Beekeeper Training for Natural Beekeepers and Bee Talks
 
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View through an observation window. 
 
 36 inch top-bar hive in soft-wood.
 

One of my apiaries



What are Top-Bar Hives?
 
There is evidence that top-bar hives were used in ancient Greece, but the modern top-bar hive is thought to have been developed in East African countries for improved accessibility to the combs over hollow logs, hence the names Kenyan top-bar hive (shown left and in the photo gallery) and Tanzanian top-bar hive (same, but with vertical sides). The design has seen increasing popularity in the UK since the turn of the century, driven by concerns over the welfare of honey bees kept in conventional hives.

If the vertical top-bar hive represents a hollow tree, then the horizontal top-bar hive can be seen to be similar to a fallen hollow tree. The top-bars allow the combs to be removed from the hive for inspection or harvesting honey.

In the Tanzanian hive the combs built by the bees are rectangular to fill the space given to the bees and, when full of honey, are much heavier. As a result, the bees tend to attach the combs to the hive walls, making inspection more difficult. Some comb attachment will be seen in a Kenyan hive too, but not so much. These attachments can easily be cut free with an old bread knife or similar before lifting the top-bars.

Bee management in top-bar hives is not as difficult as some would have you believe, but is different to more conventional hives. I believe horizontal top-bar hives are an excellent introduction for a beginner. There are opportunities to observe the bees, and they tend to remain calm as the top-bars maintain nest heat & scent during inspections. With more conventional hives, roof & crown-board removal allows the heat to escape, which alerts the bees to your presence. You will also learn to be gentle when handling bees (as free comb is not supported as it would be in a frame), which reduces the stress they feel during inspections.

One of the benefits to the beekeeper of the horizontal top-bar hive is that you don't have to lift the heavy, honey-filled supers associated with National or WBC hives. The heaviest thing to lift is the roof! If that is still too heavy, hinges can be fitted to allow it to be raised and lowered without having to lift it's full weight.