over by a truck. I see them skulking around in the dark sometimes. I hear them knocking over the compost pail. But do I actually have a picture? No. There is something I like about them, though. If the cats leave dead things lying around, the possums clean them up during the night . . . no matter what it is, it’s gone by morning. Handy, that.


Question about quilt lids and TBHs. Our TBH bars sit snugly together, with no space in between. I thought about making quilt lids for the hives, but then figured that the benefit in having them (for ventilation) would be pretty minimal without space for air to flow up. We’ve tarped our hives and I may put some newspaper on top of the bars for an extra layer of insulation (and maybe stuff the spaces outside our followers with some insulation if I can think of something that won’t encourage mice to nest). What do you think?



I removed a bar from my top-bar hive and spaced them a little to allow some air to flow upwards through the hive. I figure they are not making comb in the winter anyway, so burr comb shouldn’t be an issue. I can add the bar back in early spring.

Newspaper is an interesting idea. It can absorb a lot of moisture and it provides good insulation as well. I’ve never tried it, but if you decide to use it I’d be interested in seeing how it works out for you.

What kind of tarp do you use? And how do you support it? I think a tarp sounds good as long as moisture doesn’t build up underneath it. With good ventilation, I think it should work well.


Huh, that’s a smart way to do it, moving the bars apart a little. We’ll see how our outside bees fare this winter (last year, we only had bees on a covered balcony) and maybe we’ll make up some quilt lids for next year.

They aren’t insulated tarps or anything, we just wanted to try to shed a bit more water if we could. We just tied them down with bungees and put bricks on top to keep the tarps on and lids from blowing off.

Good thoughts on the paper. We’ll definitely give it a try and let you know.


1st year for hive… top bar hive.
Winterized similar to you.
— vent in gable ends (put them in when I built TBH)
— roof telescopes over the bars, body
— built a insulation box from 1 by 3, telescope over bars, body.
— Insulation box has 4 square pegs (extend up about 1″) at the inside corners. Roof will fit on top of box, pegs to keep them aligned,
— Insulation is muslin bag with wool fleece in it. Wool will absorb moisture and still be insulating.
Hoping for good winter-over. It has been mild in Maryland so far.

John Wetherall

Hi Rusty!
I’m sending this message wondering a few things. I’m in the process of purchasing a langstrof hive from the local bee-man. I’d like to have a top bar hive. Is there a way I can take the frames and put it in a rectangular top bar hive? Or I’d be stuck with a lang? I got preference on the TBH cause it does not bother the bees as much and less lifting. Would they last in our winters as well? I’m in a small village Cascapedia-St-Jules. Quebec, Canada.
Thanks for the help.



It’s not exactly easy, but it can be done. What you have to do is cut the combs out of their frames and then tie them onto the bar of your top-bar hive. What I usually do is make a sling out of string. Just wrap it around comb and top bar a few times so the comb is hanging there with the top of the comb as close to the top bar as you can get it. In a week or so the bees will attach the combs to the bars and they will also eat away the string.

Another possibility is you may be able to cut away the side and bottom bars of the Langstroth frames and then cut the Lang top bar to fit the TBH. Whether that will work depends on the dimensions of your particular TBH.


I have installed 1.5″ of closed cell foam on the sides of my top bar hive.
Holding it on with 2″ fender washers 4 per side.
Thinking it will really protect the hive from the cold during a bad winter.


Hi Rusty –

I have a 48 x 20 inch TB with gabled roof here in fashionable Davis, CA; this is the first year for both me and the colony, which is doing very well in spite of their “first year beekeeper.” I also have a Langstroth with a first year colony that’s doing well – I’m preparing the Langstroth for winter by assembling a moisture quilt and 2 inch feeder rim for pollen and/or grease patties, and “soft ball” candy cakes.

When feeding the TB colony I’ve just place a syrup feeder at the back of the hive, in front of the follower board and assumed I’d do the same with patties but placed on a shelf 2 or 3 inches below the bars – well above the screened bottom and cooler temperatures in the hive.

I’m curious as to how you arrange spacing between bars in your TB hives – particular bars supporting the cluster – to allow access over the winter to patties placed on top of the bars? Even when inspecting the TB this past year I’ve always been careful to try and keep the bars with brood tight together particularly as the temperatures have been gradually dropping as we start into the fall?

Do you place spacers between the bars of stored honey with “ports” cut in them for access, or do you just arrange a few bars with “bee spaces” between them?




My top-bar hive holds 23 bars. I remove three and space out the rest to allow bees to access the patties and to provide ventilation so the brood nest stays dry. I don’t want moisture from respiration to condense below the bars. The colony in my tbh is the longest continually living colony I have, going on seven years.

Anne Bulger

Rusty, I am super impressed! I live in Maine and just started a TBH after many years of Langstroth beekeeping in the PNW. Have you considered a quilt box for your TBH? Do you feed sugar during the winter months as well as patties?

Best, Anne



I purchased the lumber to make a quilt for my top-bar hive about five years ago. It is still in my barn. They do fine without it.

I feed sugar only when I think they need it, and patties only in late winter.

Shanna Rose

Re: winter feeding. I am under the impression that the propolis seal that the bees make between the bars for the winter should not be broken. Have you used this method of feeding from above with spaced top bars? Do you space all the bars, or only those above the brood nest? If you feed candy or dry sugar on top bars doesn’t the quilt bag ( I will fill with wool) get sticky? What state do you live in?




1. You shouldn’t break propolis seals unnecessarily, but you can’t skip good management practices in order to save them. In any case, they reseal quickly.

2. Yes, I use this method every year in my top-bar hive.

3. I space several bars, two or three on each side of the brood nest.

4. I feed hard candy disks.

5. I normally don’t use a quilt on my top-bar hive.

6. Washington.



How do you feed the hard candy in the winter? Is it on top by the spaces or do you have it on a top bar in the hive? I live in Northern MN. My top bar did make it last year but half the hive had died. The observation window had condensation on it through out the window. I want to prevent that this year. I had one top bar with holes on one end with fondant but I had mice issues chewing on it instead of the bees. I like the idea of removing a few bars and spacing the top bars further apart. I plan to put moisture board over that. How soon can you remove the bars so they will not seal it up again before winter. I don’t want to wait until it gets too cold either. Thanks



It depends on how your hive is designed. Mine has lots of space above the top bars because of the gabled rood. If I need to feed, I just lay sugar patties (candy cakes) on the top bars for the bees to eat. I sometimes add a few mouse traps up there, just in case.


Rusty, do you wait until you actually need to feed (you indicated late winter in your case) to actually separate the top bars on either side of the brood nest? Or do you create your spaces in late fall, early winter, etc.?
I too have a gabled roof and live in Zone 6b.




I generally wait until I need the space, otherwise the bees will just fill it in.

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