Why I’m converting to Top Bar Hives

I’ve been using Langstroth style hives for almost 18 years. They definitely get the job done, as long as you have an extractor, an uncapping system, can lift 40-90 pounds, oh…and the money for all the extra beekeeping equipment.

Furthermore, there are 3 primary reasons for seriously considering top bar hives…like I am! If you’re even remotely undecided or considering top bar beekeeping, you should read further.

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top bar bee hive
This particular top bar hive is Warre style. Though I have decided not to pursue Warre for the time being, I highly recommend it for anyone wanted to just ‘have’ bees. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

My top 3 reasons for converting to Top Bar beekeeping

Reason #1- Apicentric beekeeping is my goal

In case you haven’t heard of Apicentric beekeeping, I will give you my definition of it: Basically, it’s a beekeeping method using practices that maintain the well-being of the honey bee first and the beekeeper second.

This is in contrast to Anthropocentric beekeeping: Beekeeping practices that place the convenience of the beekeeper first and the honey bee last.

Despite the method used, the practices encompass not only the beekeeper’s personal preferences for hive inspections, honey harvests, etc, but also the equipment design being used.

top bar beehive
My very first TBHive! Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Langstroth style hives are designed to stack one box on top of another. Using a smoker to ‘herd’ bees away from the edges of the boxes before stacking them back onto one another after a hive inspection helps to prevent too many bees from being squished between them.

But how many is considered too many? How many squished bees are considered acceptable?

Despite my best efforts, I still unintentionally kill bees when closing up a hive. I hate to hear that slight crunch every time I squash one of my little bees.

More often than not, the box I’m placing back on the brood box is heavy with honey. I cannot stand there forever and wait for every single bee to move out of the way before I put it down.


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However, since I’ve gotten into practicing Top Bar beekeeping, I thoroughly enjoy the fact that I do not have to stack boxes using this design.

A top bar hive, properly managed, has plenty of room for a colony of bees and therefore doesn’t warrant the need for additional boxes.

This design has greatly reduced the mortality rate of my bees during a hive inspection. To compare, for every 100 bees I accidentally kill using my Langstroth style hives, I have only 1 death in my top bar during a hive inspection.


Reason #2- Elimination of heavy lifting

The part of beekeeping I have learned to hate the most is the honey harvest. The honey supers can get incredibly heavy. In my area they average about 50 lbs/22 kg each. Sometimes however, they weigh even more than that.

One box may not be a big deal but when I have to haul 20+ honey supers in a day it gets a bit painful in the lower back area.

Most of the beekeepers that I know are ‘old timers.’ The last thing they want is a sore back. And most of my students, once they learn that there is a better way, are extremely happy with the prospect of a method of beekeeping that takes the heavy lifting out of it.

deep honey super
This is a deep honey super which means it’s very heavy!! Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

I could easily add a fourth reason for considering top bar hives over Top Bar- cost!

The specialized equipment has cost much more than simple Top Bar beekeeping has. That’s all I’ll say about this for the time being.


Reason #3- A healthier hive of bees

Cell size is a highly debated topic among beekeepers. Some believe that the predetermined cell size of 5.3 mm that is used in Langstroth style plastic inserts and wired foundation, compounds the issue of a high Varroa mite population.

The reason for this is simple: the Varroa have longer to lay eggs, incubate and populate, resulting in more mites over time.

Learn how to manage Varroa mite here.

On the other side of the argument, there are many who believe that honey bees should determine their own cell size naturally by drawing out their own foundation. This cell size is closer to 4.7 mm.

This results in a slightly shorter development time required for the brood to develop and mature, thereby keeping the Varroa mite population at a somewhat more manageable level.

That being said, I have observed that my Top Bar hives have less mite issues though they do still have mites.

As part of the management of Top Bar hives, during the honey harvest, honey comb full of honey are sliced from the top bar which results in the bees having to build more comb than they would in a Langstroth style hive.

ConvertKit

This means more work for the bees but guess what? That’s what they do!

Pesticides build up in comb over time. Beeswax is literally the foundation of the colony’s health. So cycling through the comb is a good thing for you and your bees. Don’t be afraid to let your bees what they do best! Nature knows!

Here’s a great book that I highly recommend about learning more about beeswax as the foundation to a healthy colony. Check it out!

Overall

In short, Top Bar beekeeping for me means less unnecessary hard work, less colony disturbance, and healthier hives.

Learn more about minimal disturbance for more productive hives here.

It is my goal to run a beekeeping operation that places the well-being of the honey bee first.

And I personally choose to do it in such a way that it helps to encourage native pollinators as well without overwhelming the local area with heavy competition by maintaining small apiaries.

If you have any questions or comments…let me know below!

Until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Top Bar beekeeper

3 Thoughts

  1. This is great! I can’t wait to see how you get on with them compared to regular box hives. I’ve not worked with top bars so will follow your progress with great interest 🙂

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