Beekeeping equipment decisions: Kenyan Top Bar Hive, part 1.

I started out last year learning about beekeeping by listening to podcasts. And Phil Chandler’s Barefoot Beekeeper podcast was a big influence on me in the first few months of my journey and worth checking out if you’re thinking at all about keeping horizontal top bar hives.

A top bar hive is a hive that uses top bars, not frames. Frames have support around the comb, and a top bar is just a bar usually with a guide or cleat across the top and the bees build comb that hangs down from it.

This is a top bar with comb starting on it. There is no frame around the comb.
This is a top bar with comb starting on it. There is no frame around the comb. (PS that’s me)

This is a frame - it has an edge all the way around it and the bees build comb to fill it out.
This is a frame – it has an edge all the way around it and the bees will build comb to fill it out.

The three top bar hives I have heard of (although I’m SURE there are more) are the Kenyan Top Bar Hive, the Tanzanian Top Bar Hive and the Warre hive. The first two are horizontal hives, meaning all the top bars are on one level and as the hive grows, it extends horizontally. The Kenyan Top Bar Hive has slanted sides and I’ve heard this minimizes attachment of the comb to the sides of the hive.

This is my Kenyan Top Bar Hive.
This is my Kenyan Top Bar Hive.

The Tanzanian Top Bar Hive has vertical sides and, I read in “Top-Bar Beekeeping” by Les Crowder and Heather Harrell and heard other places, that the bees will attach their comb more to vertical walls which is inconvenient for the beekeeper. I have no pics of a Tanzanian TBH , but you can see some really interesting ones if you search for images on the interwebz (I don’t want to steal anyone’s pics, so none here).

The Warre hive is a vertical top bar hive. It’s constructed of hive bodies, like a Langstroth, but you add new hive bodies at the bottom. So the bees grow down through the hive, rather than up like in a Langstroth, where you add new bodies to the top of the hive. In Emile Warré’s original plans, the top bars are fixed in place permanently, but most (all?) American states have regulations requiring moveable frames, so they can be inspected for disease. Current plans that I’ve seen for Warre hives have them running as top bar hives. No picture of a Warre hive either, but I may build one & post pics for you.

The next post will be about building my Kenyan Top Bar Hive, what I do and don’t like about mine so far, and why it wasn’t my first choice in a hive. Check it out here.

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