Bee space and a screened bottom

Top-bar hive can be constructed in many different ways. If you look through some of the top-bar links on the right, you will see that they come in all shapes and sizes. There is one dimension that you have to respect however, and that is bee space. Bees naturally build comb with a set distance between them, and they also like this distance between the comb and the wall of the hive. This is commonly called bee space, and usually between 1/4-3/8″. Beekeepers will also tell you that the bees have the final say in what bee space is. The top-bars need to follow this dimension or the bees will be apt to build comb across separate bars (making it hard to remove them and work the hive). The top-bars I built are 1 1/4″ and 1 1/2″ (for brood and honey comb). The different sizes are because bees will build different width of comb depending and what its for. Comb widths can vary from a little more than 3/4″ to a little more than 7/8″. The width of the top-bars takes this into account. They have room for the comb in the middle (hopefully on the comb guide), with 1/2 bee space on each side. This way when two top-bars are next to each other there will be the proper bee space between the combs. The only problem comes at the ends of the hive. A spacer is needed to keep the bee space right. Here is a graphic to illustrate :

This using brood comb top-bars as an example and assumes 7/8″ wide comb to keep the numbers nice. In reality, there is a little leeway I think due to varying comb width and bee space. We want to keep it pretty close though. If you remember, I had to rip the brood top-bars down from 1 1/2″ to 1 1/4″. This left me a strip that was ~1/8″ thick. If I use 16 brood comb top-bars (1 1/4″) and 14 honey comb top-bars (1 1/2″), there is exactly enough room in my hive to put one of these 1/8″ strips at each end of the hive. They aren’t exactly 3/16″ like in the diagram, but they are close and I have bunch of them (and a 1/8″ spacer should create a bee space between 1/4″ and 3/8″ which seems a nice middle ground). Hopefully the bees will agree with my math and make nice straight comb for me. 🙂

As I mentioned before, one of the last things I needed to do was to attach a screened bottom above the removable one. This is made of #8 hardware cloth (1/8″ squares, small enough that the bees won’t get through). The screened bottom serves a few purposes. First, it allows Varroa mites that the bees might groom off to fall out of the hive. Second, it provides nice ventilation so the bees don’t have to work so hard in the summer to keep the hive cool. The ventilation can also help with moisture problems. The #8 hardware cloth for the screened bottom can be a little hard to find. Its not always stocked at home improvement or hardware stores, and this was the case when I looked around. Luckily, I was able to get some from Busy Bee Apiaries which is quite close to me. They distribute many of the most common products from Brushy Mountain Bee Farm (where I am getting my bees). They charge the same price, and since they are close there’s no shipping. On top of that, the Tapps just seem like real nice people. I got 3′ of 36″ wide #8 hardware cloth. This gives me some extra if I need any small pieces in the future. I cut and folded the hardware cloth to fit and then stapled it in place with 1/2″ staples. The hive is now complete. I may still make follower boards, but they are optional accessories. 🙂

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One Response to “Bee space and a screened bottom”

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