Interior Storm Windows
Blowing in Insulation
Insulating a range hood fan
Sealing a Bulkhead Door
Top Bar Bee Hive
Wooden Box

Top Bar Beehive

Top bar hive
Top Bar Hive
photo credit: Topher Belknap

A hive for natural beekeeping

A number of years ago, I decided that I might like to have a hive of bees. I brew mead, a beverage made from fermented honey and water (and other flavors), and having a source of raw honey would be a great thing. Additionally, it fit with my desire to reduce my dependency on distant, fragile resourses. I read a book on beekeeping and got thoroughly discouraged. It talked about large sums of money for equipment (many hundreds of dollars), and a vast catalog of possible problems from mites, diseases, to swarming. I gave up.

Subsequently, bees have encountered Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and attacks from pesticides and other issues. In the US, 30% of the hives didn't survive the winter of 02009. Coincident with this, a couple of friends took up beekeeping, but instead of the conventional (expensive) Langstroth hive, they were using a homebuilt top bar hive, and foregoing most of the issues the book warned me about.

So I decided to give it another try. As is my wont, I started by reading all I could find. There seemed to be a lot more of a relaxed attitude amongst this group of beekeepers. Exact measurements? Not really important. What about all those treatments? Mostly not needed, and you and the bees are better off without them. Ok, this is my kind of proposition.

Pentagonal profile of hive
Profile of hive
photo credit: Topher Belknap

So down I go into the laboratory workshop, and see what I have for scrap wood. A lot of 1x4 as it turns out, and probably enough 2x4 to make the legs. I also have some left over clapboards which will make a good roof. I took out Google Sketchup, the only CAD package I have ever manage to learn. It is truly awesome by the way. So, I sketch out some plans, taking a bit from here a bit from there. I made the hive shorter lengthwise in order to ba able to get my arms around it and pick it up, and made up the volume by making it wider and deeper. This also brings the aspect ratio closer to what is recommmended for human houses in this area, namely 1:1.6. This gave me a 72 degree angle on the walls, so I went ahead and made the roof similar so the whole cross section is a pentagon.

Top bar hive opened up
Hive opened up
photo credit: Topher Belknap

I put a window in so I could observe the bees with as little disruption as possible. There is a cover which keeps it dark for the bees most of the time; toggles hold the cover in place. There are two follower boards which are used to restrict the space that the bees occupy. I also made a feeder which holds an inverted canning jar with small holes punched in the lid.

Top bar
Top Bar (upside down)
photo credit: Topher Belknap

The top bar is the key to this system, the trick is getting the bees to build down the center of it, as opposed to diagonally across a number of them. This allows each bar to be individually removed, inspected, rearranged, or harvested, whatever is needed. Some methods include, a string stuck on with wax, a groove into which wax, or a small piece of foundation (commercially made pre-comb) has been placed. The method I decided to use is a top bar with a bevel extending down into the hive. These were cut from a single piece of 2x4. There are a bunch of fiddly angle cuts, but running them assembly line style get the job done pretty quickly. I made enough to fill the entore box plus a few extras to change out full honey combs for empty.

The hive is unfinished on the inside, the new occupants will do their own decorating, on the outside I used polymerized linseed oil, which I mixed with a little beeswax, and heated (Carefully!), and then applied with a rag. I put the hive on some broken pieces of cement block to keep it from soaking up too much water from the ground.

Hjälmaren Top Bar Hive
Model of Hjälmaren Top Bar Hive
model credit: Topher Belknap

You can download my plans (in sketchup format) here or from the Google 3D Warehouse