Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Making a Horizontal Top Bar Hive - part 3

Part 3 - Completing your horizontal hive
(Click here for Part 1 - Getting Started)

On this page:
  • Fitting varroa tray & drawer 
  • Fitting the window 
  • Making a roof 
  • Attaching the legs 
  • Treating the outside 
  • Making/preparing the Top bars 
  • Adding a landing board 
  • Weathering your hive
1. Fitting the varroa tray & drawer
If you wish to monitor for varroa you will need to fit a varroa tray and draw below your hive.

NB:  2012 Update - I no longer recommend the fitting of varroa screens in hives as I believe that monitoring varroa is unnecessary; all it tells you is how many dead varroa are falling to the floor. Many interpret this as a rise in varroa infection so open their hive and treat their bees. However, it may also just mean the bees are getting effective at killing varroa - if you open the hive and disturb the bees with treatments you could actually be knocking back their good progress. If you don't monitor, you won't be panicked into a 'what shall I do?' situation - trust your bees!

 If you do make add a varroa screen, make sure that the mesh screen is removable or include an access point in the screen that the bees can use to get under the screen if they wish. Without this you provide a space in the colony that the bees cannot access, which is where wax moth and other nasties are able to breed and harm your bees. Let the bees police and deal with problems in all parts of their colony.

I do, however, recommend that you fit the tray floor shown below (with all four sides added without removable varroa tray) as you can then sprinkle a small layer of sawdust and dry leaves there. This allows other beneficial microbes and insects to set up home providing a natural hive ecosystem.

The tray has 3 sides attached, the fourth is loose so you can attach it to your tray – more on this below.

The tray should be attached to the bottom of the hive. You can just screw it to the bottom if you wish, but the best solution is to attach it using 2 hinges as in the diagram as this will also allow you both look up into the colony from below should you need to check and also pump icing sugar up if you get high varroa levels. In extreme hot weather you could also open the floor to ventilate the hive though you must bear in mind that doing so will interfere with the colony's management - personally I would NOT recommend opening for ventilation as bees understand the thermodynamics of a hive far better than we can ever hope to and have managed on their own for >30m years without our help.

Attach the hinges so it swings towards the front (the non-window side) and get a simple hook and eye clip from your hardware shop to attach the swinging end closed.

Now cut a piece of thin material (hardboard, plastic sheeting as used in 'house for sale' signs, etc.) to fit inside the tray to make the drawer. Attach one end of the draw to the forth side so when it is closed the tray has 4 sides closing it – see picture. You can then slide out the tray to monitor varroa, a subject which we will cover at a later meeting.

2. Fitting the window 
This presumes that you have already cut a window slot in the back of your hive during construction - i.e. the opposite side to the bees entrance. Now cut a piece of glass or perspex to neatly fit inside this hole with just a couple of millimetres at most to spare around it.

Now get some dowelling about 1/4” square (shown in yellow on side sketch - click to enlarge) to stick/tack around the inside of the window. Position the dowel in place so that it is twice the thickness of the perspex measured from the INSIDE of the hive. Then put a bead of sealant (green) around this dowling and sit the perspex (blue) on it so that it is flush with the inside wall of the hive – in the sketch the inside of the hive is on the right.

Finally fit a window cover to keep the window closed and the bees in the dark where they like to be. You simply need to cut a piece of timber at least 12mm wider than the window on all sides, attach it with 2 hinges at the bottom then use a bolt or catch on the top to keep it closed - see picture below.

3. Making a roof
There are many designs and you need to choose your own – how simple or fancy you make it is up to you. To see some examples do a 'Google image' search using “top bar hive roof” and you'll see many options.

For all roof types you need a simple 4 sided frame that fits on the sides and front/back rims of your hive body – I suggest that this frame need to be a minimum of 3” high to allow space for winter insulation and keeping tools, etc. inside your hive. The simplest design just attaches a flat sheet to the top of this frame to give a flat roof. If you want a pitch roof then make the ends to give the slope or shape you choose. However you construct it make sure that your roof overhangs the frame by at lease 2” to 3" all around to keep the rain away from the hive body.

You can use any material for the roof from plastic sheet, 'for sale' signage, through hardboard and felt to timber or slate tiles or even thatch – use your imagination! I recommend that you hinge it at the front (i.e. the side the bees use) so when the roof is lifted you have an additional barrier between you and the flying bees.

4. Attaching the legs 
The hives are quite heavy so you need substantial legs to support it. I suggest 2”x2” or 3”x2” legs which you need to bolt or glue & screw to the sides as shown in the illustration. I use the brace pieces from pallets as they are strong, free and environmentally friendly as you are recycling.

In my view bolting the legs to the hive is preferable as it is more secure and allows them to be removed to ease transporting should you ever need to move your hive. You can also loosen the bolts and adjust the rake of individual legs to compensate for uneven ground.

Finally,  stand the legs on brick rather than grass to help prevent damage from damp. If you have a major ant or similar insect problem (not common in UK) then stand each leg in a pot of recycled oil to provide a protective moat.

5. Weather treating the outside 
Only treat the outside of the hive, the bees take care of the inside themselves far better than we could with a coat of propolis and other bee products. As new timber is often damp from it's treatment and storage before you bought it, for example it may still be wet from the tanalising (pressure treatment) process, I wouldn't recommend treating the outside until it has had at least one month to dry out after your manufacture.

Once you are happy that it is sufficiently dry and aired then you can treat the outside if you wish to protect it from the elements or even decorate it, though many modern timbers don't need treating as their manufacture gives the timber the protection it needs. If you wish to colour your hive then use a plant friendly wash – the kind you can spill on plants without it harming/burning them – a lot of modern fence/shed treatments are suitable or use a whitewash. Remember some external emulsions have fungicides added to stop mould growth so best not to use them – read the tin before using. Also many gloss finishes won't let the hive timber 'breathe'.

Painting colours/patterns around the bees entrance can be fun and is believed by some to help them recognise home though I've yet to see a naturally painted tree in the wild!

6. Making/preparing the Top bars 
The top bars are the key part of your horizontal top bar hive (the clue's in the name!) so two further pages have been added to this section advising on their preparation. I suggest that you finish you hive first so that it can start weathering before making the top bars. However, if you are in a rush to make them go to Part 4 here.

7. Adding a landing board
Let me be clear the bees don't need a landing board for their own use as they will happily fly straight in or land on the hives overhanging side without a second thought. However, if you think you will enjoy watching and photographing your bees they will happily alight on a landing board if fitted so it makes a useful addition for your benefit to observe your bees. You can also paint your boards different colours if you have more than one hive to save them any confusion as to which hive they have arrived at!

To fit a landing board just glue & screw a small board about 1” x 6” x ½” immediately below the main entrance holes as in the illustration.

8. Weathering your hive 
As stated above new timber can still be damp or have chemical residues from its manufacture and storage process. It is therefore very important to allow it to dry out and vent off any noxious gasses in the wood, glue and any sealant you use to fit the window  before the bees go in - in other words it needs to weather. Ignore this stage at your peril or you risk your new bees absconding or worse being poisoned.

To weather your hive simply place it outside as soon as you have made the main body, you don't need to wait until you've built the roof as rain won't hurt it, in fact it will help vent gasses as it wets then dries after rainfalls. Leave the floor tray hanging open to further assist ventilation. It may also be useful to leave sticking in the window glass/perspex until last so that the air can circulate through the open hole.

Once you have made your roof you can fit it and the hive should start to fully dry out. The longer it gets before the bees go in the better. Once fully weathered you are now ready for your bees.

© Robin Morris - YABeeP

(Go to Part 4 - Making your Top Bars


Tom Warren said...

Great info, Robin! The perfect supplement to Phil Chandler's instructions.

Here are a couple of additional suggestions about the top bars from my own experience building them:
1)It's a good idea to make ALL your hives to the same dimension at the top; meaning all the top bars are the same length. That way you will be able to switch top bars and combs between your hives as needed for splits, brood increase, supplementing honey stores, etc.
1a) If one makes the top bars a bit longer than 17", they can transfer over to Langs. This will make you a bigger hit with your "traditional" beek colleagues who will soon want your 'treatment free' successful Natural Beekeeping bees after all their bees die from over-treatment. One can simply transfer over a few 17-3/4" or 18" top bars full of brood to a standard Lang nuc and give it as a present to that cute little blond traditional beekeeper you might meet at the Association meetings .... ;-)

2)I too have found your 'lollipop' coffee-stirrer starter strip design to be best and lots less messy or dangerous in preparation that those hot-wax-melted-in-the-groove methods. One can indeed rub beeswax along the strip, or ignore the wax altogether. My bees don't seem to care, and they build nice straight comb.

3) Exterior construction plywood now is mostly made with soy and organic resins, so it is safe to use in construction of hives for those who are worried about off-gassing.

Great post Robin! Very Helpful!

YABeeP said...

Thanks Tom. All your additional advice is sound, thank you. With you point 3) I still wouldn't use ply though as it doesn't 'breathe'. To me natural beekeeping = natural timber.