Starting a Kenya Style Top Bar Hive

A Kenya Style Top Bar Hive

Well, since I started keeping bees 6 or 7 years ago, I’ve always wanted to try a top bar hive. Every winter I’d say to myself maybe this is the year. I’m finally taking the plunge. With my beeyards in good order with 12 going hives, I decided to take the 2 late packages I was getting and experiment a little. I ordered an extra carniolan queen, and split the first package into two 5 frame nucs, so each nuc has about a pound and a half of bees and drawn out frames with some stores to get them going. 

It was my friend Caroline Scully, that actually got me to build a top bar hive. She used to have bees and was interested in possibly getting back into it. We had talked about top bar hives as a less expensive alternative, and I told her I could easily build one. Well she called me on it, and said that if she had the hive, she would be more likely to try and get a swarm or some local bees. So I bought the wood and made two. The hardest part was making the triangular shaped pcs for the top bars, but even that wasn’t really difficult.

the basic hive box

Here is the basic hive ready for painting. It’s made totally out of one inch pine using all straight cuts. The sides and ends are 1 x 12″ and the bottom is 1 x 6″ Keep in mind that lumber is dimensioned before finishing to actual size, so 1″ pine is actually 3/4 thick..  I found dimensions on Michael Bush’s site, which I have added to my links. To make the triangles for the top bars, cut some pcs 3/4″ x 3/4″ or even 3/4″ by 1″ and saw them lengthwise at a 45 degree angle. An electric brad nailer works great for attaching to the top bars.

two piece top bars

The total cost for the two hives not counting a stand was around $100 and about a days work.

Now I feel like a beginner again, with lots to learn about this new method of keeping bees, but I’m excited and anxious to see how it goes, and will keep you posted with the progress good or bad.    

So, it’s June 6th and the day has arrived. I finally got everything done, made room in the beeyard and have the stand set up. I just put some of the bees into the hive, released the queen and added the rest of the bees. With a standard Langstroth hive, you have frames with foundation, and the bees easily take to them. I wasn’t sure how it would work putting them into a basically empty box. I guess my biggest concern was what to do with the queen, or more like what would she do. Michael Bush said that it’s not a good idea to suspend the queen cage anywhere in a topbar hive, because the bees will start building comb from the queen cage, and you’ll be off to a bad start, so I put some bees in the hive, released the queen and added the rest of the bees hoping for the best.                                                                                

the bees have been put into the hive

bees are in and top bars are in place

My hive is placed on a  sturdy stand, and I used a 6 ft level to get it set right. Here, I’ve just finished putting top bars in place and just need to put the cover on.

getting accustomed to their new home

I thought a sloped roof would be more pleasing to the eye and also shed water and snow better, but I’m not sure if a flat pc of plywood or telescoping type cover would have been more practical. For one, it would be harder to use a stone or brick to weigh down the cover, and it also took more time to make. I ended up attaching a couple of eyescrews and using  bungee cords to secure it.  I do like the idea of leaving the ends of the hive square. It gives much more support and makes the hive more resistant to tipping.

June 10th: I refilled the feeder today and lifted one end of a few frames on the “brood end” of the hive. I saw some comb and it is on the center of the bars, going in the right direction, so that’s a good sign so far.

Update: July 1st 2011

I checked the hive today. The bees now have 10 bars of completed comb,  and two more about half done. It’s amazing to see the natural comb building that they do. They are doing a perfect job so far.

a perfect job building the natural wax comb


About Beekeeping in the Berkshires

Here at Berkshire Farms Apiary we've been keeping bees and making honey since 2005, with hives in most of the surrounding towns. We also make pure beeswax candles, lip balm, and hand salve, as well as give presentations. As secretary of the Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association, I am very active in the local beekeeping community.
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8 Responses to Starting a Kenya Style Top Bar Hive

  1. Alethea says:

    I think it’s exciting that you are doing this. One of the big barriers to beginning beekeepers who want to start with top bar hives is the lack of available mentoring. This could spread like wildfire if you’re successful with it!

  2. I’m looking forward to seeing how this works out for you.

  3. Pingback: 2011-06 NBBA June Newsletter | Northern Berkshire Beekeepers Association

  4. jim maschino says:

    I can’t wait to see how things develope, I might try one myself someday…..

  5. jacquei says:

    i am interested in keeping bees in limuru,please advice me on how to start it.i have plenty of trees and flowers around me to enrich beekeeping.jacquei

    • jacquei, Check out the link on my home page to Michael Bush’s site. He tells how to build a simple top bar or Kenyan hive. You will probably have to catch a swarm of bees or possible find some one that will sell or give you some to get started. good luck

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