Thursday, March 7, 2013

Top Bar Hives

Beekeepers are making preparations for adding new colonies in the spring. While most will house their bees in modern bee hives, some will chose hives of other designs. The Kenyan top bar hive is the choice of a number of hobbyists who want to keep a few bee hives at their home. This removable comb hive is simply a box with sticks, called top bars, to hold combs. A benefit of top bar hives is that they can be constructed at low cost from locally available materials using ordinary hand tools and simple building skills.

Larry Tomkins, a knowledgeable beekeeper from Northeast Arkansas, shared his top bar beekeeping experience with the Arkansas Beekeepers Association. Tomkins, who began beekeeping with Langstroth hives, explained how he enjoys building top bar hives that he constructs from scrap lumber. Tompkins uses the hive design developed by the Peace Corps, Tompkins built the top bar hive that he brought to the ABA Spring Conference for 79 cents, the cost of screws. There are no standardized top bar hive plans; there is only one critical measurement: Top bars must be 32 millimeters in width. A beer bottle cap makes a handy measuring device for constructing top bars. Building top bars of the proper width is important for maintaining bee space. Bees build cross combs on improperly designed top bars. Top bar hives are attractive to some beekeepers because, unlike modern bee hives, there are no heavy boxes to lift. All hive work is accomplished at a comfortable waist-level height by removing one comb at a time from the hive. Since harvesting of honey from top bar hives involves destroying the honeycomb, old beeswax is continuously replaced in the hive. Comb replacement is good for colony health; environmental chemicals and bee disease spores are removed from the hive. Today’s photo is a Kenyan top bar hive in use in Ethiopia.


  1. A used beer bottle cap, slightly flared from opening the bottle, has a diameter of millimeters; and it makes a simple measuring tool. The top bars can easily be planed to the proper width by rubbing them across concrete.