The great thing about top bar hives is you don’t need all the extra boxes, frames and other paraphernalia that come with conventional hives. All the bees need is in the top bar hive. There are a few other pieces of equipment you do need to manage the hive, but these are things you can rob from the kitchen, or at least I did!
A bread knife, a spray bottle and a soft brush are all you need to maintain a top bar hive. In this post Janet lays out what they are for and how to use them.
The great thing about top bar hives is that you don’t need all the extra boxes, frames and other paraphernalia that comes with conventional hives. All that the bees need is in the top bar hive. There are a few other pieces of equipment you do need to manage the hive, but these are things that you can rob from the kitchen—or at least I did!
The first thing you need is some sort of hive tool. Buying a hive tool is not necessary. I use a bread knife. This knife is used not as a weapon against the bees, but to help lever off the top bar when you need to examine them. Bees come with their own superglue called propolis. This is a secretion they produce to stop up any holes or cracks in the hive.
The top bars will be fastened down with this propolis so you need to use the knife to gently lever and break the seal before moving and lifting the top bar. The knife is also used to gently cut any comb away from the sides of the hive. To remove a top bar comb gently slide the knife both sides of the comb from the bottom up. This will gently cut any bridging comb from the sides. It is really important to do this every time you want to remove a comb. If you just pull the top bar out you will most probably lose the comb as it will tear from the wooden bar and fall into the hive!
The other high-tech piece of equipment you need is a plastic spray bottle filled with cold water and a splash of cider vinegar. This spray bottle is used in place of a smoker to encourage the bees to move back into the hive rather than flying up between the top bars as you remove then. I don’t use a smoker as top bar bees don’t get as defensive as bees in a conventional hive when you open up the hive.
Smokers always seem to go out, which drives me crazy, and if you use a smoker it sets the hive back a couple of days in production as smoked bees gorge themselves on honey in preparation for flight.
Smokers always seem to go out, which drives me crazy, and if you use a smoker it sets the hive back a couple of days in production as smoked bees gorge themselves on honey in preparation for flight. One theory behind a smoker is that when the bees smell smoke they believe it is a bush fire and gorge themselves on nectar and honey in preparation to escape from the hive. With full tummies they are more docile and relaxed (a bit like us after a Christmas dinner in the middle of a hot summer) and are less inclined to sting, or able to, as they can’t bend to sting when their tummies are full.
Finally, you need a soft bush to sweep any bees off comb or off the hive when replacing the top bar. I just use a nylon brush from a dustpan and brush set, but you can also use a large seagull feather or similar.
If you are hoping to harvest some honey comb you also need to have some sort of lidded container nearby to place the honey comb in. A lid will stop bees following you inside the house to get their honey back.
Janet began this series on bee keeping with a post on top bar beehives, a cheaper and easier way of getting started. In her second post she suggested what to wear. Coming up, Janet will tell you how to find your very own bee swarm!