You are on page 1of 15

Designing Your Ideal Horizontal Top-Bar Hive

Designing Your Ideal Horizontal Top-Bar Hive by John Vendy

by

John Vendy

Contents

LEGAL STUFF

 

4

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

4

INTRODUCTION

5

BACKGROUND

5

HIVE MATERIALS

5

Western Red Cedar4

 

6

Softwood5

6

Raw Linseed Oil and Beeswax

 

6

Observation Window

7

Glass

7

Plastics

7

HIVE FEATURES

 

7

Hive Size

 

7

Width

7

Length

7

TOP-BARS

 

7

Length

8

Width

8

Comb Guide

8

FOLLOWER BOARD

 

9

ROOF

9

Pitched Roof

10

Gabled Roof

10

Finish

10

Paint

10

Aluminium Sheet

10

Western Red

Cedar

10

Plastic Sheet / Correx Sheet

11

Roofing Felt

11

LEGS

 

11

OBSERVATION WINDOW

11

HIVE FLOOR

12

Varroa Mesh and Bottom Board

12

Deep Floor7

12

FEEDING YOUR BEES

 

13

ENTRANCE LOCATION(S)

13

LANDING BOARD

14

REFERENCES

 

15

BEE RELATED INTERNET LINKS I LIKE

15

Illustration Index

Illustration 1: Hive in Western Red Cedar

6

Illustration 2: Redwood Hive Coated with Linseed & Beeswax

6

Illustration 3: Wax in Groove Comb Guide

8

Illustration 4: Top-Bars with Triangular Comb Guide

8

Illustration 5: Completed Follower Board

9

Illustration 6: Pitched Roof

10

Illustration 7: Gable Roof

10

Illustration 8: Aluminium covered roof

10

Illustration 9: Western Red Cedar Roof

10

Illustration 10: View Through an Observation Window

11

Illustration 11: Bottom Board lowered to show lip

12

Illustration 12: Galvanized Varroa Mesh

12

Illustration 13: Deep Floor lowered for clarity

13

Illustration

14: Simple Jar Feeder

13

Illustration 15: Feeder over Slotted Top-Bar

13

LEGAL STUFF

All information herein is the opinion of the author, unless specifically referenced, and is offered in good faith. Please check for applicability to your chosen style of beekeeping, location, climate, local laws etc.

© All content copyright of John Vendy 2013. Any reproduction must be in full with credit given to the copyright holder. No charge can be made for distribution in any format, electronic or hard-copy.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am indebted to Phil Chandler for making his Horizontal Top-Bar Hive plans freely

available. I must also thank him for his inspirational talks, videos and words of encouragement on the internet, in his books and and at his training week-ends. The support available on the Natural Beekeeping Forum 1 is second to none!

I am always grateful to hear feed-back from those that I have built hives for. Positive feed- back is always good, but negative feed-back helps to refine design features for future hives. And of course thanks go to my ever-suffering partner, Sue, for not complaining about my time spent researching equipment and materials, talking to others about beekeeping, building hives and tending my own bees.

NOTE: Superscript numbers ( 4 ) refer to notes in the References section at the end of this

document

INTRODUCTION

If you are reading this you're probably close to committing to keeping bees in as natural a way as is possible. The aim of these pages is to explain the benefits (or lack of!) of some of the options available to you when designing your Horizontal Top-Bar Hive (hTBH). The basic design is freely available from the Natural Beekeeping Network forum pages 2 on the internet.

If you plan to ask www.topbarbeehive.co.uk to build your ideal hTBH you are welcome to contact me to discuss any questions you may still have.

If you are making your own hTBH you are welcome to use any information contained herein and on the website.

BACKGROUND

Keeping bees in hTBH is a relatively new phenomena in the UK. Those interested in having such a hive are usually either from a “conventional” beekeeping background or are new beekeepers. Either way, they have no experience to call upon when deciding the design of their new hive. I have received many enquiries about the design features of these hives and have decided it may be best to put all of the answers in one place, hence this little missive!

HIVE MATERIALS

The exposed parts of the hive can be made from a wide variety of materials. I always use new wood, usually Western Red Cedar or Redwood (the softwood that is freely available from builders merchants, DIY stores etc.). The internal parts of the hive (top-bars and follower boards) are generally made from Redwood as this is much cheaper and easily replaced if any issues arise. Some have made hTBH from recycled floor boards, old pallets and plywood. The most important consideration is to be sure that the wood hasn't been treated with an insecticide or preservative. Older timber especially, may have been treated with a wood-worm treatment. New timber is sometimes treated to give a longer life. ANY such treatment will have an effect on your bees, not necessarily killing them, but certainly making them less healthy. Some pallets are made from treated wood 3 , but even untreated pallets may have had chemicals spilled on them.

Western Red Cedar 4

The Western Red Cedar tree is an evergreen, coniferous tree of the cypress family. It is native to the western states of the USA, although some is now grown in western Europe.

Mature trees reach 70 m in height with

a

girth of 3 to 4 m at the base.

It

has a relatively high carbon footprint,

the base. It has a relatively high carbon footprint, Illustration 1: Hive in Western Red Cedar

Illustration 1: Hive in Western Red Cedar

and price, due to the distance from it's growing area.

The harvested wood is relatively high in natural resins which deter wood pests and repel water leading to a long life when exposed to the elements. It also

has a natural fungicide which helps to prevent rotting. It's reputed to last from 40 to 60 years when left outside and not treated. The tight, straight grain and few knots in the wood result in a light, but strong wood that is

resistant to warping and splitting.

The wood colour ranges from red/brown to yellow (the heart-wood, from the centre of the tree), but will fade in time to silver/grey if not treated.

Softwood 5

Softwood is a generic term given to the wood from various pine species. Much of the softwood imported to the UK is sourced in Scandinavia and western Russia.

Softwood will only last 5 to 10 years if untreated in the UK climate. Treatment can be with a commercially available insect-safe preservative or paint, or with a mix of raw linseed oil and beeswax. Note: Boiled linseed oil has petroleum based solvents and sometimes heavy metals added; neither will be good for your bees!

heavy metals added; neither will be good for your bees! Raw Linseed Oil and Beeswax To

Raw Linseed Oil and Beeswax

To created the linseed/beeswax mixture, put 20 parts by volume of raw linseed oil to one part beeswax into a bain-marie and heat until the wax has melted. This is best applied while hot, but when cooled can also be used as a lubricant for hive-parts (hinges, latches etc.).

The oil will slowly soak into the wood leaving a thin film of wax on the surface. Absorption

Illustration 2: Redwood Hive Coated with Linseed & Beeswax

is faster if the hive is left outside.

Observation Window

Potential materials are glass and plastic.

Glass

Glass is easily available, but easily damaged and a good conductor of heat, which will take heat out of the hive and can cause condensation.

Plastics

Perspex (Plexiglass in US) or acrylic are good options. Both are better insulators than glass and less fragile. Acrylic is slightly more scratch resistant than perspex.

HIVE FEATURES

Hive Size

The size (volume) of your hive depends upon your needs and aims.

Width

The hive width is determined by the length of the top-bars. If you are aiming to use

a framed nucleus colony to populate the hive, the preferred width will be one that can accommodate the top-bars of the frames that the bees come on.

Length

If you're using a 17 inch top-bar and the hive cavity is 15 inches at the top, 5 inches across the bottom and 11 inches deep (as suggested in the Barefoot Beekeeper plans) a length of 22 inches will give a volume of about 40 litres, the optimum

volume for attracting a swarm 6 . I have successfully attracted swarms into a bait hive of 18 inches length. This is also a good size to start a nucleus colony, possibly using

a single follower board to control the volume as the colony expands.

A 36 inch length at the same cross-section will give an adequate volume for one

colony. If you need to split the colony (artificial swarming) to control swarming, two colonies could live in the hive for a short time.

A hive of 48 inch length have plenty of room for two colonies for the remainder of

the season after completing a split. You will need to either re-combine the two colonies in the late summer/early autumn, or have a second hive ready in the early spring before the population start to build up rapidly.

TOP-BARS

Probably the most important part of the hive. Get this right and looking after a top-bar hive should become easier (but no guarantees with bees!).

Length

They need to be between 1 and 2 inches longer than the hive is wide so that they sit on top of the hive sides and can't easily be knocked in to the hive by accident. The top-bars of a British National frame are 17 inches long and this is a popular size in the UK for hTBH top-bars (as chop'n'crop frames will fit easily).

If top-bars are considerably narrower the hive will need to be deeper (or longer) to maintain a suitable volume. Deeper combs are more easily damaged when they are handled!

Width

The original width for top-bars was 33mm to 35mm which gave a similar comb spacing to that with National frames. This dimension was arrived at when the UK had predominantly British black bees. Now most bees are crossed with European varieties. The Italian bee has a natural comb spacing of 37mm to 38mm. When bees store honey the combs tend to be wider, which can lead to cross-combing (a comb being attached to more than one top-bar) as the desired (by the bees) spacing becomes bigger than the spacing of the top-bars. I always supply spacers (6mm to 10mm wide) that can fit between top-bars where this becomes an issue.

Recent investigations into comb width and spacing, with a special focus on drone brood cell size, has led to trials of wider top-bars. Many are now looking at 37mm to 39mm as the optimum width and some are trying up to 44mm.

Comb Guide

Comb guides can become quite complicated for the DIY hive builder with access to only basic hand tools, but there are some quite effective and simple options available.

there are some quite effective and simple options available. Illustration 3: Wax in Groove Comb Guide

Illustration 3: Wax in Groove Comb Guide

options available. Illustration 3: Wax in Groove Comb Guide Illustration 4: Top-Bars with Triangular Comb Guide

Illustration 4: Top-Bars with Triangular Comb Guide

Probably the simplest DIY comb guide is a piece of string with bees-wax melted over it on the top-bar centre-line, resulting is a raised line of bees-wax that the bees should follow when building comb.

Half-round moulding can easily be bought from DIY stores. Attaching this to the underside of the top-bars provides a fairly reliable guide. Other shapes that work well, if you can source them, are triangular (my preference and the usual one I supply with a hive, Illustration to right) and small square or rectangle. Barbeque skewers are cheap and work well when glued/stapled to the top-bar. Those that give a small ridge are best i.e. if using square it's side should be around 10% of the top-bar width. For those with a table saw and the skill to use it safely, ripping the top-bars and triangular sections from larger planks is easy and works well. Some use a table saw to rip the top- bar, including triangular guide, from a single piece of wood. This involves a lot more time setting up the saw and generates considerably more waste than cutting the guides separately then attaching them to the top-bar.

FOLLOWER BOARD

The Holy Grail of the follower board is close fit to the hive body. As long as any gaps are less than a bee-space (approx. 8mm) the bees will not be affected.

The first step to achieving a good fit is to spend some time ensuring all of the follower boards for one hive are symmetrical and identical. Cut the boards to the right size, then clamp together to check and trim if necessary.

I build the hive body around the follower board, as described in the Barefoot Beekeepers plans, but use luggage straps to hold the hive sides firmly against the follower when attaching the end panels. This always gives a snug fitting follower.

the end panels. This always gives a snug fitting follower. Illustration 5: Completed Follower Board ROOF

Illustration 5: Completed Follower Board

ROOF

The aim of the roof is to protect the top-bars from weather. Rain will penetrate between exposed top-bars and wet, rather than cold, kills bees. Direct sun on top-bars will cause the comb to melt near the top-bar and combs, especially when heavy with brood or stores, will collapse. A good roof provides a ventilated air-gap above the top-bars and is water- tight.

The air-gap may be utilised by a feeder if you opt to feed above the bees. Top-bars can be adapted to correspond to a commercially available feeder.

During winter or in hot climates during summer, an old pillow case or sack filled with wood shavings above the top-bars will provide insulation. A sheep's fleece or old blanket also work well. The material used should be moisture permeable and insulating.

There are many materials that will provide a waterproof covering. The most popular are discussed on the next page.

Pitched Roof

If single pitch roof (one flat sloping surface) is

placed on the hive with the higher side over the

entrance. After a rain shower the drips from the roof will not be over the entrance, so if your hive is in a climate like mine, the bees can spend more time foraging.

a climate like mine, the bees can spend more time foraging. Illustration 6: Pitched Roof Gabled

Illustration 6: Pitched Roof

Gabled Roof

This style of roof gives greater space above the top-bars allowing a larger feeder above the bees to be used. I've found that a lot of people find this roof more aesthetically pleasing in their garden.

Finish

The finish of the roof is probably the most important aspect as this determines how waterproof the roof is.

aspect as this determines how waterproof the roof is. Illustration 7: Gable Roof Paint A weatherproof

Illustration 7: Gable Roof

Paint

A weatherproof grade of paint over a good quality wood is the simplest weather

protection, but will need renewing regularly to avoid leaks.

Aluminium Sheet

I have used aluminium sheets recycled from the printing industry on the majority of hives. Folded over a ply-wood panel, they are light, long-lasting and completely waterproof (as long as joins and screw holes are sealed). From the right source, they are also cheap or even free!

Working with sheet metal will involve some tools that may not be in every DIY workshop, but aluminium is a soft metal and easy to bend.

workshop, but aluminium is a soft metal and easy to bend. Illustration 8: Aluminium covered roof

Illustration 8: Aluminium covered roof

Western Red Cedar

Water repellent wood shingles have been used for creating house roofs in parts of the world for centuries. A simpler option for a hive is to use planks instead of shingles. As long as they have a sufficient overlap and that overlap is sealed, the roof should give decades of service and is seen as a more attractive option where the hive becomes a feature of a garden. An annual coating of

option where the hive becomes a feature of a garden. An annual coating of Illu stration

Illu stration 9: Western Red Cedar Roof

linseed oil and beeswax will aid water repellency.

Plastic Sheet / Correx Sheet

The cheapest waterproof covering, but can be damaged easily!

Roofing Felt

This is easily obtainable, simple to apply and should last for years. It is also pliable and can easily fit any shape of roof. It's best glued into position as nailing it will result in leaks in time.

LEGS

The hive legs need to provide a stable hive. I've seen hives with legs made from 3”x1” timber, but the hive can rock and sway as the wood is quite flexible at this thickness. I prefer to use 3”x2”. Ensuring that the legs are adequately splayed results in a very stable hive (follow Phil's plans 2 ). If the hive is to be treated it is worth considering extra treatment of the bottom of the legs as these will be in contact with damp ground throughout their life. Alternatively, the hive legs can be placed on sacrificial wooden blocks or bricks to help preserve them.

OBSERVATION WINDOW

blocks or bricks to help preserve them. OBSERVATION WINDOW Illustration 10: View Through an Observation Window

Illustration 10: View Through an Observation Window

I've heard many times that an observation window doesn't help the bees. In my experience, it's a great benefit to bees cared for by a new beekeeper. Those inexperienced in our craft want reassurance that the bees are doing what bees should and as a result are tempted to open the hive and check far more than is good for the bees. A look through an observation window is far less intrusive. Indeed, if you can wait for night, a check using a

red light source (rear bicycle lamp) will not disturb the bees at all (bees cannot see the red end of the light spectrum).

HIVE FLOOR

A solid floor to a hive should be draught-proof, but the bees will be kept busy keeping it clean and the hive will have no easy ventilation. The correct floor design can also be used as a part of your Integrated Pest Management (IPM) system.

Varroa Mesh and Bottom Board

If you wish to count the natural drop of Varroa to assess the need for treatment, a Varroa mesh and a bottom board are needed.

The Varroa mesh should be should have holes large enough to allow the Varroa to drop through unhindered, but not allow access through to the bees or to external pests, like wasps. A hole of around 3mm square is ideal.

The bottom board is used to collect the Varroa for counting. I is also a means of covering the Varroa mesh to prevent wind and cold air disturbing the bees. I prefer to have a bottom board with a lip around it to prevent debris and dead Varroa being blown away on the breeze. A sticky bottom board will ensure that Varroa cannot return to the hive. This can be achieved by spreading some cooking oil on the board or a sheet of sticky paper can be placed on it.

on the board or a sheet of sticky paper can be placed on it. Illustration 11:

Illustration 11: Bottom Board lowered to show lip

on it. Illustration 11: Bottom Board lowered to show lip Illustration 12: Galvanized Varroa Mesh Deep

Illustration 12: Galvanized Varroa Mesh

Deep Floor 7

The Deep Floor is a relatively new concept in the world of top-bar hives. Briefly, the idea is to introduce a mini ecosystem into the lower part of the hive (an extension to the usual hive shape) that will help the bees cope with pests (Varroa in particular).

There is no need for checking Varroa count with this style of floor and there should be no need to treat for Varroa either. However it is possible to dust with icing sugar if evidence of Deformed Wing Virus (transmitted by Varroa) is seen.

For some, the idea of not being able to check for Varroa is negative, but colonies have been observing thriving in tree hollows where such mini ecosystems exist. Again this is trying to replicate nature.

FEEDING YOUR BEES

Ideally, there should be no need to feed honeybees, especially if there is no aim to remove the honey they create. However, in the real world of changing climate and unusual weather patterns, feeding is sometimes necessary to ensure the survival of your colony.

feeding is sometimes necessary to ensure the survival of your colony. Illustration 13: Deep Floor lowered

Illustration 13: Deep Floor lowered for clarity

Open feeding (outside of the hive) should be avoided as it can promote robbing of weaker colonies.

Feeding within the hive can be achieved in a number of ways. The simplest is a tray or bowl placed in the hive containing the sugar syrup. With this system, always float some straw of wood on the surface so that any bees that fall in can climb out again (they’re not great swimmers!). With this type of feeding the hive has to be opened each time the syrup is topped-up. If there is space in the hive the bowl could be placed the other side of a follower board with a hole in it to allow the bees access to the food. The hole can be blocked with a suitable cork or flap when not needed.

Used jam or honey jars filled with syrup and inverted with lids that have small perforations can be placed on a board that sits between a follower board and the hive end with mesh holes the size of the jar in them. A hole in the follower board (that can be closed with a cork when not feeding) gives the bees access to the food. When the jars are removed for

the bees access to the food. When the jars are removed for Illustration 14: Simple Jar

Illustration 14: Simple Jar Feeder

replacement the bees cannot escape beyond the mesh.

A top-bar (with no comb guide) can be adapted to match the slot in a commercially available feeder 8 . The feeder can be placed over the slot. The bees are then not disturbed when the feeder is replenished.

ENTRANCE LOCATION(S)

when the feeder is replenished. ENTRANCE LOCATION(S) Illustration 15: Feeder over Slotted Top-Bar This is really

Illustration 15: Feeder over Slotted Top-Bar

This is really about personal preference. Phil Chandler's original design has the entrances at the centre of one long side. The reason for this is that the colony can be checked at either end my removing a follower board and not disrupting the whole colony. However, if the colony expands to fill the hive, the honey combs have to be re-arranged at the end of the season to prevent the bees becoming separated from their stores during the winter. I personally feel this is another unnecessary intrusion in their life.

My preference is for the entrance to be towards the end of the long side. If there is one top-bar before the follower at the entrance end, the brood nest can still be easily accessed, but the stores will only be at one end of the hive.

In a 48 inch hive entrances can be toward both ends of the same long side, to facilitate a split (artificial swarm) in the one hive. To share the flying bees between the two halves of the split the hive is moved so that the entrances are equidistant from the original entrance position.

LANDING BOARD

A landing board is one thing I like that doesn't help the bees very much. They are quite capable of landing and taking off on surfaces that are vertical or beyond. However, a landing board offers a great opportunity to watch the bees and observe the pollen they are carrying. You can see whether drones are active more easily and observe guard bees in action. All you need to pass a few happy hours with a landing board are a comfortable chair and a cup of tea!