Here is the Beehive

Welcome to Top Bar Tuesday’s! I thought it would be worth discussing top bar hives every week or two here, at least until I run out of ideas. So I’ll start with this post and see where these Tuesdays take us.  Oh, and I’ll use top bar hive interchangeably with TBH, depending on my mood.

One of the touted advantages of top bar hives is how easy they are to make from different kinds of materials, and for this reason they are popular in developing countries where resources can be at a premium. In the United States, a simple search will find many companies selling their own special TBH design, with different widths and lengths, entrances at the top or bottom and on the side or ends, and with various designs and widths of top bars.

10-Frame Langstroth Hive

Instructions for a 10-frame Langstroth hive

Not so for Langstroth hives.  There is so much standardization that many online sellers advertise hives without providing dimensions. although I have heard that slight variances exist between different manufacturers. Still, a U.S. Langstroth hive is a well-known standard size. The page shown here from provides instructions for how to build your own standard-sized 10-frame hive.

For our northern friends in Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture & Lands published a report Beehive Construction in 2006 where they state: “…it is important to use standard dimensions and assembly methods to ensure that the equipment will be interchangeable, strong and durable. This publication offers dimensions and designs of individual hive parts, and a few assembly hints.” The report goes on to define exactly how to build a standard Canadian hive.

So the flexibility of top bar hive design may be its greatest disadvantage.  There is no standard TBH defined, and thus it can be difficult for TBH beekeepers to share bees and comb, and even best practices may vary slightly depending on the hive design (or so I imagine…).

With all the reading I’ve been doing, I wanted to share the various options I have seen for a top bar hive. I’ll attempt to use some math and science to illustrate my points, and share the different opinions as I see them.  There doesn’t seem to be a good site anywhere that really summarizes the options, so hopefully this will be somewhat useful.

We’ll start with a series of posts on the various options I’ve seen.  Not only does this give me time to gather my thoughts and notes for each topic, it will fill a larger set of Tuesdays.  This post is the summary, and part 1 of the series.

The following rather poor sketch of a top bar hive illustrates the various pieces required to assemble a hive. This shows the end pieces, an entrance hole, and the bottom and side panels that form the body of the hive. The top bars that lay across the top of the hive along with a cover complete the basic design.

Top Bar Hive

Keeping with our bee-titled theme, we’ll base these posts on the children’s poem and song matching the title of this post.

Here is the Beehive
But where are all the bees?
Hiding away where nobody sees.

Here they come creeping
Out of their hive,
One and two and three, four, five.

The poem compels us to create a six part series, one for each line of the poem, starting with this post.

In Part 2 (But where are all the bees?) we’ll begin looking at the cavity design that dictates how the end of the hive appears.  What lengths and angles are used for the bottom and sides that form the hive, and what is a good overall length for a hive?  As we’ll see, there is more than one answer here.

Part 3 (Hiding away where nobody sees) will continue the discussion of the cavity design.

The size and length of top bars is discussed in Part 4 (Here they come creeping). There are a number of opinions for how best to entice the bees to build combs down from individual top bars.

Part 5 (Out of their hive) will discuss entrance options, which are more numerous than you may think.

The final part in the series (One and two and three, four, five) will attempt to pull this section together and offer some final thoughts.

The lines and song movements for this poem vary depending on which source you use. If you have young children look it up and dance a bee song with your kids! The version here is taken from the Poetry Foundation website, the organization that also publishes Poetry magazine.

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