Hive types

It’s Friday! Soooo……..  Let’s have a serious discussion about hive types and lets all try to remain civil. I don’t understand why people get so hung up on this subject. It has all the makings of a battle between religions. It is my belief that bees don’t care what their hive type is. They will attempt to live anywhere they get the opportunity. I’ve seen pictures of hives setting up shop in a cluster of branches totally exposed to the elements, under houses, in walls, soffits, concret block walls, and trees. I did a cutout of a 10 inch column on the front porch of a house this morning.  I probably missed a couple but you get the point. None of those are exactly like any of the commonly used hive designs used here in North America. Currently I use Langstroth hives for several reasons.

That being said, I want Warre and Top-Bar users to understand that I think their methods are just fine. No one would insist that we all need to drive the same type of car so why would all of us need to run the same type of bee hive. When I was getting started my main options were Top Bar, Warre, and Langstroth. A true Warre hive can’t be used in Indiana, because the State in its infinite knowledge of bees has deemed that they must be kept in a movable frame hive. I’m going to leave it at that before I start a rant within a rant. I have since learned about some Warre hives that use movable frames, wish I would have thought of that before. So at the time it came down to Top-Bar and Langstroth hives for me.

The first reason that I didn’t go into top bar beekeeping was that I didn’t know anyone that was using them. My first mentors were using Langstroth equipment. Being beekeepers they were very critical of anything different than what they were doing. Therefore, they would have been of little help to me and I probably would have failed, given I knew nothing of the management required, see below.

Secondly I was worried about variability in design. If you do a search for top bar plans on the Internet there are several that you will come across. There are different opinions on what the perfect bar length should be and what the angles should be on the sides. I had the choice of getting something that was pretty much standardized after 150 years of use, OR having to chose a top bar design blindly and start from scratch. Having no experience with bees previously there were just too many variables and things to think about for me to begin building a top bar hive with any expectation of success.

The third and largest factor in the reason I decided against top bar design was the word management. Recently in American Bee Journal there has been a multi-part debate that has been going on about TBHs. It all started in January with an article entitled Newbees, Bee-Ware! I remember reading it thinking, “ABJ is attempting to shake things up in 2012!”. The original article went through many of the common issues faced by those with TBHs. May 2012 brought us to Part3 of the rebuttal p 585, Another Perspective on Top-bar Hive Beekeeping in Response to the Article Newbees, Bee-Ware! Part 3.

Every time I read something about top-bar hives there is some issue that requires the beekeeper to open the hive up and manage something. The response to any potential shortcoming of the top bar hive will be “….. with proper management such as…..” and the reply follows. I don’t like management for the most part. Beekeeping is a large part of what goes on around our homestead, but there are a laundry list of other duties that require attention. Too much management is a barrier to getting the rest of the work done.

Many advocates of top bar beekeeping come up with a laundry list of reason why other hive designs are WRONG. I think that is rubbish. One reason I have heard is that Langstroth hive designs lend themselves too easily to commercial beekeeping and that is somehow bad…. My response is Whaaaa??? Forks lend themselves to people scooping too much food in their mouths, causing obesity. The problem is overeating, not forks.  I have no intentions of utilizing commercial methods, and many other backyard beekeepers using Langstroth equipment feel the same way.

Another reason I frequently hear is that “Lifting heavy boxes is a problem for people with bad backs”. I can understand that, boxes filled with frames of capped honey are heavy. I am scrawny, about 5’ 10” and 145 pounds. I also understand that we are fairly intelligent hominids that oftentimes can find multiple solutions to problems (some of us anyways). It is almost an insult to a potential beekeeper’s intelligence to use that line of logic. Recently I read a post on Urban Farm and Beehives where Mil disclosed that she removes her honey one frame at a time using the shake method. Pretty much destroys the heavy box argument for me. There are times when heavy boxes must be lifted, but it is fairly infrequently. Network and look for a friend that can help you once or twice a year.

Finally I have read that another reason for top bar beekeeping is that it is more natural. If it was natural it would require NO management whatsoever. It all begins to form a circular pattern in my head that ultimately makes me think that some top bar beekeepers are just like beekeepers in general. They have their preferred method and they will find fault with any other. Kinda reminds me of my initial Langstroth using mentors.

There are other reasons I have heard, but for the sake of moving on, I will stop ranting. All of this being said, someday, when I don’t have to punch a time clock I would like to take the time to keep bees in the top bar method. I am sure that it would teach me new things about bees.

I have learned a lot using Langstroth hives. There are shortcomings, just as there are with any other hive type. The main thing we all need to remember is that we all have a love for bees. You have to in order to undertake all of the work required, no matter what hive type you decide to use. Everyone who is married to their own particular design needs to stop prior to deriding another beekeepers methods and remember that. So many things in life tend to divide people, sporting leagues, school loyalty, and don’t forget the granddaddy of them all politics. Let’s put all that garbage aside and work together to find new and innovative ways to combat the problems facing bees and ALL OF US KEEPING THEM no matter what hive design we might be using! However you house your bees become the best beekeeper you can be!

Can we work together to find solutions or should we devote our time to squabbling in an attempt to determine which human is right while bees continue to die? What do you think?

Have a nice Friday!


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5 Responses to Hive types

  1. Sam says:

    I skimmed your article (sorry its late so time only for skimming) I did try tbh, for two years the first year I lost all my colonies, second year was something like 70% winter kill, the third year was last year, that year I started using vertical hive system (warre) and I had 100% winter survival rate. I know a lot of other stuff goes into survival, but thats a rather large difference.

    TBH also do require a lot more management then a well thought out vertical hive, this year I started nice brand new hives from swarms, non are crossed comb most have a small amount of wandering but are otherwise very straight, as long as the comb is oriented edgewise and spaced about 37mm center to center they seem content with staying on the top bars. Plus there is only 8 frames (warre) for them to wander on (each comb carries over spacing issues), with a thb they will keep getting worse and worse (cross comb) unless you keep going in and cutting / pushing them straighter.

    Another thing that for me really breaks a tbh is how good it is for the bees, the comb is all oriented in the worse possible way for good air flow through the hive, with my tbh’s I had bees bearding for days some even started building comb outside. With my warres if I have them edge wise to the entrance like a lang they are happy and beard very little, but long wise to the entrance ant they beard and cross comb like crazy.

    I like the idea of tbh in principal namely the (horizontal idea) but only if the comb would run along the longest part of the hive (most all ferral colonies tend to have comb running the longest axis of the hive cavity), and I’m not trying to destroy tbh’s but if you do try em only try a few for a couple seasons 🙂 see? I spent all the time I saved by skimming on typing.

  2. Sam says:

    I started Nine (not nice lol even though they are very nice)

  3. Jason says:

    I am with you. I do not like the idea of needing to manage my bees all of the time. The Warre idea just keeps presenting itself to me time and time again. I did another cutout last week. This time bees in a 10-12′ column. Video footage was shot, I am waiting on my copy. Anyway this was a 10″ column. Bees had been living there 5-8 years. The top 2/3rds of this thing was ALL CAPPED HONEY. Only the bottom 3rd had brood. These bees weren’t fed, treated, or cared for in any way yet they were thriving. My friend Mike caught the queen by hand and placed her in the new box.

    I have seen most feral hives building in a columnar fashion. My bees are also overwintering without management them in the fall.

    The next several years will be interesting to see as far as top bar beekeeping. I don’t know why people make such a big deal out of it. Try something new, perhaps it will be an improvement. Old books show many a great new hive design, and what its benefit were supposed to be over all others.

    The only way to learn is to experiment. If it works it will persist.

  4. Rachel says:

    with no mentor and no experience I chose the Warre hive because I liked the idea of a more “natural” hive structure and I was intrigued by the theories regarding reduced parasite problems, as well as the less invasive management plan by Emile Warre. A friend had started with two Langstroth hives just last year and was planning on putting a hive on our farm this spring. I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to try another method side by side and we could make some comparisons. Both of us are beginners and both of us are pretty openminded and non judgemental so we’re enjoying both hive styles. The basic truth is if “everyone” does something one way I am very likely going to choose the opposite!
    My warre method started out pure but when my package bees absconded three days after being hived I was so bummed that my beek friend told a mentor of his and he offered me a “weak” hive consisting of one deep Lang box with about 4 frames of brood.
    I jumped at the chance-but also put together a couple swarm traps using Jason’s directions. So for the last 7 or 8 weeks I’ve been attempting to transfer the bees from that Lang box down into my Warre boxes. It’s been fascinating and I’m convinced that one of the reasons it’s working so well is because neither of us has any frame of reference for “a right way” to do things, rather we have been making it up as we go along. I really see the benefits of both hive styles, though I did realize last week that a full Lang deep of nectar/honey/brood is heavier than I can manage on my own (thanks Jason for the tip-removing frame by frame. I should have tried that as I almost dropped the heavy box trying to maneuver around to set it down.) I won’t go into the details of how we’re doing it (I can if someones interested!) but I have to tell you that my 4 frames have EXPLODED and I now have that Lang box full and three Warre boxes beneath all with comb and more constantly being constructed. The number of bees is incredible, I’m sure I’ll have to add at least two more Warre boxes before too long. Bees are absolutely fascinating- I had no idea I would love it as much as I do!

    • Jason says:

      Three years ago when I started I had NO CLUE what I was doing. All of my mentors seemed rather cryptic to me. The biggest things are to do some reading, think about what you are doing, and observe the bees. If you are looking, the girls will tell you things. I explain it a lot of times as being similar to gardening. After a while you can go out and a tomato plant will “tell” you that it would like some water or that a tomato horn worm is chewing on it.

      Some may not call that communication, but I would. It is all just about paying attention. I like the Warre idea, and some day I may just decide to say the heck with the laws in Indiana and have one, but not yet. 🙂

      Keep me posted on how your doing with your experiments. Also I want to let you know that Mil over at recently spoke about spinning her honey. She removed her frames one at a time. She has a solid blog and puts forth a lot of good ideas.

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