Top Bar Hive: An Exploration into Sustainable Beekeeping

Beekeeping has evolved over the years, with various hive designs emerging to cater to the needs of both bees and beekeepers. One such design that has gained popularity due to its simplicity and sustainability is the Top Bar Hive (TBH). This horizontal hive design not only offers a more natural environment for bees but also provides ease of management for the beekeeper. In this article, we delve deep into the world of TBH, exploring its design, benefits, and best practices.

Key Takeaways:

  • Top Bar Hive is a horizontal hive design.
  • It promotes natural bee behavior and comb building.
  • TBH is eco-friendly and often made from sustainable materials.
  • It offers ease of management and honey harvesting for beekeepers.

Top Bar Hive

What is a Top Bar Hive?

A Top Bar Hive is a type of beehive that has a horizontal design, contrasting the traditional vertical stacked hives. The primary feature of a TBH is the use of top bars instead of frames. Bees build their comb hanging from these bars, allowing them to create a natural and free-form comb structure.

History and Evolution

The concept of a horizontal hive is not new. Various cultures around the world have used similar designs for centuries. However, the modern TBH, as we know it, has been popularized in recent decades, especially among beekeepers looking for a more sustainable and natural approach to beekeeping.

Design and Structure

The TBH is simple in its design. The main components include:

  • Top Bars: These wooden bars are placed horizontally across the hive. Bees build their comb hanging from these bars.
  • Hive Body: This is the main structure, usually made of wood, where the bees reside.
  • Entrance: Typically located at one end of the hive, this is where bees come in and out.

Benefits of Using a Top Bar Hive

There are several advantages to using a TBH:

Natural Bee Behavior

The design of the TBH allows bees to build comb in a manner that mimics their natural behavior in the wild. This can lead to healthier bee colonies and potentially increased honey production.

Ease of Management

For beekeepers, the horizontal design of the TBH means less heavy lifting compared to traditional stacked hives. Inspecting the hive, managing the bee colony, and even harvesting honey becomes more ergonomic and user-friendly.


TBHs are often made from recycled or sustainable materials. Their design also reduces the need for interventions that can be detrimental to bees, making them an eco-friendly option.

Setting Up and Managing Your Top Bar Hive

Location and Orientation

Choosing the right location for your TBH is crucial. It should be placed in an area that receives morning sunlight and is shielded from strong winds. Additionally, the hive should be slightly tilted forward to allow rainwater to drain out.

Regular Inspections

Inspecting your TBH is essential to ensure the health and well-being of your bee colony. The design of the TBH makes these inspections less intrusive than with traditional hives. Beekeepers can easily observe the bees, check for diseases, and manage the colony without causing much disturbance.

Challenges and Solutions

Like all beehive designs, TBHs come with their own set of challenges. However, with the right knowledge and approach, these challenges can be addressed effectively. Some common challenges include cross-combing, where bees build comb that crosses multiple top bars, and managing the size of the colony. Solutions often involve regular inspections, proper hive management techniques, and sometimes, minor interventions.

Advanced Management Techniques for Top Bar Hives

Top Bar Hives, while simple in design, require specific management techniques to ensure the health and productivity of the bee colony. Proper management not only ensures a thriving bee colony but also maximizes honey production and minimizes challenges.

A beekeeper pulls out a honeycomb out of a top bar hive

Space Management

One of the primary tasks in managing a Top Bar Hive is ensuring that the bees have adequate space. As the colony grows, beekeepers need to move the divider board down the hive cavity and add empty bars. This adjustment provides the bees with more room to build comb and expand their colony.

For a more detailed guide on space management, check out this resource: BeeBuilt’s Guide on Hive Management.

Detaching Comb from Hive Walls

In a Top Bar Hive, bees often attach their comb to the walls of the inner hive cavity. Before pulling out the bars for inspection or honey harvesting, beekeepers need to detach the comb from the hive walls. Using a hive tool makes this process easier and minimizes damage to the comb.

Honey Harvesting in a Top Bar Hive

Harvesting honey from a Top Bar Hive is straightforward. Beekeepers can simply cut the comb from the top bars and then employ a crush and strain method to extract the honey. Alternatively, beekeepers can use a bucket strainer system for a more efficient extraction process.

For more insights on honey harvesting, this article offers a comprehensive guide: Texas Bee Supply’s Tips on Top Bar Hives.

Observation and Monitoring

Most modern Top Bar Hives come equipped with a full-length observation window. This feature allows beekeepers to monitor their colony without disturbing the bees. It’s essential to close the window after observation to ensure the hive remains dark, as excessive light can prompt the bees to seek a new location.

For a deeper dive into the importance of observation in beekeeping, this resource is invaluable: Beekeeping for Beginners by BeeBuilt.

Advantages of Using a Top Bar Hive

There are several benefits to using a Top Bar Hive, especially concerning management:

  • No Heavy Lifting: Hive inspections do not require lifting heavy boxes, making the process more ergonomic.
  • Simple Honey Harvest: The horizontal design simplifies the honey extraction process.
  • Quick Inspections: The design allows for faster inspections as only a small portion of the hive is opened at a time.
  • Docile Bees: Bees tend to be calmer during inspections due to minimal disturbance.

A Top Bar Hive

Top Bar Hive FAQs (Continued)

  1. How are tbh’s made?
    • A tbh is essentially a cavity with top bars and bees. The cavity can be made from various materials such as new lumber, scrap lumber, plywood, reeds, straw, brick, clay, bamboo, old cabinet drawers, metal or plastic drums, and large hollow logs. Some have even considered using large diameter PVC pipes.
  2. What are good dimensions for tbh’s?
    • The dimensions aren’t strictly critical. A good starting point might be the size of three full-size, deep, standard brood chambers placed side by side. This would require about 30 top bars. A suggested dimension is 85cm long, 30cm deep, and 50.5cm wide.
  3. How are top bars made?
    • For Italian honeybees, the width should be 35mm, and for African bees, 32mm. The bars can be cut from new lumber or scrap wood. Some even use tree limbs or bamboo.
  4. Are there different types of tbh’s?
    • Yes, there are two general types: those with sloping sides (Kenya tbh) and those with straight sides (Tanzanian). The sloping sides are believed to result in less comb attachment, but in practice, there’s little difference.
  5. What is a catenary tbh?
    • A catenary tbh is a variation on the top-bar/natural comb concept. It has sides and bottoms fashioned from a single sheet of curved, thin plywood.
  6. Does a tbh have to have sloping sides?
    • No, the sides can be straight. The sloping sides are believed to result in less comb attachment, but there’s little difference in practice.
  7. Where should the tbh entrance(s) be?
    • Entrances can be holes either down the sides or at one end. Some prefer the entrance holes at the end away from where the hive is opened for harvesting.
  8. What size and shape should the entrance(s) be?
    • The size and shape aren’t strictly critical. Smaller diameter holes are easier to defend against robbing.
  9. Are covers necessary on tbh’s?
    • While the top bars do form a “roof” for the hive, it’s desirable to place some sort of cover over the bars to protect them from the weather. Covers can be made from various materials like plastic sheeting, thatch, large leaves, or any other suitable material.


The Top Bar Hive offers a unique and sustainable approach to beekeeping. Its design promotes natural bee behavior, making it a great choice for both novice and experienced beekeepers.

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