Okanagan Bee Hives

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OKANAGAN TOP BAR HIVE

 

HISTORY of ‘OKANAGAN TOP BAR HIVES’

Jamie Macdonald, owner of “Armstrong Apiaries” and Greg Keesey, former beekeeper and owner of “Okanagan Bee Hives” joined forces in 2011 to design and manufacture top bar hives. Top bar hives are becoming very popular, especially within the hobby/backyard beekeeping circles.  Our drive was to develop products to be used in the Okanagan and other areas for backyard beekeeping.  We believe that although traditional methods for keeping bees are often the best, innovative concepts have their place as conditions such as weather and other surrounding factors do vary from area to area.  This top bar hive is really a "hybrid".  There are no standards for top bar hives in regard to measurements, etc.  We therefore incorporated several Langstroth hive features in order to standardize.  For example:  the top of the top bars have the exact footprint as the traditional Langstroth frames.  They therefore will fit into a Langstroth super.  The hives are also designed to allow one or two Langstroth brood boxes to rest on top of the top bars that have 3/8" slits inthem to allow for boosting, etc.  If desired, the 10-frame "Flow Hive" honey super will also fit on top of the one side or on top of the 12-frame top bar hive.  How cool is that?

 

TOP BAR HIVES:

INTRODUCTION:

Top bar hives are a style of man-made beehive that is based on a cavity covered with sticks or slats usually of wood. Top bar hives have been around for centuries. Evidence of them can be found in ancient Greek and roman ruins. They are very popular in undeveloped regions due to ease of construction with materials at hand, but have recently received a surge of popularity in the hobbyist sector of beekeeping all over the world. There are two main classifications of top bar hives; the Kenya Top Bar Hive and the Tanzania Top Bar Hives.

Characteristics The two main types of Top Bar Hive in use today are distinguished by their shape and origin. The Kenyan TBH or KTBH which has sloped sides resembling a trough and Tanzanian TBH or TTBH which is shaped like a rectangle.

What’s the difference? It is rumored throughout the beekeeping world that sloped sides would prevent the bees from attaching comb to the side walls making it easier to work. To set the record straight these hives have been in existence for centuries and are very popular in third world countries due to ease of construction with materials at hand. In Kenya they are built from hollowed out logs cut in half, sloping the sides was an early attempt to mimic this shape with modern building materials. Most modern beehives are built square the Tanzanian version adapted the bars to more modern square building materials. Currently there are no specific dimensions.

The average TBH is 4 feet long and 1.5 to 2 feet wide. The Kenyan Top Bar Hive is narrower at the bottom, but no two beekeepers will build them the same.

Unlike most common designs of modern hives, the top bar hive does not use wooden frames to hold the comb; it uses slats of wood, or (top bars) placed over the cavity the bees inhabit, which is also how the hive received it’s name. Instead of filling out wooden frames, the bees attach comb to the slats. The slat is the only means of support that comb has in a top bar beehive. Also, unlike most other hive designs, the top bar hive does not impose artificial segregation of the colony by physically dividing honey comb from the brood comb by use of separate hive bodies divided by a queen excluder preventing her from using the entire colony to rear brood. The top bar hive allows the queen access to the entire colony as she would have in a wild colony.


ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF TOP BAR HIVES:


ADVANTAGES: 

Top bar hives have some advantages over traditional hive designs.

Simplicity of Design. Because of the simplicity of the top bar hive’s design, one can be built from readily available salvage materials. In fact the design of a top bar hive is so adaptable that boxes, 55-gallon-drums, old crates and even dilapidated refrigerators can be used to house bees. In essence, nearly any large enough container can be modified to produce a productive top bar hive. All that is required for a top bar hive to be successful are fitting top bars, a water and wind tight cover, an entrance and healthy bees. Bees are happy to use just about any suitable cavity to establish a colony.

Ease of Operation. Unlike the langstroth style of hive, the top bar hive does not require lifting heavy hive bodies full of bees and honey, commonly referred to as 'supers". A TBH is accessed by removing the cover exposing the top bars themselves. Because top bars are pushed tightly together there are no gaps for bees to emerge from, the top bars form the ceiling of the hive. Once exposed one top bar at the rear can be worked loose with a hive tool or pocket knife .and lifted from the hive body now exposing the adjacent comb. The bar just removed leaves behind the gap the beekeeper will use to manipulate other bars. This bar may or may not have comb suspended from it, if it does it needs to be handled with care. Never turn the comb parallel to the ground as if you were holding a plate of food in one hand, this will cause the comb to break and fall. This comb should be placed in another hive body or on a device made to rest it on while. the beekeeper continues working.

More Manageable Bees. It has been said by some who manage both top bar and Langstroth hives that managing top .bar hives is more pleasant as the bees are less stressed when worked and less likely to exhibit defensive behavior. The combs on a top bar hives can be manipulated a few at a time. This smaller disturbance means that inspections exposes and disturbs a much smaller segment of the hive at any given time. Bees in and on the unexposed portion of the hive tend not to notice the beekeeper’s intrusion and as a result seem not to become alarmed.

Comb by Comb Management. The ease of comb-by-comb management is due to the horizontal nature of a top bar hive. Combs only need to be disturbed if they are specifically to be managed, this means that if it is desired to increase the brood nest, then simply a new top bar must be installed. Beekeeper can also harvest small portions of comb honey at a time, by simply cutting and removing the desired segment, and then replacing the top bar.

Storage. Unlike with standard Langstroth hives there is no extra storage, other than unused top bars, for a top bar hive. Every part of the hive may remain in or on the hive unlike the extra hive bodies associated with Langstroth type or "vertical" hives. Less storage means more places to keep bees.

Bees Wax Production. Due to the nature of the top bar hives design, combs are not reused for honey production as in a framed hive. This facilitates a larger harvest of bees wax. Combs full of honey only are harvested from the rear. The wax is simply crushed by whatever means the beekeeper determines efficient. The crushed wax is then saved and rendered for sale. Another source of wax comes from the regression process. Through the process known as "regression" the brood nest is removed at the beginning of each season to be measured to monitor colony progress and viability for breeding. Once all necessary measurements are recorded this wax is also stored for rendering.

It is advisable to store wax removed from the brood nest separate from wax that contained only honey. The wax from the brood nest contains cocoons, pollen, and debris tracked in by the bees

that contaminate the purity of the wax. The lighter in color the wax is, the less impurities it contains fetching a higher price in the retail market. There are many different ways of rendering wax. The two most preferred ways are by use of a solar melter or boiling the wax in large vats of water. Both processes require melting the wax and filtering the debris and allowing it to cool in a container. Once cooled the debris which settles to the bottom can be scraped off.

Comb Honey Production. The top bar hive is by design ideal for "comb honey" honey cut from and which remains in the comb and is often considered more valuable by honey connoisseurs than honey which has been extracted from the comb and bottled. If desired however, a fruit press can be used to separate the liquid honey from the wax comb, such as that produced by a honey extractor.

Natural Comb. Because the bees completely build the comb without using a foundation, top bar hives produce natural sized brood cells, which are advantageous regarding mite control. The wax is also cycled out of the hive during harvest so the hive doesn't accumulate pesticides or other contaminants.


DISADVANTAGES: 

Some of the disadvantages listed are also advantages for the hobbyist.

Because they are managed differently than framed hives, honey tends to be harvested a little at a time rather than all at once. Top bar hives are less attractive to the commercial beekeeper who wants to maximize profits by minimizing time spent in harvesting. During seasons with heavy nectar flow, beekeepers may need to harvest bars of honey more often to prevent the hive from becoming honey bound.

Non-Standard Equipment. There exist no real standards for top bar hives and because of this the beekeeper must be choose his/her own design. The fact of there being no standards has encouraged creative experimentation among top bar beekeepers, who many now regard as being at the leading edge of beekeeping development.  Note that we have used the design and dimensions of the langstroth frame as a starting point so our top bars can be inserted into a langstroth box.Our hybrid nuc box shows the advantage of this.

Less Honey Harvesting. There is a belief among framed-hive beekeepers that top bar hives are less productive, but no evidence for this has been produced. Wax production, on the other hand, tends to be higher, as comb is not returned to the hive after extraction. This, in itself, is beneficial in terms of disease control, as no potentially disease spore-bearing comb finds its way back into the hive.

Delicate Comb. Because no wired wax foundation is used, there is no reinforcement to the natural structure of the comb. This means that new comb must be handled carefully to avoid breakages.


OKANAGAN TOP BAR HIVE SPECIFICATIONS:

Our 24-bar top bar hive is a hybrid. It has been re-designed with several innovative features, including bars and inner covers which can be used with a Langstroth hive: Solid pine hive body with entrances and landing boards on each end to allow for either one colony and one nuc or two nucs.

  • Solid pine lid, sloped to allow moisture to run off.
  • Solid cedar stand. The stand is longer than the hive box to allow the hive to be centered or moved to one end so the rails can double as a frame rest.
  • Removable bottom board on one end for cleaning and adding optional screen board/pollen trap.
  • Four permanent, waterproof upper and lower entrance reducers. These allow one to open or close entrances depending on time of year, or weather conditions.
  • 24 top bars, 19” long and 3/8” wide with permadent starter strips and routed openings to allow bees to travel above the bars into the inner covers. These frames will fit into a Langstroth nuc box or super.
  • Two follow boards. Our follow boards are constructed of rigid Styrofoam. They have a 3/8” strip on the top to prevent bees from travelling up and over into another colony or behind the follow board in a one-colony hive when the inner cover is used.
  • Two inner covers. These are designed so one can be used for an expanding colony at one end and one for a nuc at the other. One side is 3/8” deep and the other is 1 ½” deep to allow for feeding pollen patties or shallow syrup trays. If desired, one can, with a modified queen excluder, add a Langstroth brood box on one of the inner covers to boost the upper or lower colony.
  • 2 foil clad, R-5 insulation inserts for inner covers. These are used to prevent bees from moving away from the colony when the upper area of the inner cover is not being used. They also provide insulation to retain heat in winter and cool in summer. A single insulation cover is provided to cover the entire top.
  • Optional pollen trap: Our innovative optional pollen trap doubles as a screen board. The bottom on one end simply slides out and the pollen trap slides in. By closing the upper and lower entrances and opening the pollen trap opening, the bees are forced through the trap. To test for mites, simple add a sticky board on the middle screen.

Optional winter, R-5 wrap kit: The hive is completely wrapped in R-5 rigid styrofoam with a waterproof cover. The upper entrance on the one end is accessible.

  • Optional “Lifetime Wood Treatment” (body outer, lid and stand only): This wood treatment is completely non-toxic. It turns the wood to a grey-green over time.
  • Optional “Thompson’s Waterseal” treatment for the stand.  This finish seals the wood and brings out the beauty of the cedar stand.

  • Our 12-bar hive is also available.
  • we offer a 5-frame/bar hybrid nuc box designed to either produce top bar nucs from langstroth splits or langstroth nucs from top bar splits.

FOLLOW BOARDS

Wooden follow boards were first used by beekeepers many years ago. They were designed to restrict the area available to the bees while the new colony was expanding, and it made for more contented bees. They can be made with wood or insulation. Many who use them are firm believers in their ability to lessen swarming in the summer and insulate the hive in winter. Bees thrive in boxes when they are used. Instead of being clustered in the center of the enclosed area, they utilize the entire area and often are found in large numbers right against the follow board. They are an integral part of our ‘Okanagan Top Bar Hive’. When used in our double-ended Okanagan Top Bar Hives, follow boards not only insulate, but also separate two colonies or one colony and one nuc. They have a 3/8” strip on the top to prevent bees from travelling up and over into another colony or behind the follow board in a one-colony hive when the inner cover is used.


HOW AM I GOING TO GET MY FIRST BEES INTO MY TOP BAR HIVE???


One of the biggest hassles with these hives is that standard nucs don't fit.  I've heard of folks who take a standard nuc and cut the frames to fit.  Well, initially, things are fine, but they say the bees don't draw out the comb properly and things go south fast.


Our answer is to use our new HYBRID NUC BOX.  This box is designed to place 2-3 langstroth frames from a split in the middle and on either side of these frames insert 3-4 of our top bars with full permadent foundation which have the top bar configuration.  These have been tested by a professional beekeeper and work well.  As with regular nucs, either add a queen or let the workers make a new queen.  


The beauty of these hybrid nuc boxes is that one can reverse the procedure and use a top bar split to draw out langstroth frames and raise a nuc.  The box can also be used as a regular langstroth nuc box.  The Okanagan Top Bar hive is already designed to use the one end to raise a nuc.


See the "Pricing" page for a better description and pricing.


Either purchase a hybrid nuc box from us for a fraction of the cost of a nuc or: