Posted by & filed under Insects, Processing & Food Preservation, Urban Projects.

The photograph above is of my home made bee hive. This is the ultimate beginner bee hive and the one I highly recommend you consider. Its benefits are that it is horizontal and not vertical so you don’t break your back lifting heavy boxes. The legs are cut to make the top of the hive at your own waist level. Now you can tend your bees without much bending and in a very comfortable relaxed state. This hive does not use bee frames. Instead of forcing bees to make comb cells the size we humans want, bees in the hive design I run build their entire comb themselves with their own wax (store bought wax has chemicals and pesticides treatment that stores in the wax fat, so your bees get medication even if you don’t want them to, or other potential diseases). Because the bees make all their own wax you get lots of honey like with traditional hives but you also get lots of wax. This is perfect for the homestead as you can make so many useful things from wax – from furniture and wood polishes, to candles, and so on! This hive is also perfect for beginners because you don’t have to buy thousands of dollars of honey extraction equipment. I bought a bread knife from a dollar shop and use that to harvest comb.

These hives are called Top Bar Hives because a single bar of wood lays on top of the hive. An embedded popsicle stick, or, as I do, a simple piece of jute string lain along the middle of the bar and glued by dripping hot wax melted with a cheap soldering iron from an electronics store, gives the bees a guide to build their comb along the bar. The jute string is less work than the popsicle stick and natural jute string means when the bees chew through it, it won’t harm the bees or contaminate your honey when harvesting like plastic string will.

I simply lift a bar at a time out of the hive and slice the top of the bar with the bread knife and let the entire honey comb fall into a bucket. I keep a cloth over the bucket after to keep bees out. When I have enough honey comb I go inside. Instead of the thousands of dollars in equipment. I take a fine sheer curtain material, here they sell it as Swiss Voile made from Polyester, or if I have none and have a new package of dish cloths I take a new clean one of those as it has fine holes in it. I put the comb in the cloth and then mash it up with a fork, spoon, wooden lemon juicer, or simply my hands (so long as I have a nice container of warm soapy water to clean my hands when finished). Then the mashed comb suspends in the cloth and I hang that inside a large jar. In a few days to a week the honey has gone through the cloth and into the jar with no pieces of wax or dirt or anything, just pure honey. Because I have not warmed or heated my honey it has all the delicate, sweet flavor and aroma that is destroyed when you harvest honey the traditional way or buy honey in the stores.

The only item you buy from traditional beekeeping companies is a bee suit, because when we first start out we have lots of unnecessary insecurities and it may take a few years of beekeeping until we calm down and realise it’s not so difficult. Long term beekeepers slowly evolve to working bees with no suit at all.

I would not recommend buying a bee smoker. Smoke makes bees stress out and think a fire is coming and gorge themselves on honey and fly around like crazy. If you switch to a garden sprayer filled with some sugar water syrup that is runny you will find when you spray bees they don’t buzz and go crazy, they get very quiet and stop what they are doing and start licking each other and the syrup like crazy.

It makes for a calm, happy, healthy hive and a calm happy beekeeper.

The plans and instructions to build the bee hive are kindly provided free of charge in the form of PDF documents you can view and print out on your computer. The web site hosting these files is www.biobees.com and they have a forum where you can ask plenty of questions and get helpful answers.

Bees are a perfect compliment to any suburban backyard, homestead, or farm. I would highly recommend anyone give it a go, especially with natural beekeeping methods as can be learned at the website and in those PDF document files.

Before transferring bees to the large Kenyan Top Bar Hive:

YouTube Preview Image

After transferring bees to the large Kenyan Top Bar Hive:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Further Reading:

26 Responses to “How to Make a Home Made Bee Hive”

  1. jean-michel

    Isn’t it a problem to use metal? (the one on the pic is metal)
    creating a Faraday cage and the like of electro-magnetism disturbances?!
    i love the one in the flowerpot!

    Reply
  2. Peter Dilley

    The grey painted hive in the photo in this article is wood with a latex exterior paint applied. I got what was labelled white paint in the bargain bin at Bunnings, but it turned out when I got it home to have been tinted with pigment and I ended up with a grey colour. The only metal on this photos’ hive will be the 8 bolts holding the pine legs on the main hive body.

    This is my second Kenyan Top Bar Hive, it got the paint treatment as the natural finish of linseed oil and melted bees wax mixed together only lasts a few month in the high UV sunlight exposure it received.

    My first Kenyan Top Bar Hive is completely full of comb on every bar across going into winter.

    You can see it in videos I filmed before and after transferring them from a small hive with no legs used for capturing and transporting swarms. You can see the natural linseed oil and beeswax finish and both hives made from wood. (Any natural finish will do but avoid furniture finishes that sound natural or list natural ingredients as they have a lot of solvents or driers that can harm bees).

    I’ve asked Craig to add the videos in, see bottom of post above.

    Cheers,
    Peter

    Reply
  3. JBob

    I was going to try setting up my new top bar hive in a shady, out-of-the-way spot and smearing some lemongrass leaves around the interior. I’ve read that this smell attracts bees looking for a new home. Any truth to that in your experience?

    Reply
  4. Peter Dilley

    Bait hives are usually small hives, like you see in the videos that have 10 to 12 top bars on them. They also double as swarm collecting hives as you can knock the bees off low branches, bicycles in city centres, etc. into the hive and gently put the bars on top (contrary to popular belief, bees during swarming are the safest to handle as they have no hive full of baby bees (brood) and stored honey to protect.) You leave the hive until night when all the bees are inside and temporarily plug the single entrance hole, put the hive in your car and drive home, unplug the hole and go to bed and let the bees build out comb on the bars until you can organise transferring the bars one by one into the new large hive that will allow them to grow and expand the colony all season.

    As a bait hive, you can use pure unadulterated lemongrass oil, lemon balm oil as bees are said to smell similar to the herb melissa. You can also increase the attractiveness by adding in a left over top bar or two of built out comb if you have bees already and you can rub the inside of the hive in bees wax and/or bee propolis.

    With bait hives you can feel more natural about getting a hive of bees if you are set up and prepared before the swarming season starts (end of winter / very beginning of spring) but you are up to the fanciful whim of the bees and they may pass up your bait hive so people that bait usually put out more than one hive in various locations.

    Swarm collecting is also an option, your local club may offer free swarms to members as they do in Canberra, or offer members discounted rates, usually covering fuel, etc. for the person who is collecting. You can feel good with collected swarms, especially in urban environments as the swarm is destined for an exterminator, or mistreatment by property owners who may not know that swarming bees are the safest stage of a bee colony to be around. With swarms you may find you are still up to whimsical fancy of the bees and they may leave your hive when initially introducing the bees and swarm in a nearby tree. Just tap them back into the small hive and they will usually build out and settle in and can be transferred into the large hive when ready.

    You local climate and environment will determine how well bees will do with regards to how much shade or sun. I have had best results with hives in full sun this season and the ones in shade did not do as well. I build my hives with a more angled shape so the bars are longer that go across the hive and made the depth of the hive shallower. This gives more attachment points on the bars for bees to attach wax comb and the shorter length allows the combs filled with honey not to be as heavy and only had minimal problems with any comb falling off in the hot summer days pushing into the 40s here locally. So do not be afraid to try small modifications and experiment.

    Cheers,
    Peter

    Reply
  5. Peter Willis

    Thanks for the article Peter. I have been making these for a local bee enthusiast here in Hamilton, NZ.
    http://miro-ngaio.blogspot.com/
    Mine aren’t as pretty as yours though! I make mine from macrocarpa which lasts a long time here, I use soem treated wood on the hive for the legs etc. My bee lady loves them and says the bees are far nicer to work with. I have experimented with different bars on the top but the bees seem to show no particular preference. Our temps rarely hit the high 20’s let alone 40’s so we have not had problems with comb weakening in the heat. I also build a sloping roof which is more work. I have fitted windows into two of the TB’s so that you can look inside and see the bees working. You can use polycarb for this and just brad nail it in place. Marcia has collected several swarms for her hives (in a cardboard box or a sack) she just pours them into the TB hive when she returns from wherever she got them from and they settle in overnight.

    The comment above about the use of metal should also be clarified, a faraday cage has no field inside it, thats the whole point of the thing. They won’t block the earths magnetic field (changes too slowly) but they will block external EM fields form modern sources.

    regards
    Peter

    Reply
  6. Peter Dilley

    The sloped roof cover is a good idea. It was my original plan to build one, but I never got passed the flat roof beginnings. I will be adding a slope roof to the flat roof and use the space in-between the two roof pieces to place straw or scrunched up newspaper to form an insulation during the winter season.

    I find the brood comb is not as wide and thick as the honeycomb in my KTBH. This is why I think some beekeepers using KTBHs talk about two basic size preference for bar widths.

    A bar with a board down the middle cut out to the internal shape of the hive is a “follower board” and lets you divide the hive if you are at the beginning of the season and want to put two swarms in one hive until you get time to build a second KTBH for your second colony. It can also be used when bees are expanding the hive inside and moved outwards with each inspection as bees build out. Finally, it can be used to do an artificial swarm inside the same hive with a colony that is showing signs of swarming.

    You can further modify a follower board with a hold cut in it and use it as a straight comb guide. The bees can see through the hole to the rest of the empty hive so they don’t feel crowded and then start thinking about swarming, yet at the same time there is enough wooden board going down in the hive to bump into and force them to build straight comb.

    Or you can simply inspect hives and if any comb starts to go astray, you can cut off the crossed comb and put the bar in-between two already built out and straight combs. Bees will draw a new straight comb down that empty bar with the two good combs on each side to guide them.

    Windows are great to get to see inside and observe and learn provided your colony of bees is not as sensitive to light being let inside the hive as others. Most of the time you won’t notice anything, but occasionally you will get a swarm that absconds and then you start to think maybe it was the window that did it. Of course bees have their own mind so who can really tell what drove them to abscond.

    Keep enjoying the top bar hive form of beekeeping. It truly is easy and fun, and my back enjoys not having to lift heavy traditional beehive boxes and cart them around. :)

    Cheers,
    Peter

    Reply
  7. JBob

    Thanks! And the jute string waxed to the top boards is a great idea. The difficulty of attaching a wooden strip on all my top boards is what has deterred me from finishing my hive for 2 years!

    Reply
  8. Peter Dilley

    I prefer the Jute string. As fitting popsicle sticks as guides for bees to draw comb down from usually means people cut the entire length of the bar in a table saw but only put popsicle sticks in the middle of the bar. This means all those gaps along the bar are places for pests to hide in away from the bees who tend to keep their hives clean on their own. I can spend an hour or less with my bench clamp holding the bar, two quick release clamps keeping the jute along the bar and a soldering iron in one hand and fresh wax in the other hand and do bars for two hives easy!

    Mate! I tell you! Nothing smells so good as hot beeswax with little pockets of trapped honey being heated by a soldering iron as you drip it all along the string.

    Then slice and slice again at both ends with a retractable utility knife and unclamp and toss the bar on the pile and grab the next blank bar of wood.

    Cheers,
    Peter

    Reply
  9. Peter Dilley

    For anyone wanting to try top bar hives but have a traditional hive and wondering how to start a hive split with their traditional hives. You can take a traditional hive and move the frames apart so there is one frame gap between all the traditional frames. Then create metal braces from strips of metal. Fold it around a top bar and at the top of the top bar bend the metal outward like wings. These wings go onto the traditional frames and then the top bar rests on this holder in-between the frames. So you need one at each end to hold a top bar at the correct level in-between each frame. The bees will build natural comb down the top bars. Then lift the top bars out and place into a Kenyan Top Bar Hive and off you go!

    Cheers,
    Peter

    Reply
  10. Tim Auld

    Can anyone comment on the legality of top bar hives in Australia (Qld in particular). I was informed by a friend that they are illegal but the information on the Code of Practice for urban beekeeping in Queensland and Guidelines for rural beekeeping in Queensland
    don’t mention it.

    Reply
  11. lyle clinton

    tim the reason beekeepers use frames is so that we can remove them from the hive without damaging the comb it makes extracting less messy and you can check for bee diseases by close examination of the frame.
    with top bar hives you cannot do this
    evertime you harvest the comb for honey it cannot be used again with a managed hive system the frames and the wax on them is placed back into the hive to be cleaned up by the bees and refilled if you ring DPI QLD they will tell you the same thing and yes it against their regulations to keep bees in anything other than a framed hive system and you must also be registered
    it is illegal to keep bees without registration no matter how many hives you have

    Reply
  12. Stan

    I have seen top bar hives with frames added to the bar to suit the profile of the box, at the time I thought that this was just a waste of time but it would be a way to get around these archaic laws, it would work got warre hives as well I guess. p.s. I have had my top bar hive for some time with an entry slot in the end about 150 mm long and about 6 mm high, I adjusted the height of the slot so that the bee has to rub the entrance on the way through, a crude attempt at dislodging the varoa should they make it to my area. no signs of beetle yet although I keep a few traps under some corrugated plastic on top of the hive. the top bar or warre is the only way to fly if you wanna be a back yarder.

    Reply
  13. Georgina

    Peter hello. First, thank you for having this info online, fantastic. Because I got interested in the Topbar idea for a beehive initially from your site I’m ready with the plans to build a Topbar (thanks to ‘The barefoot Beekeeper”). My question today is about exterior ply: did you find you could build from // your bees are OK in/ exterior ply?
    I’m south of Sydney. It’s a longshot but a second enquiry: would you or anyone passing happen to know of any other topbar fans in NSW? Many Thanks ! Georgina

    Reply
  14. Peter Willis

    Hi Georgina, I myself would be reluctant to use treated plywood for the internals of my TB hive however it would be quite feasible to use untreated wood if you have a very good water proof roof for the hive so that the timber does not get wet for any length of time. Alternatively you might use treated timber and overlay this with some 4mm untreated timber. A sandwich if you like of perhaps 12mm H3 ply with the 4mm glued to this and have the untreated on the inside. A bit of a pain but one way around it. That said, supposedly the wood treatments these days are less toxic than they were but less toxic to whom? Us?, bees? Probably best for you to decide how it sits with your outlook on the world. If you want to find other TB people I would suggest you enquire with your local beekeeping group, our one has been a conduit for putting TB people together even if they think its a hippy concept. Humans really cling to the idea that they have to be in control of as much of nature as possible and TB hives are a step away from that.

    A response also to Lyle above, you can certainly check the condition of the comb in a TB hive when you wish to check for disease, open the top (external roof) and lift out any one bar you want to look at. This is one of the advantages of a TB in that it does not disturb the entire hive as you are leaving most of the hive “roof” (the bars) in place, the bees remain much calmer. Yes, completely true that when you harvest honey you destroy the comb to retrieve the honey but the bees build anew and they build fresh virgin comb (no residues from the old comb) so the amount of honey the hive produces will be less than a langstroth. The point of a TB hive is to allow the bees to be bees, trying to more emulate natural behaviour as they would show if they made their nest in a hollow log or wherever. Though, GOSH! it would be an unregistered log hive then wouldn’t it, naughty bees, no respect for authority.

    cheers

    Reply
  15. Georgina

    Peter Hi,
    Thank you very much for your reply.
    I think after a failed idea to build a hive out of a recycled door believed to be oregon once the painted veneer cleaned off (but lo, turned out disappointingly extremely heavy particle board inside a wooden frame) – that I
    remember glimpsing on your page external ply on the video ‘Before transferring bees to the large Kenyan Top Bar Hive’
    Yes then thought through a glueing process idea along the lines you were discussing,
    Now definitely not keen and so persevere with finding natural wood.
    I think the topbar idea is wonderful allowing the upholding and protection of nature’s way.I am no more enlightened re the TopBar design’s exclusion and so ahead re registration, checking on this not being the case in NSW.
    Thank you again. I
    appreciate your comments very much.
    Georgina PS I would be very glad to stay connected with people using Topbars and I can be contacted by email: georginavn@gmail.com Many Thanks.

    Reply
  16. lenny

    I am truly pleased with the information I have read especially the hive making plan. Your design is so simple and yet very practical and effective, I have decided to build my first of many.

    Can you please explain how I can attract bees to the hive, is there a food or should I have to buy them? How do I look after them, should I feed them regularly and is there any info on care ets?
    Lenny

    Reply
  17. james johnson

    Iam an beginning beekeeper,getting my first hive. Thanks for the
    help,need all the help I can get.I don’t have an web address at this
    time.Thanks
    From James

    Reply
  18. KISOBULU URIAH

    I have conceived an idea of keeping bees.Iam very grateful for your introduction especially on design of simple beehive and a better method of extracting honey combs without the use of smoke Iam very hopefull that you are going to provide me with very necessary information on how to begin the project.

    Reply
  19. Brandon

    Great article.
    I am interested in starting a beehive and the topbar hive seems to be a good place to start. My only question is how do you keep the brood seperate from the honey? With langstroth you can put a queen excluder between supers so that she can’t lay eggs in the box above. Do you have problems with brood getting into your honey?

    Reply
  20. Tanya

    Hi.. Are there a good set of plans I can use. I’ve only seen one bee in my 9 years in Broome WA. I’d like to change that. Also is it ok to put the ‘box’ on a trolley for ease of transport as lifting would be hard and awkward.

    New bee enthusiast. Can’t wait to see the beehive at Zaytuna. Coming for soils internship in September.

    Tanya

    Reply
  21. Hamish

    I cant beleive these ridiculous rules about top bar beehives being illegal due to ‘Not having a frame’ The bars are just as easy to remove from a top bar hive as any Langstroth hive I have used. Bees are just as likly to propolize a Lang frame to the side of the box or to another frame and need to be sliced off as they are to do the same thing to a top bar hive. I will not be changing my top bar hives to comply with this ridiculous ‘law’ and will continue to promote traditional top bar hives as the bes way to beekeep due to the healh of the bees. This is simply a case of large industrial beekeeping skewing the course of justice and the idiot authorities clicking their heels and falling into line. IDIOTS!

    Reply
  22. Hamish

    Further to my comments above about the legality of TBH’s – this is a law that as a community we should fight in Australia.

    Reply
  23. Paul

    Hamish, I understood there was resistance to frameless beekeeping but not that it was actually illegal. Regarding your comment about fighting this as a community, I would be interested in whether this law is actually being enforced? If it is then certainly let’s team up and put a case for TBH beekeeping!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)