Beekeeping equipment decisions: Kenyan Top Bar Hive, part 2.

My father & I built a Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH) from the plans in Phil Chandler’s ebook “How to Build a Top Bar Hive.” We chose to make it from rough cut lumber because we heard the bees would use more propolis to line the inside of the hive & since propolis is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, I thought “more propolis is good for bee health.” Propolis is created from tree resin and other plant sources and the bees use it as calk or glue in the hive.

Processed with RookieMy father, doing manly things. (I’m afraid of saws! I like my fingers as they are.)

Processed with RookieMore manly things, although this I can manage to do, also.

Processed with Rookie Upside down & legs being applied.

Processed with Rookie Fancy roof. Thanks Dad!

Processed with Rookie Entrance holes.

Processed with RookieVentilation holes in the roof with window screen to keep out the bees and the hardware cloth to keep out the mice. Windowscreen along the top vent. We have little pieces of wood that can swivel and either open the ventilation holes in hot weather or close them in cold weather.

Processed with RookieRoof supports added (yup, I’m not a carpenter & messin’ up the terminology: could be they’re “roof trusses”?)

Kenyan Top Bar Hive5 1Observation window being assembled on the back side of the hive, so no one has to disturb the bees coming and going at the entrance, to look in the window and see how the bees are. We used window screen to cover this observation window.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive Painting1Some exterior latex paint, over primer. I chose grey paint for the roof. It would be good if it were black in the winter and white in the summer, but the closest I could get to both was using this leftover paint from our porch. I also thought porch paint would be sturdy in the weather.

Processed with Rookie Assembling the KTBH in the bee yard. Eco floor on the ground under the hive (more on that below).

Kenyan Top Bar Hive Feeding3 2Looking down inside the “eco floor” and a follower board on the right with a 1 inch hole opening down in the bottom. There is a second follower board that has no hole. Sometimes bees sneak past these anyway – maybe because we had to make little notches in the follower boards to accommodate for the observation window as we built it.

The eco-floor is described in Phil Chandler’s YouTube video linked here.  His idea is that in nature, bees live in horizontal hollow logs with other insect species, like earwigs, in an ecosystem, and maybe they help regulate mite levels by ingesting them. The organic material of the floor could support these species and also absorb some of the moisture condensation and keep the hive humid, which he believes bees like. So mine has a mixture of mulch, straw and dirt in it.

Processed with RookieInitial placement of hives. We carefully leveled the KTBH side to side, and front to back. This is to make sure the comb all hangs perpendicular to the top bars and to try to reduce cross combing.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive2 1Little corks at the outer lower edges of the observation windows show you were the back entrances are. Their location was suggested in the “Top-Bar Beekeeping” book by Les Crowder and Heather Harrell. Having entrances front and center, plus 2 back ones on either side, would allow me to keep 2 or 3 separate colonies in one hive by giving the bees different entrances if the populations were separated with a follower board or two.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive4 1I also added some top entrances to the front as suggested by Phil Chandler in another YouTube video, but I didn’t add his “cover”. His idea is that varroa mites drop from the comb and they won’t drop on the incoming bees if they’re coming in on the top near the upper edges and not down under the comb, like they have to with a bottom entrance. He does point out that the hive will lose more heat through these entrances.  I haven’t used these top entrances yet.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive Feeding3 1Making a board to hold feeding jars.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive Feeding2 2 Using a push pin and hammer to make a feeder jar lid.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive Feeding2 1Making sure a feeder jar doesn’t leak. I like how the 1 pint, regular mouth, mason jars fit into our feeder board better than these old peanut butter jars, so I mostly use pint mason jars now.

Processed with RookieFeeder jars installed without a follower board. It was hot weather so I wasn’t worried about the the bees ability to keep the brood nest warm.  I also wasn’t sure how well the bees would find the feeders at first (silly newbie beekeeper!).

Kenyan Top Bar Hive Feeding1 1In cooler weather, and upon thinking about it more, I installed the follower board that has a 1 inch hole in the bottom to give them access, so the bees had a smaller area to temperature regulate. Although now, there are bees all over this area as they have snuck above the feeder board, so I give them a one-top-bar-wide gap between the follower board and the feeder board, so they can find their way back under the feeder board, through the hole in the follower board and back to their colony. Otherwise, this chamber above the feeders has no entrance/exit once the top bars are installed again.

So my dad and I built this hive in the summer of 2013. And after attending a lot of local beekeeping meetings in 2013, I decided not to run this hive my first year (2014) because I wasn’t going to have any local mentors to help me. And I kept hearing that overwintering a horizontal top bar hive in upstate New York state is really difficult. But then I caught a swarm of bees June 2014 (with my dad’s help) and I had no other empty hive so I installed them in the KTBH. And so far, I love this hive. We’ll see if I keep feeling this way.

My next post will be thoughts about what I do and don’t like about this hive and how I would change it. Check out the first part of the trio of posts here and the third one here.


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