HIVE: What is the “Tanzanian Top-Bar Hive”?

(featured image: Lindsay Reynolds Top Bar Beehive)

13 November 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

If you live in North American, the U.K. or Australia, what you know as the Tanzanian top-bar hive is not so different from the Kenyan top-bar hive. Both hives are basically long box hives with top bars. The Tanzanian differs from the Kenyan top-bar in the body of the hive. The Tanzanian hive has straight sides instead of Kenyan’s sloped sides.

As in all top-bar hives, bars are placed above the interior of the hive to be used by bees to build hanging combs. The advantage of the removable bars is that these allow the beekeeper to inspect and remove individual combs without destroying the hive, injuring the bees or the colony. So, individual combs can be removed and the honey harvested without, otherwise, disturbing the colony or destroying the hive’s combs.

There have been several quite different “Tanzanian” beehives. Before 1960, beekeeping in Tanzania was little different in style than it was in the Southeastern United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Log hives, hollowed out logs, were adapted as hives. Sealed at the top, and otherwise almost inaccessible, harvesting honey meant destroying the hive and damaging the colony.

Then, around 1960, the Tanzanian government promoted the use of two new types of hives. The first was a sort of “long box” hive. The Tanzanian design was in the shape of a box, but differed from the familiar long-box hive in that it was closed on all four sides. In fact, it was something like a log hive turned on its side.

This long box hive’s innovation was a construction that caused the bees to build broodcombs near the inaccessible center of the box. The broodcombs are where the worker bees care for the queen’s eggs and nurture the young bees to maturity. Just as the hives encouraged the bees to build broodcombs in its center, the same construction caused the worker bees to store honey and pollen in combs near either end of the hive. Unlike the old log hives, the ends of these long boxes could be opened and the honey harvested without disturbing the colony or its brood. So, the colony and the hive could survive unharmed for many seasons of honey production.

The second design was, again, a long-box, but one that opened from above. Unlike the top-bar hive, in which bars are placed on top of the long open box, this hive’s open top was simply covered with a removable plank. The bees would build combs hanging from the top plank rather than on individual bars. The whole plank could be removed to inspect the combs and, hopefully, to harvest just the honeycombs with minimal damage to brood combs.

Then, the “Tanzanian Transitional Hive” was designed by G. Ntenga in 1972. This hive is called “transitional” because it replaced the plank top with bars. This new type of hive was now a top-bar hive. But, otherwise, it is quite distinct in terms of size and design from other types of top-bar hives.

Again, the modern “Tanzanian Transitional Hive” is distinctly different from the “Tanzanian” hive familiarly marketed in the North America, the U.K. and Australia which is, basically, a Kenya top-bar hive with straight instead of sloped sides.

What is the importance of a straight-sided top-bar hive in contrast to one with sloped sides. There are differences, to be sure, but I suspect the choice of the name, “Tanzanian,” has more to do with marketing than with the traditional hives of the nation of the same name.

After all, if variety is spice of life, it’s also the spice of beehive ownership. As the owner of “Tanzanian” beehive, you can do more than tell your friends about your new hive. You can confuse them with over-technical descriptions of its specifications and impress them with your specialized knowledge of an exotic tool of African apiculture.


About the Author

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s