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Customer Review

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great in theory, but tricky in practice, 21 Mar. 2011
This review is from: The Barefoot Beekeeper (Paperback)
I have built a topbar hive (to Phil's design in this book) and have had a colony of bees in it for 9 months. I also keep regular hives.

The colony survived one of the coldest winters ever - with the open mesh floor open to the elements. Proof (if any were needed) that bees don't mind cold. It's damp that they don't like, and the OMF certainly provides a lot of ventilation.

But .... I have some practical issues with the design.

1. Despite being exactly to the spec, the bees built comb across the bars and stuck it to the side of the hive inside. This means that that comb cannot be removed to be inspected. If you are unconcerned about whether your bees are a source of disease for other hives in the area, this is fine. But a conscientious beek should do their best to ensure a healthy hive - and you can't do that if you can't remove the comb for inspection.

2. Despite the use of a circular saw and really careful construction, it's a bit tricky to get the internal end-stops to be bee-proof.

3. If you want to treat for varroa (and most beeks do), it's not easy because there is no top-bee-space on which to put the thymol (a natural substance, before anyone gets too excited.)

4. For the same reason, it's quite hard to feed the bees. You need to be quite ingenious and adept at handiwork.

Summary. Topbar hives are best undertaken by skilled woodworkers and skilled beekeepers, not beginners. And if it's honey you're after, go for regular hives.

Addendum: 11.09.2011
My top bar colony died. It was the only colony that I was unable to treat for varroa and it was the only colony that died. Anecdotal, rather than convincing scientific, proof of my previous review.

I am interested that most positive reviewers have not actually kept bees!

I really do have an open mind and I love to try different methods, probably before I am proficient enough to do so.

I expect there to be a backlash against top bar/Kenyan hives because they are more difficult to manage than conventional hives. So new beeks will find that they have more dead colonies that their conventional colleagues.

But if your Darwinian goal is bees that evolve to resist varroa, then your dead colonies will contribute to evolution of the european bee. Good luck with that! You will need a lot of patience and a long life :-) And a lot of dead bees.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Nov 2011 12:03:54 GMT
P. Hatcher says:
Sorry to hear that your TBH colony perished. But I'd like to comment on your assertions.

1. You had cross combing because your guides were not good enough. Had you have spotted this earlier you could have tried different guides and got the bees to follow them. I fully agree that comb needs to be inspected. Comb can easily be cut were joined to the side of the hive. I have two TBHs and have little difficulty inspecting the comb. I'd rather have the bees build their own comb rather than using contaminated foundation.
2. I agree. But the bees will propolise any small gaps anyway. And if the gap is really big you could always use a little imagination and fill the gap.
3. There are many other treatments for varroa than thymol. I know sugar dusting is oft mentioned. Also it's just as easy as a traditional hive to hang any impregnated strips on the bars.
4. Depends on the feeder. I have built feeders into my followers. Or you can just use a tray with syrup and a landing slope for the bees and place under the colony. It's not rocket science.

TBHs are perfect for beginners. If you can put shelves up you can build a TBH and keep bees for a fraction of the cost and paraphanlia of "conventional" beekeeping.

I've worked on Nationals and TBHs and I prefer TBHs for their simplicity, cost and lack of foundation.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2012 14:13:49 BDT
Master Chef says:
So whats the issue, with turning your top bars into a frame so they cant build to the side, or the side will become your frame etc. a bit more work in making, but so be it... Is there an issue with this idea. as as far as i can tell this is the only difference in the structure.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Oct 2012 15:05:43 BDT
You suggest that sides are added to the top bar? So the frame will be part of a triangle. Or perhaps a trapezium (Top and bottom parallel but of different lengths, the sides at an angle to the top). And I have to make 10 or so of these? Mmm, why don't you make an example that I can copy :-)

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Oct 2012 18:18:29 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Oct 2012 18:35:13 BDT
Master Chef says:
Ok no problem, if you really can't do it yourself I will be happy to give you a plan and pictures of finished article, as I am making some this week.
There is no difference to me, to making a STD frame i.e. join 4 pieces of wood than making a frame for a Top Bar Hive, which also has 4 pieces of wood, apart from the bottom bar being shorter. You can use the exactly same join methods, and I have seen a few, you can butt join, bridle join whatever you want.
You can add wax sheets, wire, no difference, and this is what I will be using. I have to say this is not a challenge for me. I really don't understand what you think is difficult about it. It's exactly the same amount of work, as you need to cut 4 pieces of wood to length, then you cut four joins? I'm not suggesting you make 10, when you can make 20 or 30, or 5 just make whatever you need.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jan 2013 09:38:03 GMT
D. S. Trees says:
Did you make the top bars with the side "bits" as described? How did it work out for you Master Chef. Perhaps Mr Summers was a little uncomfortable with doing wood work and power tools? Rather than being uncreative or scared to innovate which is always a good thing of course. I would love to see you plans and results.

How is the honey working for you as a Chef?

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2013 17:56:24 GMT
Life's too short to make trapezoidal frames to within 2mm tolerances. Even a skilled cabinet-maker would tire of that. The point of TBH is that: a) they are "natural" (the bees draw comb to their own needs, not imposed by the pattern on the foundation); and b) that topbars are simple and cheap (and indeed they are). So the notion of making frames to fit a TBH with sloping sides is complete nonsense, particularly when you can buy regular frames for about £1 each. It fits with neither point (a) nor point (b) above.

I quote Adrian and Claire Waring's book (The Haynes Bee Manual). They are both extremely experienced and lecture on beekeeping. <quote> TBH ... is a workable design but I would recommend that you don't try them until you've first gained some experience of working with bees and have learnt the first principles of how they operate, as [the TBH] requires different management strategies and much of what you read in basic beekeeping books won't apply to them. <unquote>.

Not sure bees "operate", but I agree with Adrian and Clare.
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