A top bar hive can function as a completely self contained hive without any additional equipment. But there are a few things that can make top bar hive beekeeping much easier:
- top bar stand – holds a top bar and comb permitting hands free management
- bee down strip – helps move bees down and into a top bar hive when re-inserting top bars
- follower board – controls interior hive volume
- feeders – allow feeding inside a top bar hive
- hive strands – raise hives and isolate them from pests
- solar wax melter – a painless way to handle beeswax scraps
Top Bar Stand
A top bar stand is an essential piece of equipment, as most top bar comb must be held, in it’s natural position, with both hands. A simple wooden frame, slightly larger than the comb can be used.
Top bar stands come in all flavors:
- some fold up
- others are made of wire
- some beekeepers extend the hive sides beyond the end pieces
A bee-down strip is another essential piece of top bar hive equipment. It’s essentially a 1/16″ thick strip which is as long as a top bar and tall enough to grab onto. It’s inserted in the gap between two top bars and used to herd the bees beneath the top bars before pushing them together.
There’s lots of room for innovation here.
- can be made of various materials
- incorporate a hand hold
- could be tapered vertically, horizontally, or both ways
- can be removed vertically, horizontally or rotated around on end
A thin top bar spacer can be used in place of a dedicated bee-down strip but would be harder to hold onto.
A follower board is used to partition a top bar hive. It’s the same size as an end piece. With it, a queen can be raised or a nuc run in a hive’s far end.
Some beekeepers use a follower board to reduce the hive volume. Then they gradually increase the volume as the colony grows. It’s reported that this helps the bees draw out straighter comb.
A quail type dribble water feeder is commonly used to feed sugar syrup inside a top bar hive.
Plastic 2 liter pop bottles can also be used to feed bees like they are used with standard equipment. Except the access holes are drilled through a few special width top bars and not the hive cover.
If a deep frame fits below a top bar, a division board feeder can be screwed on the bottom of a top bar.
Or a feeder can be built into a follower board.
Hive stands provide most of the benefits of a top bar hive with legs, without most of the disadvantages.
Most beekeepers use something to get their hives off the ground, away from termites and damp, rotting conditions. Concrete blocks, bricks, rocks, wood, palates, pipe, etc. are often used as an expedient stand. Even top bar hive beekeepers, with honey cows, often use these same methods to isolate their hive’s legs preventing rot and deterring pests.
Here are a few things to think about when designing a hive stand:
- are they portable or permanent?
- will they support twice the anticipated weight?
- what kind of maintenance is required?
- are they a safety hazard without hives?
- will they be used to isolates pests like ants, toads?
- can recycled materials be used?
Much has been written about hive stands for conventional beekeepers. And most of it applies to top bar hives as well. I won’t repeat that here.
Solar Wax Melter
Beekeepers constantly accumulate small bits and pieces of comb. At any one time, the amount is small.
Some gather it up and store it until they get a sufficient amount to justify the hot, messy, time-consuming job of rendering it down with boiling water. But stored comb is attractive to pests, especially wax moths which consume it and create a mess in the process.
Others, who tired of the storage/rendering hassle, just toss it out in the beeyard where it inadvertently ends up on the bottom of their shoes. At least that’s been my experience 🙂
A solar wax melter is an idea solution to this problem. It:
- operates unattended
- keeps the mess outside
- requires no energy
- produces beeswax from scraps
- eliminates comb storage problems/pests
- transforms waste scraps into an asset
This is the one piece of beekeeping equipment I just can’t do without. When moving to Florida, I gave mine away. But will soon be building another one.
There are a few solar wax melters commercially available. But they are either too small or cost too much for my needs. There are plans on the internet. But they seem overly complicated. So I will be designing my own.
Solar melters are a prime candidate for using recycled materials. I’ll salvage a double pane glass window. And I’ll build my solar wax melter around it. Some things I’ll keep in mind:
- folding legs
- easy to rotate and follow the sun
- use aluminum for drip pan
- keep drip pan inside melter for honey/wax separation
- shallow at 10″ inside dimension
- large enough to handle 10 deep frames
I’ll post my plans here.
In the mean time, here’s a neat video showing how one man salvaged a double door refrigerator and built a monster Hawaiian solar wax melter. It’s a high quality video well worth the look and listen. I just love the music!
And here is a solar wax melter plan commonly found on the internet.