How do I Configure My Top Bar Hive?

Ask the Expert!

How do I Configure My Top Bar Hive?

Bill Chappell writes:

Last September (in the Pacific NW), the queen in my top bar hive died. And, of course, the rest of the bees followed. I cleaned out all of the dead bees and removed a few of the partially full honey combs. I left in the hive: three full combs of honey that fell off the bar, seven full or partially full combs of honey still attached to the combs, three partially full brood comb with a combination of pollen and honey in it (no brood). They were all left in the hive over the winter, and the hive was covered with a screen. It got below freezing multiple times this winter, so I didn’t worry about wax moths. Soon, I will be installing a package of bees in a top bar hive that I built this spring. It holds 24 bars; the old hive held 17. The new hive does have a false back, so I can limit or expand the length of the inside of the hive. How many, of what type of comb, and in what order (or location) would you place the new comb in the new hive? Thank you!

Rusty replies:

It’s customary to put the brood nest along with any pollen in the center. Then put the frames of honey on both sides of that. In the case of your top bar hive, you should first decide how many frames you will use to start. So if you use your follower board to shorten the hive to, say, 14 frames total, put the empty brood frames in the center of the 14, and put honey on both sides. They don’t need a lot of empty frames to start and your three partially filled brood frames should be plenty. Attach your queen cage to one of those three and your package will cluster around her.

The new colony will use the nectar and pollen closest to the brood nest first, freeing up space for more brood. As the nest expands, the bees will use the honey in the adjacent frames, making even more room. Any additional nectar that comes it will be stored further away. This sequence of eating the old honey first and storing new honey further away is often mistaken for moving honey. It looks that way, but it’s not the same thing.

If your top bar hive opens at the end (warm-way configuration), you may want to place the three empty brood frames closer to the opening. So instead of putting them in positions 6, 7, and 8 (about the middle of 14) you can put them in position 3, 4, and 5 from the opening. This makes the nest a little quicker to access for the bees, yet they are still protected from drafts.

If your top bar hive opens on the side (cold-way configuration, like a Langstroth), putting the empty brood frames right in the center will work fine. None of this is critical, so don’t worry too much about it. If the bees don’t like your configuration, they will “fix” it.

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