Finally, words from our own local and world renown insect, Monarch Butterfly, and European as well as Africanized Honey Bee researcher, a respected commentary on Top Bar Hive (TBH) Beekeeping from our April 2012 Bee Buzzer newsletter, Dr. Chip Taylor's response to an inquiry from a beekeeper in Atchison, KS about TBH beekeeping:
"I've worked with top bar in the tropics - marginal even there. Certainly not a way to produce honey or effectively manage bees. These hives are only slightly better than the wooden butterfly hibernation houses. In the latter case, the wood should be reused to make bat houses. Carol: Top-bar hives are the rage but are inappropriate for use at this latitude. Bees do not overwinter well in hives with this design. Standard beekeeping equipment is designed to allow bees to store honey and move up the way they do in natural nests.
It sounds like you don't inspect the bees to see what is actually happening inside the nest. This is a must. You have to open the hive and look at the bees. Further, you have to be able to diagnose what is happening in the colony. There are books and locals who can help with this. If your bees swarmed - shouldn't have but a more common problem with top-bar hives - your bees may have died due to the failure to properly requeen themselves. Or, like so many colonies in this area, they may simply have gone into the winter with too few stores.
My suggestion is that you get together with the folks from the NE Kansas Beekeepers Association. This group has many programs for beginners and you may find someone who can mentor you so that you can learn the basics of bee management. Frankly, I'd retire the top-bar hive and buy standard equipment."
What makes TBH beekeeping challenging?
1) TB Hive management style requires higher skills and confidence
2) We do not have enough long-time beekeepers with TBH experience to mentor or support
3) Our geography is a factor for TBH winter survival
4) 'Natural' bee nest movement is vertical and not horizontal
5) Limited winter honey storage requiring supplemental feeding
6) Honey harvesting - comb destruction & replacement
7) Limited or restricted hive movement due to foundation-less combs
8) There are higher returns for your investment (ROI) with Langstroth hives (8 or 10-frame)
This beekeeping management style required for working with top-bar hives (TBH) demands a higher level of skill and confidence from new beekeepers. Quite simply, we do not have enough long-time beekeepers with TBH experience to successfully mentor or give support.
Consider that Langstroth 8- or 10- frame hive has been around for over 150 years, and is 'standard' equipment. If there had been a better bee hive, it would have been around a lot sooner and for much longer.
Here are some other points to consider. 1) Our geography is difficult for winter survival. The elongated horizontal configuration of the Tanzanian and Kenyan styled hives are not appropriate for our severe winters. During the cold, it is 'natural' for the bees to move up (vertically)-- not horizontally accross the combs. This is how colonies are found in the trunks of trees or walls of structures. 2) Without active management (moving frames) during the cold season, horizontal TBH beekeepers are at greater risk of losing their colonies to the cold and to starvation. Some TBH, like the Warree, is simply too small and restrictive.
While we certainly do have summers that seem rather tropical with our heat and humidity, our winters are anything but.
Top Bar Hive Beekeeping was designed and intended for tropical countries - like Kenya or Tanzania.
Here's some information that might be helpful to you as a list of advantages and disadvantages re Top-Bar Hive beekeeping published by our friends at the University of Tennessee. (download 25KB)
Northeastern Kansas Beekeepers Association
Contact US by email: beekeepers@NEKBA.org
Northeastern Kansas Beekeepers