Wednesday 23 February 2011

Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive - part 1

Part 1 - Getting Started

This 'Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive' section is divided into 5 parts:
  • Part 1 - Getting Started - this page
  • Part 2 - Constructing your hive body - quick link
  • Part 3 - Completing your hive - quick link
  • Part 4 - Making the top bars - quick link
  • Part 5 - Adding comb guides - quick link
On this page:
  • What is a horizontal top bar hive? 
  • Getting the plans 
  • Useful additions
      1. What is a horizontal top bar hive?
      A horizontal top bar hive is basically a long empty box which imitates the natural space bees might find in an empty tree trunk where the tree has fallen. 

      The majority of horizontal hives in the UK have sloping sides and are also known as Kenyan hives due to their prevalence in Kenya where they were reintroduced and developed as a cheap efficient hive alternative for subsistence farmers.  An alternative straight sided horizontal hive version, known as a Tanzanian hive, can also be used though this is not very popular in the UK where we have a cool climate. The sloping sides of a Kenyan hive allows the bees the maximum space to build their comb which they naturally hang in a catenary shape (see side picture) without requiring them to fill out the corners with comb to keep in the heat.

      In nature bees tend to choose to build their nests in conical rather than square shapes and the horizontal hive allows them to do this.

      Horizontal hives have been in use for thousands of years - there are even examples in use in ancient Egypt around 2400 BC - follow this link. For the past hundred years they fell out of popularity being for the most part replaced by the now near internationally standard hive developed in the USA in the Victorian era by Rev. Langstroth. The Langstroth hive with its UK variants the National, Smith, Commercial and WBC hives so efficiently allowed man to intensively farm bees for their honey and other hive products.

      It is only relatively recently that horizontal hives have started to enjoy an upsurge of popularity as we have become more in tune with natural methods and beekeepers began to question the intensive farming practices of the modern hive and attribute some of the bees recent health problems to its practices and equipment.

      Today beekeepers are looking at how we can simplify beekeeping and give the bees what they would choose for themselves to flourish rather than thinking 'we know best', intensively managing them and treating them as a commodity to exploit. The simplicity of the horizontal hive makes it an ideal choice for any beekeeper seeking to practice natural methods. Additionally it is simple and cheap to make so removing the necessity to harvest and sell as much honey as possible to recover the not inconsiderable investment in a Langstroth type hive.

      2. Getting the plans
      The most common top bar hive in use in the UK today is designed by Phil Chandler, a Devon beekeeper who has practiced horizontal top bar hive beekeeping for over seven years. Phil has made the plans to his simple hive design freely available for download on the internet and you can download his plans here and it is these plans that I will be using on these pages.

      He has also written the Barefoot Beekeeper which I consider to currently be the best book on managing and using the horizontal top bar hive which you can order on his website here for £12.98 (as at March 2010). f you are building and taking up horizontal top bar beekeeping then this publication should be on your bookshelf, or rather well thumbed beside your bed!

      3. Useful adaptations
      Whilst I shall be using Phil's top bar hive plans as our main guide I also suggest a couple of additional 'extras' which are outlined on these pages. These extras I have added on my own versions of his hives as I think they make it far easier for the novice beekeeper. The extras include:
      • a viewing window to allow you to peep at your bees for a quick check on progress without opening the hive, 
      • a removable sump floor. This can be used to hold a sawdust/leaf mix to replicate the base of a natural tree cavity. Other beneficial organisms such as earwigs and micro-organisms will inhabit this floor and provide a living ecosystem below the bees. The sump floor can also be used to fit a varroa removable mesh screen & tray to allow you to monitor varroa without opening the hive. NB: I no longer recommend varroa monitoring/treatment but you may feel differently. Also any varroa screen & tray must be removed when not monitoring as there should be no part of the hive that the bees can't reach. 
      • front/back rims to contain any empty top bars and allow the roof to be hinged for both convenience and to provide an additional barrier between you and the flying bees when you are carrying out full inspections. 
      • end entrances, rather than central, to make your inspections, management and harvesting easier. 

      Of course it will be for you to decide whether you wish to incorporate these adaptations into your own hive or not. The following directions presume that you will but if not just leave out the relevant bits.

      © Robin Morris - YABeeP 

      Go to Part 2 - Constructing your hive body

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