Top Bar Bees

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By Gina Gaines

I can’t imagine there is anyone left who hasn’t heard about the serious decline in our bee population and the dire consequences to life on this planet if something isn’t done to help. There are a number of apiaries across the country, but they are not able to correct the problem alone. The best remedy for this problem is the backyard beekeeper.

I kept bees about two decades ago but had to give them to my brother-in-law when my life became too hectic to take proper care of them. He’d only had them for a few years before the now infamous “colony collapse disorder” wiped them out. It left us sadly disappointed. I am now at a place to resume beekeeping, but my back is not as young as it used to be. Smoothly rearranging 30-, 45-, and 90-pound hive boxes full of buzzing stingers is a feat I am no longer physically capable of. And purchasing expensive hives, frames, and comb sheets won’t fit into my screaming budget. So what is a backyard beekeeper to do? Why … pull out the DIY beekeeper inside you, of course!

If you are interested in beekeeping and share my creaky predicament, you might want to investigate the Top Bar beekeeping method. The traditional method of keeping bees in our country is using vertical Langstroth hive boxes. With this method, you move different depth boxes containing 10 or more frames each. These heavy boxes are rearranged periodically as the bees work in order to keep the brood strong and the honey flowing. The Top Bar hives are horizontal and consist of only one “box.” With this method, you leave your long, horizontal box stationary and move only one, or a few frames at a time to achieve the same purpose. Because you move a smaller number of frames at a time, you must visit a Top Bar hive more frequently than a Langstroth, but the work isn’t back breaking.

Top Bars are also much easier to construct and can even be made from scrap (my favorite!) lumber. The people in Africa and Asia build their hives out of barrels, baskets, clay or whatever they have on hand.

Last weekend, I ferreted out enough 2×2 scraps from my woodpile to make 28 bars. I still need to cut a flat space at the end of each of them so they will hang nicely in the hive body I plan to make this weekend.

I had to use a circle saw to make the angled cuts, so my bars aren’t as perfect as the ones I’ve seen on the internet sites I’ve been perusing. But bees are famous for being able to remodel any structure they can find into a cozy little home-sweet-home of their own. They will build their hive in trees, houses, pipes, baskets, nooks and crannies. They are nature’s ultimate DIY’er! So I’m sure my less-than-perfect bars will suit them just fine. I’m looking forward to sharing our burbstead with my tiny kindred spirits. My inner beekeeper is just buzzing with excitement!

Published on Mar 5, 2014