I have always found honey bees interesting, and about four years ago I built our first hive. Little did I know what I was getting myself into with bee keeping.
Have you ever wondered why it is called bee keeping and not bee farming? I finally have the answer. If you keep bees you are always trying to keep them happy, keep them fed, keep them alive, and keep them from leaving. Unlike having farm animals like chickens, cattle, or goats, controlling bees is nearly impossible. If a bee colony wants to swarm, chances are it is going to swarm. I have learned bee keeping the
hard way over the past four years and I finally feel like I know what I am doing.
First things first, you need to know some bee keeping terms to keep from being confused. A ‘bee hive’ is the place bees live. A ‘bee colony’ is a group of bees that live together with a queen and drones/workers. A ‘swarm’ is what happens when the entire group of bees decides to leave the hive.
When I first started out, I decided that we should keep bees in the most bee friendly way possible. Through much research, I determined that using a Top Bar Hive (TBH) was the easiest to build and most natural way to keep bees. Most people think of a tall stack of white boxes when they think of bee keeping. That type of hive is the traditional langstroth hive. In a langstroth hive, bees live on man made frames, normally with a wax foundation embossed with a honeycomb pattern. This is not really the best environment for bees because bees grow to fill the cell they pupate in. If bees make their own comb the colony decides what size bees they need. Smaller cells create smaller bees, and larger cells create larger bees. By forcing bees to use the pre-pressed foundation, the size they become is being limited. Small bees are not always in the best interest of the colony.
With a TBH, the bees do all the work. The hive consists of a manger looking box
with bars that rest along the top edges. The bees naturally build comb-down from the bars and through this process create their own comb. In my opinion, bees know what they need to survive. As long as they have what they need, they will act accordingly.
After my many learning experiences and some failures, we have successfully
managed a TBH for two full seasons. This is something not many bee keepers in our area of Ohio can say. During 2015, our one surviving TBH has produced four splits and we removed a hive of bees from a local barn. We are going into winter with six beehives, three in standard langstroth hives and three in top bar hives. I am excited to have a side by side comparison of these two different types of hives for next spring. At this point the TBH colonies all look much better than their langstroth counterparts.