At the Southeast Organic Beekeepers Conference in West Palm Beach, FL, I had the opportunity to hear Sam Comfort talk and demonstrate his top bar hives. I want to build one - looks easy enough for a construction-challenged person. I'll bet I can do it - I'm certainly going to try this season.
He doesn't build stands, but keeps them on cinder blocks or those plastic crates that people use in offices. He worked the bees calmly and with no protection. It was a joy to watch him.
His top bar hive is quite simple. He points out that the bees just need a hollow place - no specific dimensions are called for, but he does make his top bar hives wide enough to accommodate a Langstroth frame - which makes conversion possible.
Below is a frame that includes a Langstroth frame attached to a top bar. Sam said that he can take a frame from a hive box and cut the comb at a slant to accommodate the sides of the top bar hive. Then he attaches the Langstroth frame to the bottom of the top bar and there you have it!
I've wondered how to begin with bees in a top bar hive without having to order a package. So I think there are about three ways one can do this:
- install a package in the hive,
- install a captured swarm in a hive,
- make a split with a Langstroth hive and convert the frames as Sam has done here. Well, I can't wait to experiment.
As the hive grows, Sam adds more top bars and moves the divider that marks the beginning and end of the hive further down the box.
He tops the hive with a simple board weighed down by bricks. He places two pieces of wood above the top bars to provide the bees with some ventilation.
You can see the top bars for raising the top of the hive under the hive top toward the right.
Top bar hives have the advantage of not having to lift boxes to get into the hives. They have the disadvantage of being probably too heavy to move once the bees are really up and going. Many top bar hives are about a foot longer than the 3 foot long ones that Sam builds - now those would have one foot more of space for the bees to fill and to weigh the hive down.
Sam told me at dinner on Friday night that he had made top bar hives from reeds and mud and had never moved them because not only was the interior of the hive heavy, but the reed/mud mix was extremely heavy.
Overall the conference was a nice mix of working the bees in outdoor settings and being indoors for talks about different topics.