What is a Top-bar Hive?

The most common type of beehive (in the US at least) is by far the Langstroth hive. There are however other ways that you can keep bees. One of these “other” ways is a top-bar hive. Top-bar hives are not a new idea, but are still rare among beekeepers. The can be much simpler than Langstroth hives and have some advantages and some disadvantages.Unlike a Langstroth hive, there are no “standard” designs or specifications for a top-bar hive. Its more like a class of hives, and each hive is often a unique design of the person who built it. The basic idea of a top-bar hive is very simple. You have some type of structure with a cavity, like a box, that is open on the top. Across the top of this box are placed bars that butt up against each other to close off the top of the cavity. Bee like a set “bee space” between their comb (about 3/8″). The bars are usually made to be 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ thick to accommodate the thickness of the comb and the “bee space” so that the bees should build their comb hanging centered on each bar. You want them to build the comb centered on each bar so that you can lift each bar out individually and inspect the comb. To help the bees build the comb on each bar, most people provide some type of guide for the bees. This can be a groove with wax in it, a piece of wood coming to a point along the bottom, or a thin strip of wax foundation. These top-bars are usually covered by some type of roof to be more weather tight. Somewhere, there is an opening that lets the bees in and out. Thats pretty much it. It leaves a lot of room for people to design different types of top-bar hives. If you check out Dennis Murrell’s website, you can see pictures of lots of different TBH’s.

The most common types of top-bar hives come from African designs. They commonly either have vertical sides (called Tanzanian TBH’s) or sloped sides (called Kenyan TBH’s). As you can see from the pictures of my hives, they are the Kenyan style. Some people claim that the sloped sides of Kenyan style hives cuts down on the amount that the bees attach their comb to the sides (any attachment to the sides much be cut before the bar can be removed). Others claim it doesn’t make a difference in the amount of attachment to the sides. One thing it definitely does do is make the comb easier to handle. Since the comb is not as wide at the bottom, it is easier to lift out of the hive without it hitting the sides. It also means that the combs don’t get as heavy and end up with weakened corners at the bottom.

I chose to begin beekeeping in top-bar hives for a few reasons.

  • I get to design and build the hives. I like the idea of making something original.
  • They can be built pretty cheaply (I could have gone cheaper if I went simpler)
  • Once built, the hives are complete. There are no additional supers to add and store like with Langstroth hives.
  • The bees get to build their natural comb, in whatever size they want to.
  • Harvest is simple and efficient – just cut the honeycomb off and take it. Liquid honey can be gotten using a crush and strain method.
  • I just like trying things in different ways. 🙂

2 Responses to “What is a Top-bar Hive?”

  1. Will Says:

    These top bar hives are fantastic! They look great. I never realized there was an alternative to Langstroth Hives.

  2. Christy Hemenway Says:

    Here’s another option for green, simple, and sustainable top bar beekeeping equipment…


    Better for Bees, Better for the Beekeeper, Better for the Planet!!!

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