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Top Bar Hive Management

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1 Top Bar Hive Management
? By Michael Bush Copyright 2015

2 What is so different? Horizontal Natural comb Fixed size
Many common beekeeping issues get amplified or accelerated due to limited space

3 Horizontal This changes how they move in the winter somewhat.
This changes how they expand in the spring somewhat

4 No foundation This changes management somewhat because you are not only doing your regular management but trying to get straight perfect combs.




8 Installation Don’t hang the queen cage Don’t leave out bars
Don’t dump bees on top of a baggie feeder Don’t confine them Don’t smoke them Don’t let one bad comb lead to another bad comb

9 Installation Install in minimum space Have equipment ready
Wear protective equipment

10 First Year Don’t worry about honey
Try to get them built up enough for winter Don’t feed incessantly Don’t mess with them everyday Make sure they have enough weight going into winter Manage bars to keep the brood nest expanding and to get straight combs

11 Fixing broken or crooked comb
Make some frames to hold broken or crooked comb Old dark brood comb can also be “sewn” or tied onto the top bar Soft white comb is difficult if not impossible to work with Heavy comb with honey should be harvested

12 Spacing Honey combs are thicker (typically around 1 ½” or more) and brood combs are thinner (typically around 1 ¼”) When combs start to get too thick and bleed onto the next bar, a spacer can put things back on track. Having a number of these around is handy

13 Curving combs Combs often curve on the ends. They can often be pushed back in line when they are still soft and new. They can be cut and pushed back in line when they are tougher but empty. You may cause a collapse when they are soft and heavy

14 Feeding empty bars into the brood nest
By far the best way to keep combs straight is to put empty bars between two straight combs in the brood nest. How to tell if this is appropriate? Rapidly filling the gap with festooning bees Warm nights

15 Spring with an established colony
Make sure they aren’t starving. Feeding? Clean out the bottom Make sure there are eggs and brood When you start seeing drones flying look for queen cells and keep the brood nest open A frame of capped honey at the edge of the brood nest will stop the queen from expanding

16 Stimulative Feeding C.C. Miller, Brother Adam, G.M. Doolittle, Richard Taylor, W.Z. Hutchinson and Frank Pellet quotes are here: But all of them were against it. Here is one from Hutchinson that covers the basic issues:

17 Feeding The concept of “simulative” feeding may or may not work in your climate The concept of feeding pollen substitute in the spring is counterproductive unless timing in your climate makes it work

18 Hutchinson on Stimulative Feeding
"The feeding of bees for stimulating brood-rearing in early spring is now looked upon by many as of doubtful value. Especially is this true in the Northern States, where weeks of warm weather are often followed by 'Freeze up.' The average beekeeper in the average locality will find it more satisfactory to feed liberally in the fall-- enough, at least so that there shall be sufficient stores until harvest. If the hives are well protected, and the bees well supplied with an abundance of sealed stores, natural brood rearing will proceed with sufficient rapidity, early in the spring without any artificial stimulus. The only time that spring feeding is advisable is where there is a dearth of nectar after the early spring flow and before the coming of the main harvest." --W.Z. Hutchinson, Advanced Bee Culture

19 If you have a window, use it
If your hive came with (or you built it with) a window, this can be very useful in management and in learning.

20 The Flow The flow is different than when there is just some nectar coming in Limited space requires frequent harvest Horizontal requires keeping the brood nest open on the end Careful not to harvest too much Flows can end suddenly

21 Harvest Frequent small harvests Extra bars Crush and Strain

22 Winter Make sure the bees are at one end and honey is in contact with the cluster and no gaps in honey Empty bars at the far end Use a follower if you have one Insulate the cover Top entrance

23 Once winter sets in... Leave them alone
Good news will keep Bad news won’t go away Bees are not dead until they are warm and dead Dead bees in the snow are a good sign Heft the hive in late winter for weight

24 Natural Comb Spacing Natural comb spacing contributes to natural cell size Bees naturally space brood 1 ¼” Spacing combs further apart leads to larger cells Spacing combs further apart leads to uneven comb


26 Kinds of top bar hives Kenya top bar hive (KTBH)
Sloped sides for less stress on the comb Tanzanian top bar hive (TTBH) Square sides for ease of manufacture
















42 Misconceptions/Fallicies
Myth: Top Bar Hives are more natural They can be, but you could make a Langstroth be just as natural Myth: The shape is more natural Bees seem perfectly happy in anything from an old dry car gas tank to the soffit of a house

43 Reasons you might not want a Top Bar Hive
Limited space requires the space be managed more carefully which requires more frequent interventions If your only reason for wanting a TBH is natural comb, you can do foundationless in a Langstroth

44 Reasons you might not want a Top Bar Hive
If your only reason for a TBH is to get a horizontal hive and less lifting, you can just build a long Langstroth.

45 Typical Mistakes Buying a deep Langstroth nuc to install in a Top Bar Hive that does not take Langstroth frames (they probably heard or read that nucs are better) They hang the queen cage, to “be safe” rather than direct release and that messes up the first comb. One bad comb leads to another…

46 Typical Mistakes Once a come is messed up they do not set things right
They build it too small and they swarm constantly They harvest too much honey and get a fall failure and there is no comb for the bees to store syrup and it’s too cold to draw comb

47 Typical Mistakes Blaming failures on the hive type
Bees colds starve sometimes in any equipment They won’t feed at all because it’s “unnatural” Feed for the right reasons Have a plan for how to feed them if you need to They won’t smoke the bees and think smoke upsets the bees

48 Contact Info: For more info, questions, or to discuss this further: bees at bushfarms com Book: The Practical Beekeeper

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