The advantages of top bar hives are The disadvantages are
Top Bar Hives
Advantages of Top Bar Hives
Although the top bar hive is not a new concept (records suggest it has been used since the 17th century), the modern version has it's roots in 1960's Africa. It was designed for use particularly in Kenya (and for this reason is sometimes known as a Kenya hive).
Top bar hives are less complex in their construction than Langstroth type hives, and can be built from many different types of materials. This makes them particularly suited to developing countries where resources are scarce and beekeeping isn't yet so "industrialized".
These attributes are making the top bar hive more popular in the western world as well. If you intend to build your own beehives (as opposed to buying them ready built), their simplicity means that you will not need expensive carpenter tools or advanced skills.
If you intend to buy your hives, top bar hives are generally a much cheaper option. Again, their simplicity means that they are very few extra internal parts to buy. For example, with a top bar hive you do not use foundation wax. As well as being cheaper to buy, ongoing maintenance costs should also be lower.
Harvesting of honey from top bar hives is very simple. Because there are no frames, there is no need for a centrifugal spinner or other expensive honey harvesting equipment to extract the honey. You simply cut the honeycomb off, and either use it as comb honey, or else crush the honey comb and sieve it to produce liquid honey.
Since you 'harvest' the wax every season, the amount of wax produced from top bar hives is much greater than from Langstroth hives. The downside is that there will be less honey produced (see below), but beeswax is itself very valuable. It is used for making candles, furniture polish, soaps and cosmetics, and many other products.
The biggest drawback with top bar hives is the amount of honey produced. If managed properly, bees in a Langstroth type hive will produce much more honey than bees in a top bar hive. With Langstroth hives, the honeycomb is replaced after harvesting the honey every season, and so can be reused by the bees again and again.
But with a top bar hive, all the honeycomb is removed when harvesting the honey. This means the bees have to produce new wax to build honeycomb the next season. It is estimated that to produce 1lb of wax, bees will use 8lbs of honey, so honey production will suffer.
Also, since there are no frames to guide them, the honeycomb tends to be more freeform. Because of this, you may have problems like attachment to the side of the hive, and cross-combing (where bees build the honeycomb attached across several bars). However, modern top bar hives are carefully engineered to keep this problem to a minimum.
Because of the freeform nature of honeycomb building, top bar hives may require some more attention from the beekeeper to stop side attachment and cross combing before they become big problems. On the other hand, there are no supers to add or remove, so less work in this respect (although of course this is not the case with the Warre hive).
In any case, most hobbyist beekeepers enjoy "working their bees" so any extra time and labor may not be seen as a drawback of top bar hives.
Generally, top bar beekeepers often tend to take a less interventionist approach, content to let mother nature run her course. The emphasis is less on production and more on just enjoying the bees and the beekeeping for their own sake. If this sounds like you, then top bar beekeeping could be the right choice for you.
For more information about top bar beekeeping, including a great new natural beekeeping DVD, and for a range of quality top bar hives products, visit BackYardHive.com.
||Honey easy to harvest
||More hands on management
Easy Honey Harvesting
Disadvantages of Top Bar Hives
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A variant of the top bar hive is the Warre hive (pronounced war-ray). This was designed by French beekeeper Abbe Warre, and was intended to be as close as possible to the bees' natural home.
It is made up of a series of boxes (or supers) stacked on top of one another - just like a Langstroth hive. But unlike the Langstroth the supers do not contain frames, only top bars.
The bees instinctively start building comb at the highest point (in the top super) and work their way down through the supers one by one.
A Red Cedar Warre Hive
Traditionally more common in France, the Warre hive is now becoming increasingly popular among hobby beekeepers in other parts of the world. Well known natural beekeeper Nick Hampshire is a strong advocate of Warre beekeeping, and has written a free introductory guide to natural beekeeping with Warre hives, which is well worth a read.
Top bar hives are a totally different design of beehive. Whereas Langstroth type hives have full frames with 4 sides complete with wax foundation, a top bar hive just has bars along the top (hence the name). The bees build their own honeycomb on these bars, and this is removed completely at harvest time.
Top Bar Hive from BackYardHive.com