Working in the CTB Hive

The Colorado Top Bar Hive

Each hive has its own particular methodology and principles to follow. It is recommended that the reader research and study the Top Bar and natural beekeeping to get a perspective of its history and practice, and also to become more familiar with the basics of bee biology. Many books and best practices manuals have been written about using Tob Bars and so much information cannot be transferred here. We encourage you to read also Phil Chandlers writtings and refer to the Bio-bees forum.

Hive Inspection

The best time to inspect your colony is during the day when temperatures are above 60 degrees fahrenheit/15 degrees celsius, without wind or rain. Opening the hive at colder times (especially when misty) has been likened to ripping the bed covers o a sleeping person on a cold Winters morning. It will bother the bees and is not advised! The bees also maintain a temperature of up to 90 degrees within the brood cluster. If the brood gets too cold, it can die.

When working in your hive it is important to be calm and move intentionally. In a top bar hive the bees sometimes attach comb to the hive walls. Check before removing frames from the hive, and do so carefully.

What to Look For

When inspecting your colony, your main objective is to nd evidence of a healthy queen. You can be sure your hive has a queen if you nd the her inside, or if there are eggs in the hive. After 24 hrs eggs hatch into larvae. Eggs are evidence that the queen was present within the last 24 hours, which is second best to nding the queen herself. Ideally you can nd both to know the queen is present AND laying eggs. It takes practice to nd the queen and recognize eggs. Eggs look like small grains of rice at the bottom of a cell, setting them apart from crescent moon-shaped larvae. If you wear glasses remember to bring them with you when inspecting the hive. Moving the frames into the sun sometimes makes it easier to see.

Other things to notice when inspecting your hive are pearly-white plump larvae in many stages of growth, convex cell cappings, calm worker bees, and plenty of food stores. If worker bees look deformed, larvae is brown and/or twisted, mites are observed on the backs of any bees, there is a lack of colony growth, brood is dead in the cells, or anything else unusual, consult additional resources to nd out what is going on inside your hive. As mentioned before, the best way to monitor your bees health is to spend plenty of time with them so you will notice when something is different or wrong.

Watching for Swarming

In Spring months, if your colony is strong and healthy it is natural for them to swarm. You can manage your colony to prevent swarming by giving the bees more space. Be careful not to do this too soon or too fast, because the bees still need to heat the space. If you find swarm cells - queen cells on the outer edges of the frames - this is a sign the bees are already getting ready to swarm. Once this happens it is hard to convince them otherwise.

Preparing the Hive for Winter

When the last warm days of the season are coming near it is time to get your bees ready for Winter. Using the follower board or false wall, close down the hive to contain only the brood cluster and honey stores. It is best to feed your bees and insulate them with a breathable material. Burtap or tarpaper are sometimes used. Do not use plastic, this can cause molding. You can also use hay bales to block the hive from cold winds. Fall is also the time to administer any medications or mite treatments if you choose to do so. Be sure to wait until after honey harvest to treat your bees. Once you close the hive down for the Winter leave it shut until warm Spring days return. The bees will seal everything with propolis, and you do not want to break their seals during cold weather months.

Harvesting Honey

Harvesting honey from your top bar hive is easy to do. Simply use a bee brush to remove the bees from the comb that is full of honey, and cut the comb from the top bar. Smoke can also be used to chase bees from honeycomb. Hang a nylon paint strainer into a five gallon, food grade bucket. The cut comb can be placed or smashed inside the paint strainer. Honey is heavier than wax and will drain out of the strainer into the bottom of your bucket. This method works best if your honey bucket it kept in a warm place. Comb can also be cut and placed directly into jars. Cover the honey as soon as it is removed or it will be di cult to leave without lots of bees.

Honeybees make honey to sustain themselves through long cold Winters. Depending on how long and cold the Winter is, the bees will need a varying amount of honey to make it until Spring. Ideally, a beekeeper’s job is to manipulate the colony into making excess stores so there is enough for us to take. Yet it is hard to guess how long and hard the Winter will be or how much honey the bees will need. Some beekeepers calculate how much honey to take by weight. Some hobbyist beekeepers wait until Spring and take whatever is left over.

Congratulations--you now know the basics of Top Bar beekeeping!