Working Top Bar Hives

So you have your top bar hive established and going well. It is different from what you have been accustomed to handling with Langstroth hives, but much is the same with respect to working with honeybees.

You need no supers unless you choose to use them. The combs have no frames around them to afford protection. These differences alone make things better or more difficult, depending on your point of view. This photo shows a tbh with three 5-bar deep supers. The supers aren't filled this year...they're just on top for storage.

I begin to work my tbh's by first lighting my smoker. There are individuals who choose to work bees without smoke, but I view smoke as a tool to help me just as much as a hive tool, brush, or other item may be used. In this photo I am using pine wood shavings as smoker fuel. I also like pine needles. The only fuel I've tried that I really don't like is cardboard. It burns well, but the smoke is very irritating to me.

I puff a bit of smoke at the entrances to send the guard bees scurrying, wait perhaps a minute, then remove the cover from the hive. I really use very little smoke...just enough to get the bees to do what I want...usually. :)

In this photo I'm lifting one of the 5-bar supers off. Were this filled it would be heavy, but much more manageable than a filled deep super or even a 10-bar shallow super. If you have a weak back, a 5-bar deep super would probably not be too difficult to handle since the center of gravity is closer to one's body, and it weighs about the same as a 10 bar shallow super.

Bees on the top bars have come up through the center notches. A bit of smoke sends the bees back down inside if they seem excited. I keep my hive record on the card inside the plastic bag that is being held by the clothes pin. The clothes pin is nailed to the back of the hive body.

The bars in the foreground are at the end of the hive opposite the entrance holes. These are removed first. Depending on how often you have been into the hive or the status of the honeyflow, the end bar may not have been worked by the bees at all. In t hat case, the bar is easily removed by inserting the hive tool, prying the bars apart a bit, then prying up a little. If the bar if fully drawn and filled with honey, it can be freed by using a thin blade, such as a hacksaw blade, to cut through any attachments of the comb to the end. A "Z" shaped piece of coat hanger or other stiff wire can be inserted at the end of the bar, pivoted, pulled upward to break any attachments of the comb to the side. This is done at both sides.

If there are problems and the first comb breaks loose from the bar, well, it's really no problem. You've just harvested a comb of honey. Finish freeing the comb, lift it out--perhaps even in several pieces--, brush any bees off, deposit the comb in a covered container, then you're ready to go to the next bar. If there are any attachments to the sides, cut these free with the hive tool and lift the bar out.

In this photo I am brushing bees off the comb. The gap into which the bees are being brushed is only two or three bars wide. The brood bars at the front haven't been disturbed. It's business as usual up front. When the bees are brushed off into the hive, they move forward into the dark, undisturbed section.

If honey is being harvested from these combs, it is cut off into a container, leaving a couple of cm of comb on the bar for the bees to subsequently build more comb, then the bar is placed back on the hive. As the hive is worked, the gap advances. If as I am working I find the bees getting a little defensive, following me around with their eyes as I slowly move things about, I'll give them a small puff of smoke to, in Paul Magnuson's words, "get their heads down."





Shifting work to another tbh...

The hive in the foreground is made from an old, discarded cabinet drawer. The bees don't mind at all. The super is a 10 bar super. My work with this hive is to transfer the bars and bees to the hive on the stand in the background.

In most cases the covers I use can be held in place with bricks or stones. This hive is narrower than the other hives, and with the super on it, tying the cover on seems to work best. I have already smoked the bees at the entrance holes, and I also smoke under the tin in the event that wasps have built a nest under the cover.

For some reason, the bees in this hive have a propensity for building crossed combs. Possibly it's the size of the hive or may be the genetics of the queen. Regardless, I will transfer the bees and bars to the larger hive and harvest any surplus honey.

In this photo, a comb has been removed from the super and I'm brushing bees off as sections of the crossed comb are removed. The comb rests on a cradle which works well to hold combs as they are being trimmed or otherwise worked upon. Since these are "virgin" combs from which I will press harvested honey, it really isn't particularly important that the combs be nice and straight.

Now that you see how I work the hives in harvesting honey, go to the page on the honey press and see how the pressing is done.

James D. Satterfield email: