Fall and spring hive management in top bar hives is similar to that of Langstroth hives. Bees tend to build their brood nest in a top bar hive near the hive entrance and expand horizontally with new combs. Two combs holding honey and pollen near the hive entrance provide food for the brood. Hive manipulations can be visualized as if a Langstroth hive is lying on its side. Just as the beekeeper moves the winter cluster downward in the fall in a Langstroth hive, he or she moves the cluster forward toward the top bar hive entrance. Over winter, the bees move horizontally away from the entrance into the honey storage combs. In the spring, empty combs near the entrance should be moved to the rear, and the brood nest pushed toward the entrance.
All bee hive manipulations of modern hives can be accomplished with top bar hives if the bees build straight combs centered on the top bars. Carefully built top bars of 32 millimeter width are necessary for comb management. If the bees build combs connecting the top bars, the hive can’t be easily manipulated. Bees tend to curve their combs toward the hive entrance. Cutting away curved portions of combs encourages the bees to build straight combs centered on the hive's top bars. Ethiopian beekeeper Teshome recognizes that by building top bar hives of standardized dimensions he can move combs between hives. This allows him to de-queen poorly performing colonies or those with defensive behavior and bring in combs of eggs and larvae from his best colonies to control and improve bee genetics. He can also rear new queens and make colony divisions in his top bar hives. Today’s photo: a mud and dung coated Tanzanian top bar hive in use in Ethiopia. The Tanzanian hive design employs vertical box walls. This rear view shows one empty frame behind top bars. Under a thatched roof, the hive stand’s plastic sheeting and oiled posts protect hives from ants.--Richard