For more information on what a top bar beehive is, and why to use one, check out my first blog entry on this topic here.
Top bar hives are single story frameless beehives. We got our design to build one from Gold Star Honeybees (along with our first order of bees). Our beehive build started with lumber and is quickly turning into completed hives, in preparation for the bee’s arrival in April.
A top bar hive is relatively simple and consists of a large, horizontal frame raised up on four legs. Our hives have the added benefit of a glass window on the side with a hinged shutter so that you can observe the bees without disturbing them. This past weekend we routed out all of the windows which will be held in their frames with melted beeswax – a great way to get the hive smelling right for the bees before their arrival.
The opposite side of the window on the hive is solid, as are the ends. The hives have a detachable roof that can be lifted off – though it is recommended that you strap it down when the hive is occupied. The roof of our hive is painted a dark blue for heat absorption. If you live in a warm climate, you would want to go with a lighter color for the roof. Always use a natural, non-toxic paint on your hive.
Because of how bees prefer to design their wax combs, the interior of a top bar hive has slanted walls narrowing from top to bottom. Inside the hive you have thirty top bars balanced across. The bees will build their comb and brood down from the bars. Every top bar hive also has follower boards and spacers in addition to the top bars.
A follower board is a solid board or one with a small, bee-sized hole in it that separates one section of the hive from another. The main reason for this is to keep the bees comfortable and contained when their colony is too small to occupy the entire hive, such as when you first get your colony or in the winter months.
Spacers, as the name implies, will help to space out your top bars if the hive gets crowded. One reason to have spacers is the natural changes in wood, which means that in winter your top bars will have space in between them because of wood shrinkage, and the spacers act as a place holder. Also, if your comb is getting big and rich with honey and starting to touch the comb next to it, you can insert a spacer to widen the area for the comb a bit.
Once you’ve assembled the body of the hive and fitted all of your top bars, and made sure your roof fits tightly around the top, the final step is adding the legs which is best to do on location so it’s easy to transport. Now, you are ready for your bees’ arrival!
In the next bee-related blog post we will cover the delivery of our new colony of bees, and what goes into making them feel at home in their new hive.