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Langstroth + Top Bar = A Very Confused Bee Hive

1 Jun

This here’s a little tale about how we supered our top bar hive. Yep, I hear the purists cringing and the aesthetes too. And they’re right — we’ve got a Frankenstein on our hands.

All super-ed up and ready to grow

All super-ed up and ready to grow

Why did we do it?

The Kerry hive is full beyond belief — every bar is packed with honey, pollen, and fresh worker brood. No matter how many bars I harvest, the girls are drawing more within a short week or two and showing no signs of a slow down. It’s a full house.

So, rather than fight the gift of a madly productive hive, we’re rolling with it.

How did we do it?

First, let me admit it’s all my partner’s idea.

He’s obsessed with Langstroth hives and secretly bought a couple to “experiment with.” Next thing I know, I hear myself saying it’s OK to add Langstroth honey supers to a top bar hive which, were I sober or not in love with him, I’d have thought the most perverse of sins.

So here’s what we did:

  1. Remove one bar from the back of the hive
  2. Cut spacers about 3/8 inch (enough to allow “bee space”)
  3. Put spacers between bars at the back of the hive
  4. Place an empty super on top of the spaced bars at the back of the hive
  5. To provide evenness for a cover, place an empty super at the front of the hive (there’s no space yet between the bars underneath this super)
  6. Place a cover on top of both supers

And here’s the photo essay version…

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Free diagram and plans for a top bar hive

3 May
Updated: Oct 2012

Looking to build your own top bar hive?

If you’re a new beek, consider reviewing this pragmatic comparison of TBH vs. Langstroth hives. And if you’re ready to build, here are some designs:

Standardized Top Bar Hive (TBH):

Standard Top Bar Hive design

The standardized Top Bar Hive design by TJ Carr

I recommend using a standardized TBH design for innumerable reasons, including the ability to share resources between your hives and with others in your community. Here are my favorite plans by longtime Albuquerque beekeeper and retired engineer, TJ Carr, and John Bradford.

Other TBH Plans:

Or, do you prefer to buy one?

High Drama and the Virgin Queen Piping

18 Apr

My little bee brain is buzzing with information overload.

Today’s hive inspections brought plenty of good news but also a wild cornucopia of new bee experiences. I think I need a drink.

Alex opening the Ann Hive

Alex opening the Ann Hive

But first, here’s what went down:

  • We found queens and eggs in the Ann Hive and the Polski hive. Yay!
  • At least 10 capped swarm cells awaited us in the Kerry Hive.
  • It was impossible not to hear the high-pitched squawk of a virgin queen in the Kerry Hive which we tracked down and photographed. 
  • We removed 7 bars of brood and resources from the Kerry Hive and gave some queen cells to a local beekeeper in need.
  • The extra swarm cells we dissected.
  • Opening some drone cells, we found varroa mites on drone pupae.
  • We saw a birthing bee.

Photos and details follow. Whew! Who knew one afternoon in the life of a beekeeper could be so fascinating.

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All Hives Are Go

11 Apr

The ‘hood is now two hives richer. Despite the wind, we successfully installed 2 packages of honey bees in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood near the University of New Mexico. It’s a great place to keep bees with plenty of backyard gardeners and loads of flowering trees on campus.

Below is the Ann Hive, site of last year’s bee tragedy. It’s got a new team on board, a new graffiti wall, and we’re feeling optimistic.

The Ann Hive, now with bees

The Ann Hive, now with bees


Within a couple of minutes after installing the package, our new girls were tail in the air releasing an orienting pheromone from their Nasonov Gland. The photo below is one of the new occupants of the Ann Hive, hanging her hat on the door and calling it home.
Bee exposing and fanning her Nasonov Gland to release an orienting pheromone

Bee exposing and fanning her Nasonov Gland to release an orienting pheromone


Bonus! I’ve uploaded this image to Wikimedia Commons. Enjoy 😉

Sleeping with 20,000 bees in my living room

10 Apr

Rise and shine, girls! It’s time to set you up in your new home.

20,000 bees waiting in my living room

20,000 bees waiting in my living room

A beehive for The Józef

8 Apr

Tomorrow, two bee packages arrive from B. Weaver Apiaries and my father-in-law, “The Józef,” is ready. Fortunately for him, these girls speak Polish.

A very special paint job for the Jozef's new bees

A very special paint job for the Jozef's new bees


Ready for bees

Ready for bees

Watering Your Bees

3 Apr

Bees need water too, especially here in the desert Southwest.

I keep a bright blue birdbath filled with water and rocks which enable my girls to drink their fill without drowning. It’s only April and already there are 10-20 bees siphoning water at any given time.

Bee drinking from a bird bath

Bee drinking from a bird bath

Longtime city beeks tell me that mostly any water source will do, but make sure it’s not treated or otherwise chemically altered. Pools and artificial ponds, for example, are NOT a safe source so unless you have a rustic creek in your backyard, your best bet is to provide a supplemental water source most of the year.

The girls are here!

15 Feb

We inherited a new hive today and installed her facing east in the back of our garden.

The Kerry hive originally started by beekeeper Bill

Alex and Paul help set up the "Kerry" hive originally started by beekeeper Bill

She’s a robust hive of bees bred by B. Weaver, housed in a beautiful top bar hive of TJ and Bill’s design. Given the disheartening events of last season, we’re feeling damn lucky to have a merry band of Apis mellifera back in our lives again.

Ghosts be vanquished! As of 20 minutes ago, the “Kerry” hive (originally part of Bill’s hive duo called “Cash and Kerry”) is now safely installed near a patch of Russian sage and Goldenrod, pure bliss for bees come summer.

Their original keeper, Bill wrote a farewell in his Bee Log:

2-15-09: Sold hive with bees to Chantal and Alex. I know they will be great parents! I wish them well and anticipate good reports of  my girls making lots of honey for them. Go in peace, your beekeeper, Bill

Bill hands over the girls to Alex

Bill hands off the girls to Alex

Ready for Bee Day

14 Feb

Like a long awaited lover or maybe a flourless chocolate cake, our new hive arrives tomorrow morning. We’ve conned the whole family into helping us  prepare for Bee Day.

Pawlik paints the bee stand

Pawlik paints the bee stand

Bee Lessons: Larvae

27 May

HOw to identify grubs

Moist little larvae are pure eye-candy for the springtime beekeeper. When opening up your hives each week, you want to see plenty of larvae as evidence of your queen’s fertility.

This image shows larval stage bees (“grubs”) nestled in the comb. In a top bar hive like mine, the larvae are frequently mixed with honey and pollen on the comb.

Also, now that I look at this photo more closely, I notice a drone bee just to the left of the human finger. See it there, slightly larger with wider bands of black and oversized eyes on the top of its head?