A couple weeks ago, K. Ruby Blume of The Institute of Urban Homesteading emailed us this message: “I have kept bees with the top bar system for 10 years. I have never once had a problem with mites. The bees build naturally, the cells are smaller which inhibits mite reproduction. We also work with feral bees who have had a chance to breed up their resistance living on their own without human interference here in our bioregion….the only time I had a mite problem was the one year I tried working with the traditional hives.”
Well, we’ve been thinking about running a top bar hive in addition to our two Langstroth hives. So I called Ruby to find out more information.
She’s sold on top bar hives as a way to raise bees.
“They’re good for a hobbyist backyard beekeeper,” she said. “Since you usually build a top bar hive yourself, and you don’t need to buy foundation or frames, it’s much cheaper than buying a Langstroth hive.”
Plus, she pointed out, it’s easier to work a top bar hive, as you’re only lifting one bar at a time to inspect the hive, rather than wrestling with an box full of 80 lbs of frames, honey, and brood (as we had to do last week).
“It’s easier on the bees too. When you open Lang hive all the bees have access to air and they fly around, but when you open a top bar hive, the hive stays closed except where the bar is out.” This means you can use less smoke, because the bees don’t get so upset.
And she says she can inspect her top bar hives pretty fast. “I have three top bar hives here, and I can go through them in less than an hour. But you have to manage them every two to three weeks [during warm weather] because they are building freeform. You have to prevent them from building crooked comb.”
So where do you get plans to build a top bar hive? You can find many different plans in cyberspace, including two top bar hive plans at Ruby’s website. “Top bar hive styles are not standardized. You can do pretty much whatever you want. Really, bees just need a dry cavity, and they will build.”
Ruby teaches top bar beekeeping in the Oakland area at The Institute of Urban Homesteading. Her next beginner class, Backyard Beekeeping with the Kenyan Top Bar Hive is March 21, 2009.