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Hive Management


#1

Hi,

I need some advice. I bought a top bar hive a couple of months ago. Where I live it is difficult to buy a ‘package of bees’, so we ended up populating the hive with a nuc from a Langstroth hive. We cut 4 Langstroth combs in half and attached each one to a top bar. The nuc had a strong brood and came with quite a few bees.

Over the 4-5 weeks since the bees where introduced into the hive, they have been very busy. I opened the hive today for the first time - they have built comb all the way to the back of the hive. However, the combs is all fairly mixed, with the top 1/3 being capped honey and the bottom 2/3 being brood comb.

I am worried about the bees running out of room and swarming. Most people recommend harvesting a few combs for honey to give the bees room to build new comb. But, I have no combs with only honey.

I decided to remove a few combs today - two of the original combs that came from the Langstroth hive. I lost some brood in the process, but it gave the bees some space and I got rid of some of the original combs (with plastic backing), which I wanted to do anyway. After I removed the 2 bars, I slid the whole hive forward to try to encourage the brood to stay in the front of the hive. Hopefully they will built new honeycomb in the back, on the new empty bars, and fill them with honey. I may need to remove a few more bars from the front again soon, depending how things look over the next week or so.

Does this seem like a reasonable approach to you? Any other suggestions? Is it normal to have so much mixed comb through the whole hive?

Thanks for your time. I’m excited to learn about the bees, but I’m new at this and few people in my area have top bar hives to give me advice.

Kim


#2

Kim,

How long is the hive? I think you’d originally mentioned that it was a Golden Mean Hive, which are relatively short (small internal volume) hives. I’ve had MANY calls this year from top bar beekeepers with their bees filling up shorter hives from one end to the other with brood+honey, with no surplus honey combs available to harvest to give the colonies more space. This sounds like the issue you’re dealing with. I’ve recommended to most that they split the hives if possible (Splits are often performed in July).

What you’ve done so far definitely sounds like steps in the right direction. If you have another hive that you can split the colony into, this would be even more helpful in the long run.

The issue with horizontal top bar hives are that they are fixed cavities, and if the cavity is too small you end up with the problem you’re running into. Ours are 42" long and while I’ve never seen brood laid from one end to the other, I’ve seen brood laid a little past halfway through the hive (16-17 bars out of 28). Prolific colonies can have HUGE brood nests!

Best,

Matt


#3

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your comments. My hive is 28 1/2", which is shorter than yours. This may be why I am running into this difficulty.

If I split the colony, will I just hope that the split bees without the queen will make an emergency queen? Also, how far apart do you recommend placing the second hive?

Fascinating little creatures…I hope I can learn fast enough to keep up with them.

Thanks for your time,

Kim


#4

Kim,

It definitely sounds like an issue of the hive being too short for your very prolific queen!

When I split hives I usually just grab some open brood (eggs), capped brood, honey and pollen (3-5 bars or so) and move them to another hive. Make sure there are a lot of bees on the brood combs. Within a week or so they should at least have some emergency queen cells built. It could take 3-4 weeks to have a laying queen.

My hives are about 2-5 feet apart depending on the apiary site. The farther apart they are should reduce the drifting between the hives.

Best,

Matt


#5

Purchased one of your horizontal Top Bar hives in the spring and the colony is really strong!

Ive been watching the bees build perfectly straight comb all spring and summer until the last few weeks when a bunch of board workers decided to hang around in between the window and the window cover (Apparently they are getting in there through a crack in the wood). Unfortunately i went to take a peek one day and a large clump of them spilled out onto my legs and became very upset with me. I now know what it means to be attacked by bees. Glad I got that over with.

So, now it is three weeks later, I have finally gained a little courage to go inside and see whats happening. I was surprised to see that most of the comb was attached together and when I lifted my first bar up it completely detached from the comb. Now I have no idea how I would ever be able to straighten any of it. I tried using my comb knife to loosen around the edges but I felt like I was just mutilating comb and injuring bees. It seems that I wont be able to check for brood unless I risk damaging more comb. I wondering if I should just leave it alone until the spring. It looks like they have two bars left to fill. Im wondering if I should try to take a little honey out to prevent swarming and, if so, how am I ever going to deal with the mess?

Hmmph.

Thanks,

Tera


#6

Tera,

I’m sorry to hear about the issues!

Cross comb is definitely the biggest drawback to horizontal top bar hives. If not managed properly, cross comb is inevitable! It is imperative that one monitors the production of comb at least weekly during the height of the season to make sure the newest combs are being attached straight on the bars. The first bars (brood combs) are almost always straight, but as they continue expanding through the hive and begin making honey combs they often make them fatter. In order to accommodate the fatter combs they end up shifting the subsequent bars down and no longer properly follow the guides.

First, how much comb have they built out in the hive? Halfway? 3/4? If they have filled up at least 3/4 or so I would be comfortable doing the following:

Your goal is to begin removing crooked combs until you start finding straight combs. You may even be able to make an educated guess at where the combs went crooked by looking through the window. It will be a little bit like surgery, but you’ll want to pull out the crooked combs any way you can. I recommend doing this earlier in the day when it’s cooler (less than 80 degrees), as this will make the combs less fragile. As you remove them you’ll want to brush any bees off that you can, and then you can drop the crooked combs into a bowl or bucket for harvest (I’m guessing that all you’ll find in these latest combs is honey). You may notice that the more crooked combs you remove the straighter they begin to get.

Once you find a relatively straight comb you can stop harvesting. At this point I would leave a 1/8" gap between the built comb and the empty bar you’re putting in. This will give the bees a little more room in between and will likely lead to a straight comb!

You must be vigilant about monitoring new comb production for straightness if you ever want to be able to easily remove combs in the future. All top bar beekeepers encounter this same issue, regardless of the comb guides. If you just check once or twice a week and fix them when necessary, you’ll have a FAR more enjoyable experience (and so will the bees!)

Best,

Matt


#7

Thank you so much Matt. That really helped! I just got back from a beekeeping workshop in Virginia and I quickly realized that I should have been doing more to keep the comb straight then I had been. I definitely waited to long to go in.

Im still am not clear about wether it is a good idea to go in at this point in the summer and remove the crooked comb or should I just wait until spring? This is the bees first year and I do worry about taking too much of their honey. I suppose I could harvest the honey and straighten things out and then give the it back to them. Any thoughts on the timing and how much to take and give back?

Cheers,

Tera


#8

Tera,

Whether or not to harvest/destroy combs all depends on how much they’ve built out so far. Are they halfway through the hive? 3/4? If closer to 3/4 or more, then I would be comfortable pulling 3-5 crooked combs in order to (hopefully) find some straight combs. If they are closer to 1/2 full, then you’d probably be best leaving them until this coming spring and then harvest before they start building a bunch of new crooked combs!

Best,

Matt


#9

My research on this, no experience, others use 1/4" spacers between the bars where honeycomb will be drawn. I am using this in my hive, but it has been so cold here this spring the bees have not even started brood comb yet, so I will have to let you know.


#10

Hello, purchasing two Top Bar Hives later this year. I live In North Western Arizona, 1 1/2 hours from Vegas. It gets real hot here over the summer, will be providing shade for the hives. My general Question Is this, how many Top bars should the broodnest have? And one other Question Is how many top bars should I start the hive with? Will be doing all totally treatment free by the way, thanks Tim.


#11

Tim,

Sorry for the delayed response.

Start the colony with 10-12 bars of space. Put the remaining bars on the other side of the divider (follower) board(s). As the colony builds, keep giving them more space by moving one of the dividers.

Best,

Matt