This is one of the best folksy walk-throughs I’ve read yet describing the process of inspecting a top bar hive. For newbeeks, it’s like that doddering professor who actually knows what he’s talking about:
If the entrance holes are at one end, I puff a small amount of smoke at the entrance, and wait perhaps a minute. If a good honeyflow is on and the weather is good, smoke probably would not be necessary with my Italian bees but I use a little anyhow. Some smoke is puffed underneath the arching top covers in case paper wasps have started a nest under the tin. Next I remove the covers and the strip that covers the rear half of the notches in my tb’s which lets me see how far the bees have drawn out comb. If the bees seemed to be alarmed because of inclement conditions in which I might need to work or some other factor, most of the notches can be kept covered .
Starting at the rear of the hive, I remove the first bar which will
probably not be drawn out completely, and place that bar in a holder.
I have made a cradle to hold bars as I work on them, but I also
use 5-bar nuc boxes or 5-bar “supers” to hold the bars that are removed.
Moreover, the stands on which I have placed my hives have supports that
are spaced far enough apart that they can be used to hold tb’s.
I remove a couple of bars, then work forward toward the brood area,
shifting the inspected bar to the rear. Only a small gap of a couple of
bars is necessary to give plenty of room to remove bars. Often there is
a small amount of comb attachment to the sides at the upper two inches of
the comb, but the attachments are easily freed with a hive tool. If the
bar is then place on a cradle, the rough sides where the attachments were
can be trimmed smooth with scissors after which the bees are less inclined
to reattach the comb to the sides. This is especially true if the wax is
scraped from the sides also. Rarely there may be a few places where a
comb is attached to the bottom of the hive in which case the hive tool
will free it also. All of the wax scraps go into the solar wax melter.
Proceeding on to the brood area, I make my assessment of the hive
conditions in the same way as with conventional hives. If a comb needs
replacing for any reason, I’ll move it to the back of the hive for the
bees to clear it after which the comb and bar go to my solar wax melter.
I will place a new bar with a starter strip of foundation between two
straight combs so that I get a good comb drawn, especially during a good
honeyflow. After finishing the inspection, I shift the bars forward and
replace the one or two bars I originally removed.
If the hive has holes down both sides, I start at either end, work to
the center, then replace the bars. After that the other side can be
examined or additional work postponed until the next visit.
After I finish inspecting a hive, I make notes about what was found by
writing in pencil on a 4 x 6 index card. The card is kept in a ziplock
plastic bag held by a clothes pin nailed to the back of the hive body.
If the hive needs some additional work, I’ll turn one of the bricks on
top on its side to get my attention. When I go back to the hive, a quick
glance at the record card shows immediately what needs to be done.
From Top Bar Hive FAQ