Down in the meadow you may have noticed a coffin-like structure on wooden horses covered in brambles and weeds. This is a top bar hive, a non-invasive method of beekeeping.
The top bar hive is a bit like a fallen log in the woods, where the honey bees can make a home inside, hanging their natural comb on bars of wood suspended overhead inside the hive.
Unlike vertical hives that are oriented to produce extra honey that can be harvested by the beekeeper (better known as Langstroth hives that contain wax frames provided by the beekeeper), the top bar hive is a more relaxed and natural approach to beekeeping where the Queen and workers create a nest with little human assistance other than a box and some sticks inside.
Top bar hives simulate a more natural environment for honey bees. Inside the bees make their own wax comb on the bars within running the length of the hive. The Queen moves within laying her eggs in the natural comb. The brood nest gradually extends the length of the hive with honey being deposited for food stores within the natural comb. The bees work at a feverish pitch from spring to fall and settle down about this time of year to prepare to survive the winter. During the winter the bees will cluster together tightly feeding off the honey stores. With luck and the mercies of nature, extra honey can be had in the spring for harvesting as in the form of comb honey. If we get a warm day in the winter months, the bees may exit the hive to enjoy the warm weather and to purge themselves.
Here are some pictures of the top bar hive at the Bible Street Community Garden. As of October the bees within are doing very well. They head into winter with a solid store of honey for the winter months. Simple winter preparations will be made to guard against moisture, and frost proof the hive.
Winters can be tough on bees, and they face a number of risks including starvation, freezing, infection, condensation, the wax moth, foul brood, varroa mites, and human added risks like pesticides. It’s wonderful we have an organic environment in the Bible Street Community Garden, and if the bees could speak beesglish I know they would thank you!
It has been a good season for the bees at the Garden. They have been seen all over pollinating your garden plots. Next year we may try a few more hives and just see where it goes!