My Newer, Heavier Top-Bar Hives

I like to construct my top-bar hives from rough-cut cedar fencing. The bees like the smell of the cedar—even as I construct, the bees investigate—and they like to hang out on the rough-cut grain. And, unlike pine, the cedar ages so gracefully. Pine gets sort of dull as it ages whereas cedar patinas.

However, this year, a number of my top-bar hives constructed with cedar fencing toppled over in high winds. That is definitely not good. In a few cases, I’ve gone to some elaborate means to keep the hives upright. But I still worry about them when the winds pick up…so, I’ve got to figure out a way to reduce the likelihood that the hives will tip over.

I’ve tried anchoring some of the hives with bungee cords and stakes. Others I’ve weighed down with a million pounds of rocks. But I’ve got to find a better, more aesthetically appealing way (you know, Reader, although my hives are simple, they’re also beautiful to my eye…and that’s very important to me. I need things to look good).

The hives I built years ago of pine don’t topple…probably because those hives are heavier. I think the lightness of the cedar fencing is at the root of the toppling problem…so, when I had some free time yesterday afternoon,  I headed to Home Depot where I found heavier cedar. The new cedar lumber is gorgeous…it’s rough cut on one side and smooth on the other. It smells awesome. It’s thicker and heavier than the fencing, which will provide the bees with more insulation. Yes, it’s twice as expensive (still not enough to freak out over), but I think it’s worth it for the aesthetics, for the security it gives the bees, and for my own peace of mind.

 

 

How to Install a Top-Bar Hive

On April 14, 2012, I’m expecting a large shipment of 3 lb. packages of bees and their queens. I’ll then distribute these packages to a number of new beekeepers.

The good news: Lots of people want to start keeping bees in top-bar hives!

The bad news: I don’t have time to be onsite at each location to do the installation myself. (I will be installing my own bees in various locations, but those folks who wish to own and manage their own hives will simply have to jump in and do it.)

My solution: I’ll be installing two packages of bees in two top-bar hives at the Veteran’s Memorial Community Garden on Saturday morning, April 14, 2012. I don’t yet know the exact time…it all depends on when the bees arrive by truck from Georgia.

I invite anyone who wants to see how it’s done to come to the community garden (those who want to get close need to bring a veil). After the demonstration, I’ll distribute the bees and queens to their new keepers and I’ll send everyone off with good wishes. Then I’ll head to various far-away places to install larger numbers of bees…which I’ll do for the remainder of Saturday and for much of Sunday.

Thanks to a new beekeeper’s suggestion, I’ll also write a How to Install Bees in a Top Bar Hive post for reference. Great idea.

In a nutshell: I simply dump the bees in the hive. After that, I remove the candy plug from the queen cage and let the queen enter the hive. I give them a big jar of sugar water. I close the hive and leave it alone.

Until I go into more detail, here’s one resource about how to do it. There are many many YouTube videos to choose from…and although this guy goes to elaborate means to install his bees, I’m linking to his video because a couple of years ago, he very sweetly made and gave me one of these wonderful hive tools. I think his complicated approach is unnecessary, but you should see all the ways…BTW, this video is not in English! I like it because it makes me concentrate on my own observations. My motto is to keep it simple.

Watch many YouTube videos just to get an idea of how many bees will fill the air.

Remember…bees have been installing themselves without our help for a long time. They can figure this out better than we can.

 

 

Tink: A newly created top-bar hive

Live with Enthusiasm

Tink: A newly created top-bar hive
Tink: A newly created top-bar hive

The newly forming hive pictured above belongs to my friend Nicola. Her powerhouse hive is going gangbusters this year. When the original colony (a swarm we captured together in 2011) ran out of room in its current hive box, it began creating drones by the boatloads. When it set about creating another queen, Nicola set about splitting the hive in two.

I keep thinking that I’d like to switch all my hives to top-bar hives. If all the hives I manage were in my yard, or if all the hives were placed in locations closer to where I live, I’d probably drift away from the Langs. But many of my hives live far away. Which means I can’t get to them each week in order to inspect them. And that’s the key to managing TBHs: regular and diligent management.

To my mind, the only drawback to a TBH is that its space is limited. If the beekeeper neglects a TBH, the bees will soon outgrow their limited space, and they’ll likely swarm. And there goes hopes for honey. And I’m not ashamed to say that honey is a big deal to me. I want it. I don’t need tons of it, but I definitely want honey.

On the upside:  Limiting space also means limiting the number of  bees living in the hive…which makes for a more pleasant visit when it comes time to inspect.

AND…I have not yet lost a single colony from my four TBHs. Which is rather incredible.

Probably 30% of my colonies living in Langstroth hives die.

Some colonies that I’ve cut out from structures and placed in Langs abscond. When I’ve captured those colonies and put them back in their Lang hive, they abscond again. When I capture them again and place them in TBHs, they stay. And live with enthusiasm. I simply believe that the TBH makes for happier bees and happier beekeepers.

The minute I learned about top-bar hives, something drew me to them. And something keeps drawing me. I’ve learned to pay attention to such attractions, so this year I plan to double the number of  my TBHs. I’m building them like crazy. Sawdust is everywhere. So, if you ask for my suggestion, Reader, I suggest you begin keeping bees in top-bar hives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Bar Hive

Top-Bar Hives: Keeping It Simple

I’m back from a week on the beach. I’m tan. I’m rested. And now we can visit about top-bar hives, Reader.

To my mind, top-bar hives are the cat’s meow. I think they’re brilliant in their simplicity. They provide a close, calm, wonderful, affordable experience with the bees.

I think they give enough honey.

The hive boxes are low profile, so those of us who live in urban areas can keep a hive or two in our small yards without alarming the neighbors with those tall stacks of white boxes that announce BEEHIVES! Seriously, if you keep your top-bar hive as low as I keep mine, they look like restful little benches.

The hives boxes themselves don’t scream for attention…nor do our backs after our weekly inspections. Or as we harvest a bar or two of honey. These inspections and harvests become less of a production and part of a simple routine. They’re no longer A BIG DEAL. And the bees don’t fill the air and send the neighbors diving for cover as we inspect. This is a seriously low-key affair.

I believe beekeeping can be simple. And top-bar hives are the epitome of simplicity.

Now that I’ve whet your appetite, I’ll tell you more about how my own top-bar hives have evolved in tomorrow’s post.

Top Bar Hive
Bob in his basement

On the Construction of Bob’s Top-Bar Hives

Kim and Bob joined us for pizza last night, but before we headed out we headed down into their basement where Bob keeps his shop. We wanted to see the progress on his top-bar hives. Well, they’re as good as finished…and, I must admit, they’re really wonderful.

Bob found some plans online that he liked and built two hives from scrap lumber (I’ll ask him for the site address so I can link it here). I don’t think these took him long to build, but then, he’s sort of a professional at these things. It would probably take me an eternity. And much aggravation. But, as you can see here, it doesn’t seem to have challenged Bob all that much.

Bob: architect and bee steward

Bob plans on painting the hives (I told you he’s sort of particular) because the material he used wasn’t designed for holding up outside. They’re gonna be green…the color of their leftover house paint…which is two gorgeous shades of green. I’ll post a picture of the finished hives when we introduce the bees to it, okay? But this is what it looks like right now:

Bob's almost-finished KTBH with observation window
Liz's wonderful KTBH

Low-Down and Uppity. But We Get Along Great.

Kim and Bob want to add another hive to their apiary. They have two seriously strong hives already. They’re  hooked on keeping bees, and they want to expand. This year, we decided to add a top-bar hive to their mix.

Bob is an architect. And I mean to say he’s perhaps beyond an architect. He’s a big-time architect. Big time.

Last week I alerted him that it’s time to begin thinking of building a top-bar hive (from here on out referred to as a KTBH…for Kenya Top Bar Hive). But, I told him, we need to build a KTBH that includes a window so we can watch the bees without disturbing them. Also, TwoHoneys may be installing a couple of KTHBs at the East End Veterans’ Memorial Community Garden this year, and I’d like those to have windows, too. The less often we disturb the hives (and the gardeners!) in a community garden, the better.

Bob wanted specifications: “Link?” he wrote. (Bob communicates in single-word emails, so this endeavor was not without its challenges).

But KTBHs are known for their lack of standardization. I responded in my usual eloquent way and included this image with a rough idea of its dimensions.  Which I’m sure cracked him up. Bob’s sort of into, you know, “specifications,” a word rooted in “specific.” I think more in terms of loose ideas.

Bob was silent for a while, and then he sent me an email with this link and wrote, “This is acceptable.”

I wrote back that his plan should work but that I thought the hive was a bit too fancy for my tastes.

He responded, “I’m an architect, not a junk dealer.”

See?! That’s what people actually think of my wonderful top bar hives! Which I absolutely love. Don’t you just love that old tin roof, Reader? I do.

I told Bob he was uppity.

Yesterday, Kim text me to say that Bob was already in full construction mode and that if I wanted to be sure things met with my standards, I’d better get over there soon.

Bob emailed me later in the day to say that he’d made not one but two KTBHs.

I’ll head over there today to see what wonderful creations have emerged. Don’t worry, Reader, I’ll supply you with pictures.

 

Queen in the Big Daddy hive

Nice Work, Soapbox Cincinnati!

If you’ve come to TwoHoneys via Elissa Yancey and Summer Genetti‘s wonderful Soapbox Cincinnati feature about Cincinnati’s urban beekeeping, then you may be surprised to find only this blog alive here.

The TwoHoneys Bee Company site is undergoing some changes, and you can’t see it yet (but I invite you to “like” the TwoHoneys Facebook page where you can keep up with our bee stewards until the website is back in action).

Until my beekeeping webmaster returns from his darned honeymoon, most of this site remains unavailable (we gave him a Warre hive as a wedding gift…I can’t wait to see it alive with bees. It came unassembled, and we plan to make a pattern from the various parts so we can construct the next one ourselves…but I digress). When he returns from his cruise and Russia’s White Nights and gets his head back into the game of everyday life, we’ll be back in business, and this blog will become only a small part of the larger scene.

Until then, let’s see if you can find the queen (spotting the queen improves with practice…it will help if you can click on this image to enlarge it):

Queen in the Big Daddy hive
Queen in the Big Daddy hive

 

Deb (in muck boots) hauls a sheet of barn roofing through the field

A Sucker for Ugly

My aesthetics are evolving. You know, when I first told Deb I wanted to keep bees, she wasn’t thrilled. Why? She didn’t want to see a line of towering white boxes on the hill in our yard. And I get that. I don’t like the white boxes either, so I painted my boxes a few different colors. I’ve settled on a couple of colors that I like, and now I paint all my boxes some variation of those. (Every now and then, I throw in a shade of blue that I’m not crazy about because Deb likes it. Gotta do it.)

However, I’ve started to like the way the Langstroth hives look unpainted. I like the way they weather…especially if the boxes are jointed together…because the joints weather a different shade than the flat parts.

All of this to say that since I first learned of top-bar hives (TBH), I’ve been drawn to the ugly ones. The ugliest ones. The very ugliest ones. None of those pretty hives for me.

Right now, I’m still buying some lumber, and I’m still using power tools. But TBHs are awesome because they can be built without power tools, and I’m working my way there. I think I’ll like the looks of the hives once I go completely powertool-less (I had to make up the punctuation of that last word…no dictionary recognizes what I’m trying to accomplish with it).

This most recent hive was constructed of cedar fencing. The roof is a piece of barn roofing that flew off our Kentucky barn. When we get back to the farm, I’m gonna scavenge the barn (which is falling down) for old siding and use it to build the next TBH iteration.

They may kick me out of my nice neighborhood for getting so ugly.

Deb (in muck boots) hauls a sheet of barn roofing through the field
Top-bar hive with barn roofing
And here's the top-bar hive with its reclaimed roof

Bad to the Bone

My new top-bar hive is being met with general displeasure. The plywood doesn’t seem to be aesthetically pleasing to too many people. I like it. I’d prefer to use some rough-cut lumber, I guess, but that’s not easy to find, Reader. Others want me to see my next hive made of pine.

I think my aesthetics are just different from most.

I LOVE the corrugated tin roof, but it presented a safety issue. No one would go near its shredded edges. The words “to the bone” were often heard. So, on Friday, my friend Sherry and I headed to Loesch Hardware store (where those guys can figure anything out), and we bought some trim stuff and some silicone calk. We trimmed the aluminum shards from the cut edges; we bent the corners down; we lined the edges with this rubber trim stuff and calked it in silicone. Now it’s safe, and I still like it. (Once the sun comes up, I’ll take a picture of it and post it for you.)

Next time, though, I’m going to a metal fabricator to have my tin cut.

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My first Kenya top-bar hive

My First Top-Bar Hive

I know you want to see my first Kenya Top-Bar Hive.

I’ve already got plans for a wider, shorter one…one that will accept the frames from my medium-depth Langstroth hive boxes. I want the flexibility of swapping frames from any hives in my yard.

I learned, though, from Michael Bush (I think of Michael Bush as I the Walter Cronkite of beekeeping: the most trusted name in bees) on Beemaster.com., that the waxed-string guides aren’t much of a guide. So, on my next hive, I’ll use something else I have up my sleeve. Shit. I thought I had the perfect solution to a simple guide. I think I’ll leave the waxed string on this hive, though, and see for myself how the bees deal with it.

Also: I love the look and the function of the corrugated tin roof, but cutting it is a bitch. And I’m sure to get little slivers of tin in my hands whenever I inspect the hive. Either slivers or stitches. I gotta find a metal smith to help me cut it better.

My first Kenya top-bar hive
My first Kenya top-bar hive

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