Archive for the ‘Beehives’ Category

Beekeeping Video – Life Inside A Top Bar Hive

Sunday, 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.




Natural Beekeeping Alternatives – Top Bar Hives

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Natural Beekeeping is increasing becoming the buzz word for hobby beekeepers – and particularly for those thinking of starting beekeeping.

Of course, all backyard beekeeping is natural, in a way that commercial beekeeping is not. For commercial beekeepers pollination is often the biggest earner, so bees are transported thousands of miles to pollinate huge swathes of mono culture crops. This excessive transportation, the lack of biodiversity, and the associated heavy chemical use – little wonder that scientists are increasingly citing stress as a likely cause of Colony Collapse Disorder.

But some forms of hobby beekeeping are seen as more natural than others – particularly top bar hive beekeeping and it’s close cousin Warre hive beekeeping. Both of these are arguably less invasive than traditional beekeeping with Langstroth hives, and the bees allowed more freedom to act as they would in their natural environment.

Build Your Own Top Bar Hive

One of the real advantages of top bar hives is their simplicity. If you have even basic carpentry skills, building a top bar hive is really simple. You can get top bar hive plans from the Back Yard Hive shop for just $9.95 (and they also supply materials if you need them). If you are interested in building your own top bar hive, the video below should also help.

Buy a Top Bar Hive

Alternatively, if you do not have the time or inclination to build your own beehive, the Back Yard Hive also has hand crafted top bar hives for sale. This is definitely a more expensive option, but their hive does include a full length viewing window making it easy to inspect your bees without disrupting them, and it is beautifully made.

Whether you make your hive yourself or buy it ready made is really a personal choice. And of course so too is the choice between top bar, Warre or Langstroth – they all have their own merits.  The important thing is to pick one, and start beekeeping – you won’t regret it.

Components of the Modern Beehive

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

All modern beehives are based on the Langstroth hive, named after Reverend LL Langstroth, a 19th century beekeeper. He discovered the idea of ‘bee space.’ If a space is left within the beehive of between 1/4 and 3/8 inch, it is large enough to allow the bees to pass back to back, and it will remain untouched by the bees. Any smaller and the bees will fill it with propolis, any larger and they will fill it with comb.

Using this idea, Langstroth patented the first moveable frame hive. Without the correct bee space, moveable frames were not possible, as the bees would ‘glue’ them together, making them immovable.

The basic Langstroth type hive is shown below (image courtesy of


Modern beehive components

The components of the Langstroth beehive (from the bottom up) are as follows.

Hive stand

The stand which keeps the hive off the ground, to stop any dampness getting into the hive. Bees can handle cold, but they cannot tolerate dampness.

Bottom board

This is a wooden stand which the hive rests on. This also includes the entrance for the bees to get into (and out of) the hive.

Deep super

Also known as the hive body or the brood chamber, this is where the queen lays all her eggs and all the bees are reared. Some honey and pollen is also stored here for the bees own use, but most of the comb is filled with brood.

Queen excluder

This has openings large enough to allow the smaller worker bees to pass through, but too small for the larger queen. This means that the queen is confined to the brood box and will lay all her eggs in it, so the shallow supers are used only to store honey.

Shallow super

These are the boxes containing the moveable frames of comb where the bees store the honey. The frames can be wired or unwired, and come with a wax foundation, which the bees then draw out with honeycomb.

Inner cover

This provides extra insulation, and prevents the bees from attaching comb to the outer cover.

Outer cover

A lid to provide protection from the elements.

The exception to this basic design is the top bar hive, which has no frames (just ‘top bars,’ hence the name) but they do still use the idea of bee space, and the bars (with comb attached) are moveable.

Langstroth’s ideas radically changed the face of beekeeping, and it is not without reason that he is considered the “father of American beekeeping.”

Top Bar Beekeeping – Good For The Bees

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Top bar Beekeeping is beekeeping using top bar hives (or Warre hives, which are simply vertical top bar hives). There are two main types of Beehives used by hobby beekeepers – ‘conventional’ modern beehives, based on the Langstroth hive, and top bar hives. Although Langstroth type hives are still the most common, top bar beekeeping is becoming more and more popular.

So what is so good about top bar beekeeping? The strongest argument is that it is good for the bees.

The fundamental difference between the top bar hive and a Langstroth hive is that the top bar hive is frameless, so the bees always have to draw their own honeycomb. There is no pre-printed, one size fits all wax foundation used.

The disadvantage of this is that the bees have to make more wax (and so as a consequence will make less honey). But there are real advantages.

In top bar beekeeping, bees will make the comb exactly as they want it – not just the way the beekeeper wants it. It must be remembered that the Langstroth hive was invented to make life easier (and the bees more productive) for the beekeeper, not for the benefit of the bees. Bees are perfectly happy in a more natural setting (such as a hollow in a tree), and advocates of top bar beekeeping argue that the top bar hive is much closer to what nature intended.

Also, the foundation wax used in frames for Langstroth hives is recycled wax from other beehives. While recycling is normally good, in this case the recycled wax will often contain high amounts of chemicals and pesticides – particularly since most of it comes from commercial beehives.

In a recent Pennsylvania State University study, 87 types of pesticides were found in beeswax, with up to 39 different detections in a single sample. None of this contaminated wax is introduced to the hive in top bar beekeeping, as all the wax is ‘freshly’ made by the bees.

Another advantage of top bar beekeeping is the shape of the top bar hive – trapezoidal, with sloped sides. This allows the bees to make their comb in a ‘parabolic’ shape that comes naturally to them – again, as they would in the wild.

Top bar beekeeping is not for everyone. If your main aim is maximize honey production, then Langstroth hives will be more suitable. But if you are interested in becoming a ‘natural’ beekeeper, then top bar beekeeping could be for you.

How to Build a Beehive – Some Simple Tips

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

When you start Beekeeping, there are certain pieces of essential equipment. Most of these, you will have to buy, but when it comes to the beehive itself, you have a choice. You can buy one (either ready assembled or as a flat pack for self assembly). But you also have the option of building your own beehive.

Obviously, this will not be for everyone. You do have to have a certain level of basic skills to be able to build a beehive. But you certainly do not need to be an expert carpenter – it is surprisingly easy to build your own beehive if you have a good set of plans and follow some basic rules.

The main advantage of building your own beehive is that it is much cheaper. Beehives can be quite expensive to buy – particularly fully assembled beehives, which have extra shipping charges because they are bulkier. You can build a beehive for a fraction of the cost. In some cases, you might be able to use recycled materials, making it even cheaper still – and doing your bit for the environment into the bargain.

As well as saving money, it is also immensely satisfying to build your own beehive. Beekeeping itself is a very rewarding hobby, but it really is the icing on the cake knowing that you built their home with your own hands!

So, if you would like to give it a go, here are some tips on how to build your own beehive and help to ensure that it turns out as you hoped – well-built, attractive, and long lasting.

Choose the right beehive plans

When building a beehive, you will need detailed plans and instructions. You can easily get free plans on the internet, but they are often very poor quality and difficult to follow – particularly for a beginner. Make sure that the plans you are using are comprehensive and easy to understand. The best plans include pictures from each stage of the building process or, even better, video.



Fully read the instructions before you begin

It can be difficult to resist the temptation to just get started, before you are properly prepared. Resist the temptation! Read your plans from start to finish before lifting any tools. This will give you an overall picture of the whole job. Without this, you will be likely to get confused and make mistakes.

Use untreated wood

When you are buying the wood for your hive, make sure that it has not been treated in any way. A lot of modern methods of pressure-treating wood use chemicals which can be poisonous to honey bees, so stick with untreated materials.

Do not take shortcuts with the glue

As well as nailing the parts together, be sure to use glue. Apply this just before nailing. It is easier to just rely on the nails, but glue provides extra strength and the extra effort will pay of in the long run.

Keep your beehive square

It is not essential that your boxes and frames are perfectly square, but they need to be reasonably square to allow the frames to fit properly. Use a carpenter’s square to make sure they are as true as possible.

Use paint or wood preservative

Hive bodies must be treated with wood preservative or paint. Apply a coat of good quality latex base paint, followed by an exterior latex paint, or else just double coat with an exterior wood stain. Either is equally effective – which you use is down to personal preference. Do not paint or stain the inside of the supers.

In very hot locations, painting the beehive white will help to stop it getting too hot in the summer. If you are going to keep a lot of hives in one location, it can be a helpful identification aid to the bees if each hive is a different color, although this is not essential.

Hopefully these tips will set you on the right path. The key really is having good plans. Nick Hampshire, a well known natural beekeeper, has produced a set of plans and detailed instructions (which now actually include video and audio) for building your own Warre hives (Warre hives are just vertical top bar hives).

If you would like more details about Nick’s plans, click here.