Beekeeping Video: Top Bar Hive Beekeeping

April 17th, 2012


This is an excerpt from the full length (85 minute) DVD “Alternative Beekeeping Using the Top Bar Hive and The Bee Guardian Methods“, available at

Beekeeping with top bar hives is getting more and more popular, as it is thought to be a more natural way to keep bees, more in tune with the way they would live in their natural environment. In other countries around the world, particularly in Africa, top  bar beekeeping is still very common – the Langstroth hive being more expensive to make.

This top bar beekeeping DVD was filmed in the beautiful Colorado mountains. It includes footage from a top bar beekeeping workshop held by Corwin Bell, and shows hands-on techniques, close-up footage of hives, combs, cells and bees, and lots and lots of practical tips and techniques for the natural beekeeper.

I think it is beautifully filmed (as you can see from the extract above), so it is also a delight to watch.

It is primarily aimed at beginner beekeepers – although experienced beekeepers will really enjoy it too – and goes from explaining the features of a top bar hive, getting your hive set up, sourcing your bees, working with your bees, right through to harvesting your honey – and lots more in between.

You can read a full list of the contents and learn more about the DVD by visiting

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Beekeeping Video – Life Inside A Top Bar Hive

November 20th, 2011


I found this amazing video showing bees working in a top bar hive. It starts with the colonisation of the empty Beehive, then shows 3 months (condensed into 2 minutes!) of activity. You’ll notice the number of bees suddenly drops – this is because they swarmed.




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How To Create An Artificial Swarm

May 24th, 2011

Bees’ natural instinct is to swarm, and you want to prevent this if possible. If preventing a swarm is not possible, then one option is to create an artificial swarm. To know when to do this it is important to know about the timing of a swarm.

When you find queen cells which are close to sealing (containing larvae or royal jelly), you can create an artificial swarm. If they are already sealed, you are too late! As with all things beekeeping, there are several ways to do this, but here is one of the simplest methods.

To do this you will need a spare hive, including hive stand, floor, brood box, frames, crown board and lid. (If you are not sure what these all are, see components of a modern beehive.) Be sure to have them ready before you start.

  1. Move the original hive to one side onto another hive stand
  2. Put your new floor and empty brood box on the stand on the original site
  3. Open the original hive, find the queen and place her and the frame she is on in the centre of the empty brood box. Make sure that there is plenty of unsealed brood on this frame, and NO queen cells
  4. Fill the new box with frames of foundation, and put on the crown board and lid
  5. Replace the frame you removed from the original hive with a frame of foundation, and replace the supers (if there were any), crown board and lid

Your artificial swarm has now been created. The queen is in the new hive, but as it is on the original site, all the flying bees will return to it. This mimics what happens naturally in a swarm, as the queen leaves the original hive with the flying bees.

The original hive, in its new position, is full of nurse bees, brood and stores, but is queenless and has no flying bees. But it has several queen cells which will (hopefully) soon produce a queen. Because it now has no foraging bees, it is a good idea to feed sugar syrup to this colony  for the first few weeks. This should get it off to a good start, and hopefully you will have 2 strong colonies before the winter sets in.

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Swarm Control – How To Prevent Bees Swarming

May 24th, 2011

One of the most important jobs of the beekeeper is swarm control. In the swarm season (usually May to July), strong colonies will be very prone to swarming, and this is definitely something you want to avoid if possible.

To understand how to do this, you need to know a bit about the timing of the swarm.

Queen cellIf bees decide to swarm, they will build queen cells – these are easy to spot as they are built on the face or bottom of the frame, point downwards, and are about the size of an acorn. To help prevent swarms, it is important to know the life cycle of the honey bee – and in particular of the queen.

The queen will lay an egg in these queen cups, and when they hatch (at 3 days old) the worker bees will feed the larvae with royal jelly. It is one of the fascinating facts about bees that the egg which grows into a queen is no different to one which grows into a worker bee – the only difference is the diet it is fed on (royal jelly rather than pollen and nectar).

The queen cells are sealed on day 8, and the new queen will emerge on day 16. On the day the queen cells are sealed, the bees will swarm – remember this fact! This is why it is important to open your hive and inspect your bees once per week during the swarm season. If you wait longer than this, you might miss the swarm. So, if there are no queen cells, then there will be no swarm for at least 8 days.

If there are queen cells, and they have eggs or larvae in them, then they will swarm when these are sealed – and you must take action right away.

How To Prevent Swarms

One of the main reason bees will swarm is because of overcrowding. If the brood box is too full of brood and stores (Honey & pollen), then there will not be enough room for the queen to lay eggs – remember she will lay up to 2,000 eggs per day at her peak, one in each cell, so she needs plenty of room.

If there is no room left in the brood box, you have several options. You can remove 1 or 2 frames of honey, and replace them with empty frames, so that the workers have comb to draw out and the queen has somewhere to lay.

If there seems to be too much honey and no room for brood, then add a super – the bees will start to store honey in this, leaving room for the brood in the brood box. Remember to put a queen excluder between the brood box and the super.

Another option, if you have a very strong colony, is to simply add another brood box. Some beekeepers recommend using a super instead of a full brood box, so that there is not too much space – this is known as ‘a brood and a half.’

Unavoidable Swarms

Swarm of bees

Swarms gather in the unlikeliest of places!

Sometimes, rather than being an ‘overcrowding’ swarm, bees will have a ‘reproductive’ swarm. If this is the case, their minds are made up to swarm and nothing you do will prevent them from trying. But all is not lost – you can create an artificial swarm, and effectively fool them into thinking that they have already swarmed.

Or of course you can just let them swarm, and then collect them when they do & put them into a new hive. The difficulty with this is that you might miss the swarm, and also in built up areas a swarm of bees can cause problems – especially for non beekeepers!

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Honey Bee Swarms

May 12th, 2011

If you keep bees, sooner or later they will swarm. This means that the queen and about half the bees in the colony will leave the Hive and try to find another home. Swarming is the natural way for the bees to propagate their race – after a swarm, instead of 1 colony of bees there will be 2, and if both survive, the overall bee population will increase.

So, in the interest of nature, should you not let the bees swarm? Well, no – for several reasons.

Firstly, mainly because of varroa mites, honey bees will not survive for long in the wild. Without treatment, varroa will eventually kill of the new colony – and this is obviously not in the best interests of bees as a species.

Also, if you are an urban beekeeper, it is obviously doubly important that you prevent swarms – a swarm of bees is not very welcome in a populated area, and if they set up home in the roofspace of someone’s house, they can cause real damage.

And of course, if your bees swarm it will seriously affect honey production – you lose about half of the bees, and the rest of the season is generally spent building up the numbers again, so you will be unlikely to get any surplus honey.

Bee swarmIf your bees do swarm, they need to be collected (by you or by someone else) and put into a beehive of their own. Normally they will gather on a branch or gate post close to the hive, while scout bees go looking for a suitable new home. They will stay here for between 12 and 48 hours – this is your window of opportunity to collect them and put them into a new hive.

This is of course the positive side to swarming – that is provided you don’t lose them – you now have 2 colonies instead of one. Or if you are just starting beekeeping, getting someone elses swarm is a great way to get your first bees. And provided it is still early in the season, the new colony should be productive.

Remember the proverb – A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly!

Swarm Image courtesy

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