6 November 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

The Kenyan Top-Bar Hive is a variation of the horizontal top-bar Hive. The Kenyan’s name is often abbreviated with the acronym, “KTBH.”

In nature, a colony of honeybees will build a structure, a shelter, called a beehive. When bees are “kept” by “beekeepers” for commercial purposes, special pre-built hives are provided for the bees. For many centuries, commercial beekeeping was devoted to honey production. But over the last 40 years, the market has changed.

Now, beekeepers rent the services of their honey bees as pollinators. That is, honey bees pollinate flowers so that the blossoms will produce seed. This seed, in turn, will produce the next year’s crop.

Seasonally, many beekeepers transport their hives over long distances to areas in which pollination services are needed. So, commercial beehives must be easy to move. The Langstroth hive is the most popular with commercial beekeepers because it offers convenience in honey production and mobility

The Kenyan Top Bar Hive isn’t mobile. So, this hive is of little interest to commercial beekeepers renting out their bees for pollination.  But, the KTBH is an extremely popular design among commercial beekeepers exclusively engaged in honey production as well as with amateur beekeepers interested in honey for their own personal use.



The KTBH is basically a long wooden box. But, unlike the typical commercial hive, which uses frames that slide in and out like drawers, the KTBH hive uses bars. Wooden bars are inserted so that they extend across the top of the box. Honeybees will use the bars to build honeycombs (and brood combs in which they raise their young).

The bees use the bars as a base from which they build downward. This produces honeycombs hanging from individual bars. When the bees have built a full comb and stocked it with honey, the bar holding that comb can be removed and the honey harvested. Then, the empty bar is replaced, and the bees will begin to build and restock another comb with honey.

The KTBH is quite different from the ancient Greek style of beehive, but many have compared the two because both use bars. Each of these hives, the Greek and KTBH, has an entirely different shape and dimensions requiring quite different maintenance practices. But each uses removable bars in a similar way placing them above the open container holding the bee colony. In both, bees are encouraged to build honeycomb’s hanging from the bars. And, the bars will, later, be removed to harvest the honey.

The history of the KTBH is a bit of a surprise. The prototype of the Kenyan hive was developed entirely in Canada. Dr’s Maurice Smith and Gordon Townsend of the Canadian University of Guelph developed what is now called the KTBH under the sponsorship of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

How did Kenya get into the act?

The actual hives were first used in a project in Kenya. Popular and successful, the “Kenyan” hives gained their reputation while they were exclusively used in that country. Kenyan fans of the new hive raved about it in the media. And . . . one can’t help wondering if this didn’t help the early marketing of the hive in North America and Europe. After all, who wants a hive developed down the street, when you can own a strange and exotic beehive from Africa?

The hive changed in a number of ways during its first use in Kenya. There are more than a few mean and aggressive animals in Africa who like honey every bit as much of as the American and European honey bear. So, the KTBH was designed to hang from trees or poles. This made it more difficult for the largest honey robbers to reach the hive and, also, protected the hive from invasion by a variety of large and aggressive ground-crawling insects.

But, you don’t have to hang this hive. Different versions use legs. Other versions change the shape and dimensions of the original KTBH. Custom designed and built hives are extremely popular particularly with first-time, amateur beekeepers.

After all, a custom built hive can allow the owner a degree of personal expression. The ideal, individual design can accent the appearance of the owner’s home and landscaping. That is why so many ignore a piece of good advice: buy mass manufactured KTBH hives of a standard size with standardized parts.

A warning.

Custom built hives are wonderful, until a necessary part breaks in the middle of a season. Then, the original builder, or an artisan of equivalent skill, must be found to hand-make a replacement. Custom parts are expensive and, when they must be built very quickly, the buyer is put in a poor position to negotiate the best price.

In other words, those who can’t resist custom designs would be well advised to take up a second hobby after beekeeping – carpentry.

M Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri

& Belleville, Illinois

About the Author

























HIVE: What is a “Virgin Queen Bee”?

26 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

            Only with reproduction is a honey bee of the “queen” type recognized by a colony’s bees as “their queen.” In one sense, the term “virgin queen bee” describes a queen honey bee before she, “formally,” becomes queen of the colony.

Because of diet, “queen” honey bees develop differently than most of the “brood” (young bees) in a hive. The key difference is that, normally, only queen bees are able reproduce. However, before mating and reproduction, a very active and “cut-throat” competition among the young queens of a colony ends with only one surviving “queen.”

But, until that surviving queen mates, she is not recognized by the colony’s bees as the “queen.” In fact, with reproduction, the young queen produces a special pheromone. That pheromone gives her an odor that causes the rest of the colony’s bees to “recognize” her as the one and only queen.

            A “queen bee” is the “queen” of a colony of honey bees. Honey bees live in colonies and build rather complex structures called hives. A queen is the mother of all of the hive’s population including the (female) “worker bees” and (male) “drone” bees. So, in each colony, there is only one reproductive female. That female is called the queen.

So, you have wonder. What does it take to become the queen? Surprisingly, the queens are selected by the worker bees themselves. The queen’s eggs are cared for by the worker bees. After the eggs have hatched, the young bee larvae continue to be raised by worker bees.

The members of the brood (young bees of the colony and hive) are raised in comb — not unlike a honeycomb. But the separate “brood comb” is used only to house the young bees — the members of the growing brood. As the worker bees nurture the brood, they select certain larvae and feed them a special diet of special food. The diet causes these larvae to develop into reproductive queen bees.

From there, the young queen’s life becomes an adventure. With the hatching of the new young queens, the old queen may depart the hive with a “swarm.” That is, the old queen will leave with some, but not all, of the workers in the hive. The swarm will find a new location. There, they will build a new hive and form a new colony. When you find out what happens next, you’ll understand why the old queen, sometimes, wants to “get out of town” as fast as possible.

The first young hatching “virgin” queens to emerge from their “cells” will hunt out any other young queens and try to kill them. Young queens don’t fight fair. Rivals will be stung to death as they are emerging from the cells of the brood comb. Sometimes, not content to wait for their potential rivals to actually emerge from their brood cells, young queens will burrow into existing cells and to sting the resident-rival to death.

Although the old queen may have left with a swarm of followers to form a new colony, the process may be repeated with yet another swarm leaving the colony with a group of (surviving) young queens. The group of young queens will get along until the new colony is established. But once the colony is formed, the virgin queens will have the same type of cut-throat power struggle as they did when they first emerged from their cells. They will fight to the death until there is only one left.

Then, the last virgin queen will mate. After mating, the queen bee releases a pheromone that causes the colony’s worker bees to recognize her as the only queen. And all will be well, until new queen becomes too old or ill to reproduce. With the queen’s illness or infertility, the worker bees (the queen’s former “loyal” subjects) will turn on her. The workers will patiently wait until a new young queen bee has hatched. Then, they will crowd around the old queen so densely that she cannot escape. Finally, the worker bees will sting the old queen to death.

All-hail the new queen!






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