The top bar hive is being somewhat fun, actually. From all the reading I've been doing, the Kenyan Top Bar Hive (KTBH) was based on the ancient Greek practice of hanging sticks across an inverted basket. The modern KTBH was developed in 1965 for use in third world countries where folks don't have a lot of money. The top bar hive is really cheap to put together and they've been fashioned out of all kinds of stuff, even fifty-five gallon drums cut in half. Evidently, when left to their own devices, bees will fashion comb in the shape of a catenary curve (like the curve you get when you hold up two ends of a chain), and the KTBH has the shape of a trapezoid; the comb fits inside it such that the bees don't usually attach the comb to the sides of the hive, making it much easier to get the comb out when you're inspecting the hive, or robbing it for honey. The bees also tend to revert to making smaller bees; natural comb is a little bit smaller than the comb bees draw out on pre-formed foundation that most commercial beekeepers use in their Langstroth hives. And guess what the advantage is that smaller bees have? The bees tend to ward off Varroa mites more easily because the mites can't fit in them as well as they can in the larger bees. There are all kinds of good reasons for using top bar hives and I've been having fun researching them, but the main reason that I chose this hive is because I can make it myself. Cheaply.
I was all worried about sticking to the plans that I downloaded from Biobees.com, but it's not that exact a science. There doesn't seem to be a standard width for the top bars themselves; the plans call for the top bars to be cut one and three eighths inches, but I've found other places that say the bees do better with one and a half inch bars for brood, and one and five-eighths inch bars for honey. I will use whatever is closest that I can buy already cut so that I won't have to rip any from lumber I have, which means I'll probably use firring strips. Speaking of lumber that I have, that's what I'm using for this hive. Because it's not an exact science, I'm winging the dimensions- as long as I get the angles at thirty degrees, that's all that really matters. So I'm gluing up from lumber I have in the garage.
|Picking out which boards go together|
Since I don't have a doweling jig or drill press, I'm using finishing brads with the tops cut off for pins.
|When I grow up, I'm going to at least have a proper doweling jig|
The pieces get glued, smacked together, and then held together with a cross piece which will be on the outside of the hive.
The only piece that isn't nailed together with a cross piece is the glued board that I need for follower boards.
|How do you like my clamp?|
The follower boards aren't necessary, but they make putting the hive together easier, and they allow you to adjust the interior dimensions of the hive so that you can control the interior volume of the hive, which helps with temperature, mostly.
I'm learning as I'm going, which is nothing new to me. When I'm not learning by reading, I'm learning experientially! So tomorrow, I cut and assemble the follower boards, and maybe even put the sides on. We'll see how far I get. I hope to make up the entire hive from stuff I already have. The only thing I'll have to buy for sure is more firring strips for the top bars, and I have to find a number eight hardware cloth for the bottom. The mesh bottom has to be big enough so that the Varroa mites (should there be any) can be shed, and small enough to keep intruders out and the queen in. Number eight hardware cloth is supposed to be just right.
But this is exciting- bees!