Top Bar Beehive Guide – How to Maintain this Hive

Last weekend, I installed my first top bar hive. I have been planning and building the hive for a couple of months so I was excited to move a recently captured swarm into this hive and see how they do. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d planned. I’ve included lots of pictures here to show off my hive, and then I’ll describe what happened.

The roof of my hive was made with a bundle of cedar shingles that cost about $10 at my local lumber store. I made a ridge cap out of some old aluminum that I had lying around.

top bar beehive

I decided to build a window on my hive so that I can open it up and see the bees without disrupting the colony. I built the window out of thick glass instead of Plexiglas because it won’t warp in the heat and is much more natural of a product than plastic to have inside the hive.

Most of the hive was built using 1″ x 12″ pine material but the follower boards were made from plywood. The design roughly follows Phil Chandler’s top bar hive design, available for free. I also included a screened bottom on the hive using a #8 screen that has 1/8″ openings.

As an added bonus on my screened bottom, I constructed a second bottom that sits roughly 1″ below the screen and has a removable tray that pulls out easily to discard Varroa and other debris from the hive.

The entrance to the hive is a 1¼” hole that I drilled while I was on-site after the hive was situated and set up properly. The bees had no problem finding and using this entrance immediately.

I used some small flagstones to keep the legs of the hive off the ground.

Disaster Strikes

After setting up my top bar hive, I started moving bars of drawn comb from my top bar swarm trap to the full-size hive. The first few bars were perfectly drawn and completely straight, but by about the 7th bar, I noticed that the drawn comb was beginning to curve a tiny bit off the bars. By the 11th bar, the comb started on one bar and then curved onto the adjacent bar, making it nearly impossible to pull out the bars cleanly, without ruining the comb.

I initially solved this problem by simply separating the part of the comb that was curved from the bar, and then gently placing it in the hive, ensuring that the wax was straight under the bar. I had to trim more and more of the comb off the bar, and finally, by the 14th bar, I had trimmed too much. The entire drawn comb of capped brood fell off into the hive! Oh no! Then as I was packing up the hive, two more combs fell off. And as I was trying to repair those, a fourth comb fell off! Complete disaster!

It was at this point that I took a breather, stepped away from the hive, and tried to determine the best course of action. I had 4 fallen combs with brood and a lot of angry bees circling me. I didn’t have any tools to successfully repair the comb but I remembered a tip that I had just learned in my current beekeeping read. You can move fallen comb to the back of the top bar hive, separated by sticks to leave room for brood to hatch. After the brood hatches, you can remove the old wax. So that’s exactly what I did:

My first ever top bar hive installation could have gone a lot smoother, and I’m not sure if there was a better way to deal with the cross-combing within the hive. I’ve since researched some better solutions for preventing cross-comb in the first place, which I will be certain to start implementing right away. I’ve also read of ways to try and repair comb that falls off like this, so I may be adding a few more tools to my beekeeping kit for future visits.

This is counted as a strike against top bar beekeeping in my opinion. This was one of the harder things I’ve ever had to deal with while beekeeping. If this was my first time ever handling bees, it would have been overwhelming. But I walk away with another notch on my belt and I’m glad that I experienced this. I’ll now be better prepared for the future.

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