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Top Bar Bee Hive

Keeping bees in top bar hives is a practical and natural alternative to traditional, commercial beekeeping that is less invasive to the bees, and more in sync with the natural rhythms and life cycles of the bee colony. For backyard beekeepers interested in learning more about the ancient and mysterious ways of these fascinating creatures, top bar hives are an excellent choice. Essentially a long, trapezoidal wooden box with a series of wood bars across the top where the bees attach their comb, top bar hives closely resemble the hives that wild bees naturally build in hollow tree limbs. The worker bees create the hive’s honey comb to their own precise specification; a single cell perfectly encapsulating a pupal bee, and the full combs having just enough space for two bees to pass back to back between bars and around the edges of the hive. Beekeepers use dividers and extra bars to expand the hive during the spring and summer honey production season, and then compress the space in the autumn to give the bees a smaller area to heat for winter, and so the best chance for survival through the cold months. A built in feeder with two quart jars can be used when needed, which encourages hive health but discourages robbing from nearby hives, and a full-length viewing window on the side of the hive provides an opportunity for daily monitoring of the colony.

Top bar hives are very easy to work with since they can be opened up just a few bars at a time, which helps keep the bees calm and reduces the time required for an inspection of the hive. Individual combs can be removed, closely examined and photographed, which is really helpful, especially when working in the brood nest and trying to diagnose complex problems like mites or diseases. Having several top bar hives of the same size and design in the bee yard is also a great advantage, so that individual bars of honey comb or brood nest can be moved freely among the hives. These hives can be constructed easily and cheaply of practically any non-toxic material or recycled lumber, in a wide range of shapes and designs, provided there is enough flexible space within the hive to accommodate a thriving colony in summertime. A strong hive at the height of the season may have as many as 40,000 bees, up to twenty-two full combs and produce several gallons of honey. This is one of the oldest, most pragmatic and creative methods of keeping bees. It’s perfectly suited to a holistic approach to beekeeping that emphasizes the natural and organic, and prioritizes the well-being, health and long-term sustainability of the bee colony. Most importantly, these hives can provide bees a safe, natural and secure home to grow their colonies and survive in an increasingly industrialized and toxic suburban environment. The widespread adoption of noxious chemical fertilizers and herbicides, combined with the loss of natural habitats and open space in the urbanized population centers, has created enormous challenges for beekeepers, and a stubborn mindset of complacency in the public persists that’s actively working against the survival of the honeybee. Organic gardeners, naturalists, native plant enthusiasts, backyard beekeepers and other folks interested in the long-term goals of environmental restoration are using the latest science combined with the old-world knowledge of our ancestors, to create new ways of thinking about the way we live, and what we can do to build a bulkhead against the harsh realities of industrial pollution, over-development, gentrification and climate change.