There is a conversation on the BBKA Facebook group about TBHs and somebody suggested having a TBH with frames! This is, of course, a contradiction in terms but I have been giving a little thought to it and have dreamed up (nothing on paper) a design that might give the best of both worlds.  Robin Dartington is way ahead on this as my design is similar in some ways to his long deep hive; however, his design has some disadvantages which the TBH doesn’t so I’m trying to combine ideas.

It should be cheap and easy to build, from pallet or ply wood, a long hive to take standard National frames.  I think the deep ones are too deep for convenience. One of the advantages of the TBH is abutting top bars which don’t let all the light in and bees and warm air out when the hive is opened.  It would be difficult to design and make frames with wide top bars but the same effect could be achieved by having a couple of opaque cover cloths on rollers: one would stay permanently in place while the other would be unrolled from the working end to cover gaps as the permanent one is rolled back a frame at a time for inspection.  There could well be a harvestable crop of propolis to be gleaned from the permanent one.

One of the disadvantages of the National is the unnecessary convention of using foundation.  This causes unnecessary stress to the bees and may well introduce chemicals best left out.  In America, Jennifer Berry searched in vain for contaminant-free foundation. I haven’t bought any in years but I still have a small stock of thin foundation which I cut for starter strips when necessary. When renewing old comb, I just cut out all the comb that has been bred in, leaving a footprint around the perimeter of the frame to guide the bees in rebuilding.  The brood pattern when they do so has to be seen to be believed!

One problem with foundation is that all the cell imprints are in a standard size. Bees don’t work in standard sizes! Generally, if left to do their own thing, they have larger cells towards the perimeter of each comb and smaller towards the centre. Also, with the entrance at one end, they build larger cells at the front and rear of the hive and smaller in the centre.

My imagined design would have a mesh floor set  2″ above a solid floor with a tray that can be withdrawn for varroa and floor debris examination to do the check for hygienic behaviour that Ron Hoskins promotes. Why 2″?  Jeff Pettis in the USA experimented with various depths twixt mesh and floor.  With a half inch gap, all the living mites that dropped through found their way back upstairs again.  With a 2″ gap none did, with a range of success between those extremes.

I would also have a moveable division board and a closable rear entrance to enable nucleus production/ swarm reduction in the same hive.

That’s the idea so far: I don’t expect to build it this year as I have too many other things to do.  Life’s so busy when you’re retired!

What do YOU think of the idea?  Anything to add or alter?


About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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4 Responses to FRAMED TOP BAR HIVE

  1. Emily Heath says:

    I’ve actually seen a hive similar to the one you propose. A carpenter at our local association built a top-bar hive with removable frames – only the frames did not contain any foundation, so they were just a wooden rectangle and the bees filled in the rest. The bees did not last very long, and I wonder whether this was because it was a big hive (almost the length of a coffin) and the bees got too cold. It also had more than one entrance, which perhaps made it vulnerable to wasps. But it was a very impressive piece of carpentry.

    Do you do oxalic acid treatment in your top bar hives?

  2. Yes, I do use oxalic on the TBHs. It has been more difficult than usual this year because it has been so warm so the bees weren’t clustered. At the have at Bee Happy Plants, Sarah has cut a rectangle of insulating material to go over the bars and under the roof. I haven’t done so with the one at Ourganics at Litton Cheney as it is always warmer in the Bride Valley and that hive is usually quite strong.
    One snag with the current TBHs is that you can’t do a varroa drop check so Sarah and I are working on a design that will allow this but yet allow the bees to draw their combs in natural catenary shapes.
    My other Varroa treatment with TBHs is to chuck in a teabag or 2 of thymol as devised by Ron Brown getting on for 20 years ago.

    • Emily Heath says:

      Do you need to take the frames out to do the oxalic? In the tbh hives I’ve seen there haven’t been gaps between the tops of the frames to drizzle the solution down. Great idea to find a way of doing a varroa count.

  3. There aren’t any frames, just top bars! Ideally at a time when the weather is cool and the bees clustered (which hasn’t happened much this warm winter) take out the back bar and work forward gently easing each bar towards you until you find bees looking up at you. Anoint them with 5ml of oxalic solution, close that gap, being careful not to squash any bees, possibly using a feather to brush them down, and anoint the bees in the gap you have just created, etc until you are past the cluster. You should, by levering with a hive tool, be able to move all the bars back in place in one go to avoid further disturbance.

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