Sparky bee girl and her top bar hives

February 28, 2009 | By | Comments (7)


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.


  1. Lucio Meinen

    Hmm is anyone else experiencing problems with the images on this blog loading? I’m trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    October 8, 2016 at 10:23 am
  2. Rodrigo Jantzen

    I would like to point out my passion for your kindness giving support to men and women that absolutely need guidance on this important content. Your very own commitment to passing the message up and down became quite interesting and has in every case permitted employees like me to attain their targets. Your invaluable report can mean a great deal a person like me and especially to my mates. Many thanks; from each one of us.

    October 8, 2016 at 9:54 am
  3. my scaffolding

    Thee wall should be dry otherwise paint wilkl not stick to it.

    It was very large, about twoo meters high and one metre across, Suddenly, I
    noticed that the rop supporting the chandelier was frayig as it chaffed against the side of thhe opening inn the ceiling.
    If you are working over 3m of height, you should be given the personal fall protection.

    December 29, 2014 at 7:25 pm
  4. Schteveo

    I’m new to beekeeping and after taking a Beginning Beekeeping Course, and even after hearing how great and marvelous Langstroth Hives are, I’ve decided to go with the Top Bar Hive(s), and here’s WHY.

    First and foremost, I’m disabled with R/A and Fibromyalgia, and I was nearly unable to lift or move the boxes on a Langstroth Hive. So inspections and honey harvesting would require help or a crane, neither of which are just lying about in my yard.

    Secondly, I want the bees more for pollination services, than for the honey. If this one hive splits, I’ll have more than enough honey for ME and the BEES in a ‘while’. And I’ll have more veggies and fruits for ME because of the local bees. Frankly I’ve read that the TB yields are 10% less to 70% less, and I even saw a few who said they are higher, so I’ll have to see what I get, in my yard.

    However, if I’m paying for honey now, and my total cost for bees / eqpt / wood for my hives is $200, in two years I break even, just on honey. And I’m not including the added yield of veg in my numbers moneywise. But given the lackluster amount of veggies we got over the last two years, buying bees so we can ‘put up’ for the winter we will save money the first summer.

    Almost last, If my class was any example, I think most people who get into this do so to get into the honey market, or to ‘rent’ hives to farmers. And Lord knows we need the bees more than they need us with the level of CCD vs agriculture in my state. (NC) But we need to just have MORE bees!

    And now finally, about the numbers of bees.

    I’ve got a patch of clover in my front yard that is about a 4′ circle. In the 4 years we’ve been here, we’ve never seen more than 2 or 3 bees in there at any one time. I’ve got the starts of a forsythia hedge at one side of my yard, again, if I see 1 or 2 bees on any one plant at any one time over there, it’s a high number. When my wife and I were kids, 40 – 45 years ago, we avoided the clover patches and the ‘bee bushes’ like they were ALIVE and deadly!

    Because they WERE absolutely alive and crawling with bees. And messing with foraging bees is an invitation to stings and benadryl shots at the pediatricians office.

    We both lived in the city then, we live ‘in the country’ now. So you would think we should have many more bees out here. And for those who say NOT so…I say we had ‘country’ family and friends and there were even more bees in the country than in town then.

    Not so now, we’re not seeing bees anywhere.

    So for those who need a few bees or just a little personal honey and a very decent garden, I think the Top Bar have is the way to go. Now, all you old timers can cry “NOOB”, an’ get it outta yer systems! But I stand by my ideas and opinions.

    April 24, 2014 at 2:37 pm
  5. Boris Acevado

    Hives are really nasty, it can cause severe itchiness and redness. Antihistamines are heaven sent for me. “”.,”

    Warmest regards

    August 8, 2012 at 8:06 pm
  6. beekeeping hive

    American beekeepers have adopted the use of the top-bar hives that are used in Africa. This type of hive, however, is not practical and limits the production of honey. This hive is constructed with bars placed across the top of the box.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:53 am
  7. Carol Rawleigh

    A year ago on this blog a beekeeper was enthusiastic about the top-bar hives, which she’d used for 10 years. No mite problem she said, stresses the bees less, no expensive equipment to buy. We too are impressed with the top-bar and for folks who don’t want to build their own, see If you don’t want to use bees for commercial purposes, you don’t need commercial hives. The top-bar is a great option.

    February 11, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s