Top-bar beekeeping is uniquely wonderful, and challenging.

Here you will find tips and tricks about top-bar hives, horizontal hives, comb guides, starter strips, and more. If you have a suggestion for an article, let us know.

How To Feed Pollen Patties In A Top-Bar Hive

Feeding pollen patties in a top-bar hive can be a challenge. Ideally, the pollen patty should be placed above the brood nest so the nurse bees can readily access it. In a top-bar hive, where the comb is normally attached directly to the bar, feeding in this manner is not possible. Pollen patties placed on the walls or floor of the hive generally go unused and become a haven for hive beetles. That’s one of the reasons that I developed the Safe-Passage Comb Guide, so that I could effectively feed pollen patties. The passage the guide creates directly below the top-bar that runs the entire length of the comb is a perfect place to insert pollen patties.

Reading A Dead-out In A Top-bar Hive

While it’s wonderful to celebrate successes, it’s equally important to learn from failures 😢. This colony swarmed and re-queened itself near the end of July. I had assumed it would have a low mite count due to the brood break but I was wrong. When I finally did a mite count at the end of August, my treatment was too late to positively impact their winter preparations. Yep, a top-bar hive dead-out. Mother Nature is quite the teacher.


Natural Comb Doesn’t Prevent Varroa Mites

Bees in top-bar hives are every bit as prone to varroa mites as bees kept in Langstroth hives and it is therefore vital to monitor mite levels and take appropriate steps to correct the situation when infestation levels get out control. Clearly I failed this time but generally when my mite levels are at or exceed 4% I treat. Oxalic Acid vapor or dribble works great in a broodless period. When there is brood present I use formic acid if there is honey in the hive that I would like to harvest (FormicPro) or thymol (ApilifeVar or Apiguard) if I will not be harvesting honey.

Apilife Var and Apiguard are easy to apply when using the Safe-passage Comb Guide as you can slip the tablet (Apilife Var) or the gel (Apiguard) into the passage the comb guide creates. Formic Pro can fit into the passage as well but it is a bit more work to get situated in the hive. You should not cut the formic pro pad into smaller sections as this will change the rate at which it off-gasses so you have to slide the entire pad through the passage of 3 or 4 bars at a time. You can do it, take your time.

Setbacks Happen

Keeping bees in the time of varroa is indeed a challenge. By remaining vigilant, monitoring mite levels, and taking appropriate actions when the situation gets out of control you can generally stay ahead of problems and avoid a dead-out. Of course you may have the occasional setback as I did in this situation. If that’s the case, preserve the good comb and try again in the spring. That comb is gold and a new colony of bees will appreciate the head start.

Happy beekeeping!

How Long Should a Top-Bar Hive Be?

Quite often I see discussions pop up regarding one top-bar hive length or another, and which is best. My hives, based on Wyatt Mangum’s design, are three feet in length. I see that a lot of other people advocate Michael Bush’s recommendation of a 4 foot hive.

After much reading to see if there was a “best” length I realized that even hives of the same length may have very different volumes due to the height and widths of their ends. When I did the calculations I found that most of the most commonly recommended hives have pretty similar volumes despite their difference in length.

By my calculations

  • A 3 foot Wyatt Mangum design has 69 liters of volume.
  • A 4 foot Michael Bush design has 72 liters of volume.

So while there is a 25% difference in length, there is only a 3% difference in volume.

A Top-Bar Hive’s Volume Is More Important Than Its Length

I ran the numbers on several other noted top bar beekeepers and found that nearly all of the recommended hive dimensions yielded a volume somewhere between 70 and 80 liters – only a 14% difference between the smallest and largest. Now when I build my hives I keep them in that range. It’s worth noting that a double deep Langstroth is about 85 liters.

I have made two Top-Bar Hive Volume Calculators in a Google Spreadsheet that you can try.

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It’s Cold. Are My Bees Okay?

We’ve been experiencing a bit of a cold spell so the bees haven’t had many opportunities to get out and go to the restroom. While I know they were doing well before the cold snap, I always wonder if they are continuing to do well when I can’t check in on them.

Yellow Snow Dots – the Bees Are Fine

It’s tough to sit back during cold periods and just wonder if the bees are doing okay. When things do warm up for a couple of hours the bees take advantage of the warmer temps to take “cleansing flights” and relieve themselves. While they can hold their feces for quite a while at a certain point, you just gotta go. This past weekend it warmed up a bit for a short time but I wasn’t able to make it to the apiary during the time they would have been flying. When I did stop by, just as the sun was going down, from all of the yellow dots in the snow it was clear that they had been quite active with cleansing flights and were doing just fine. Remember, don’t eat yellow snow.

Image of yellow dots in the snow, evidence that the bees have been taking cleansing flights.

Yellow dots in the snow. Evidence that the bees are okay and have been taking cleansing flights.


Winter Oxalic Acid Vapor Treatment in the Apiary

It’s mid-January and we have had quite a long cold spell so it’s the perfect time for treating for bee colonies with Oxalic Acid vapor as brood rearing should be at a minimum. Yesterday’s temperatures were a little over 40 degrees and there was no wind — a perfect day for the vaporizer. When the vapor hits the cluster a strong colony like the one in this little Nuc will roar as it fans and moves the air around. It’s nice confirmation in the wintertime that the colony is alive and strong.

A Better Top-Bar Hive Comb Guide / Starter Strip

When I started beekeeping I started with a top-bar hive. While far less common than the traditional Langstroth box style hive, I figured it would be less expensive to build (around $50 as compared to $200) and if I didn’t like beekeeping, I wouldn’t have invested a lot, so no big deal. I picked up Wyatt Mangum’s book and got started. It turns out I love it and have been at it for years.

In a top-bar hive, bees attach their comb directly to the bars which form the roof of the hive. Because of this, the bees can pass around the sides of the comb but not over the top. Beekeepers that use Langstroth style hives will often say that top-bar hives are unsuitable for the overwintering of bees because when the cluster reaches the top of the comb they will run out of food stores because they can’t pass over the top and move to the next comb. Of course this is how the cluster moves from comb to comb in a Langstroth hive so if that is your only experience keeping bees I guess it’s a reasonable assumption.

Photo of Honey Bee Brood Comb with Pollen Attached to a Top-bar

In truth, while in a top-bar hive the bees normally can’t pass over the top of the comb, a strong colony will just pass around one side or the other – so normally not being able to pass over the top hasn’t been a big deal in my top-bar beekeeping experience.

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The Obligatory “Hello world!” Post

I guess we have to start somewhere so let’s go with the the obligatory Hello world! blog post.

Photo of the morning in the apiary of "Her Majesty's Bees"

I have had several inventions rolling around in my head for some time now, most of which apply to beekeeping. Nothing earth-shattering, just simple inventions that should round-off some rough edges. The first is a starter strip for top-bar beehives that will allow bees to pass over the top of the comb – it will help them better overwinter. I have been refining and testing it for three years and it works wonderfully.

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