Top-bar beekeeping is uniquely wonderful, and challenging.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I guess we have to start somewhere so let’s go with the the obligatory Hello world! blog post.
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.