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.