HIVE: What is a “Top Bar Hive”?

12 June 2014

The Short Answer (TSA)

In nature, a colony of honey bees will build a structure, a shelter, called a beehive.  But all honey bees are not “in nature.”  Bees are “kept” by “beekeepers” for commercial purposes.

Until about 40 years ago, bees were kept for honey production.  Now, beekeepers rent the services of their honey bees as pollinators.  That is, honey bees pollinate flowers so that the blossoms will produce seed.  These seeds, in turn, will produce the next year’s crop.

Commercial beekeepers have long used special hives built for their bees.  These hives, like the extremely popular Langstroth hive, are designed for honey production.  But the Langstroth hives are also mobile.  So, these hives serve when beekeepers are selling their bees’ services for pollination.

But some “commercial” beekeepers still limit their “commerce” to honey production.   Also, amateurs, and there are many, keep bees and harvest the honey for personal use.  Few, if any, amateurs would ever take on the task of transporting their bees for pollination services – a difficult task.

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


Top Bar Hive

The Top Bar hive is basically a wooden box.  But, unlike commercial hives, which use frames that slide in and out like drawers, the Top Bar 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 begin building from one of the cross-bars at the top of the box and, using beeswax, build combs composed of six-sided cells.   The bees build the combs downward hanging from each individual bar.

Soon, when the bees have built a full comb and stocked it with honey, the bar holding that comb will be removed and the honey harvested.  Then, the empty bar is replaced, and the bees will begin building another comb and, if the next comb is also a honeycomb, the bees will restock it with honey, again.

Early versions of the Top Bar hive date back to ancient Greece where bars were laid across the top of baskets which served as artificial hives.  Then, as now, the bees would build combs hanging from the individual bars.

But the modern Top Bar hive was developed in the mid-1960’s.   As the use of these hives spread, they were often referred to as “Grecian” hives.  Since that time, several new names have been given to different types of Top Bar hives.   Sometimes, the names don’t exactly match the “history” of the hive’s development.  The “Kenyan” Top Bar hive, for example, was actually developed in Canada.


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