After using both Topbar and Langstroth hives, the winner is…
Last Fall we moved 10 beehives to our new farm. When we loaded them on the trailer we were disheartened about how light they were in spite of not having taken any honey. Apparently where we lived was not a good place to have bees and our hives didn’t have a good store of food. Although we’d kept bees for 3 years, we had only guiltily taken a few quarts and our hives weren’t thriving and wouldn’t probably have survived without us feeding them.
The Winter was hard on the bees and we lost 6 of our 10 hives in spite of my trying to insulate them with straw. They probably all succumbed to cold. Of the 10 hives, 2 were Kenya Topbar hives, both of which survived the Winter.
I don’t like working with Topbar hives. When I take out the bars I have to be careful with the comb so that it doesn’t brake and many times have to use a knife to remove the brace comb just to be able to remove the bar. While I suppose it is possible to harvest the honey from the back bars, it is time consuming. The worst part of working the Topbar hives is when I put the bars back I have to coax the bees that have crawled along the top sides of the bars and are in danger of being squished. I always end up squishing some bees by accident and don’t like it.
The Topbar hives filled up quickly this Spring and we decided to just let them swarm and collect the swarms rather than try to split the hives. In the past I’d tried to split, but it requires identifying every swarm cell and finding the queen. When those hives get really full, finding the queen is difficult and time consuming. It is better to plan to be home during swarm-likely days and collect the swarms.
This year we collected about 8 swarms from the two topbar hives and all except one, a tiny one, thrived. In fact the first swarm quickly filled up two deep Langstroth hives and a honey super! We had our first harvest/rent from our bees!
The fact is that we love our Topbars and will always keep several. The bees seem healthier and happier. The hives are a perfect compliment to the Langstroth hives that we’ve modified so that we don’t use any foundation in the brood boxes. We put a strip of foundation along the top of the frame and the bees usually build the comb inside the frame, particularly if the frame is in between two other frames that are properly built.
This year we put one swarm into a Topbar hive and have given one Topbar hive to some friends in the valley who want to become a bee keepers. Their next year’s swarms will go into Langstroth hives and they’ll be on their way to populating the area with pollinators.
We’re modifying a 8′ x 12′ storage shed by insulating it and adding slots for each hive so the bees can get out and will put our hives in it. A space heater will keep it from getting too cold and we hope this will minimize Winter losses to cold. The Langstroth hives all have full double brood boxes, so they should have plenty of fuel to get through ’til Spring. We love our bees!