Who wants to know how to build a top bar beehive? If you’re interested in a more natural way of beekeeping other than the conventional “chest of drawers”-looking hives that require smoking in order to “calm” the bees and therefore get the honey, then you are!
Jerry and I first heard about top bar beehives on The Survival Podcast, when Jack had Philip Chandler on as a guest. He is the owner of biobees.com, where you can get plans on how to build a top bar beehive for free (search around on the right hand side of the home page toward the bottom, if I recall).
We are both into treating animals – yes, even down to bees – as humanely as possible, and I liked the idea of being able to extract honey from a hive without having to use a smoker or risk a swarm of bee stings at once.
The smoker is thought by amateurs to calm the bees. It does not. The smoker actually irritates the bees and puts them into panic mode. But bees deal with panic in a different way. They begin to plan their escape, which involves communicating among their various members about who will do what, and where and how the escape will be made.
During this planning, the bees appear to be calm, because they are not moving or flying around much. This allows the beekeeper to remove the honey from the hive without the bees getting angry about it. The smoker is, in essence, a distraction.
And a not very humane one.
Then there is the fact that most conventional beekeepers remove all the honey from the hive every fall and feed the bees sugar water during the winter. This is not as healthy for them as the honey, but better than what some other commercial beekeepers do: killing off the entire hive once they’ve extracted the honey, and starting all over with a fresh swarm the next spring.
Not nice at all.
The top bar difference
With a top bar beehive, you remove the combs from the top rather than the sides. This is much less upsetting to bees, and therefore they don’t need to be sedated before you do it. Head protection is still recommended for the task, but not a full-body anti-sting costume. And if I recall correctly, there are many top bar beekeepers who don’t put on any protection at all.
If you don’t upset the bees, you won’t get stung. Period.
A top bar hive will not produce as much as a chest-of-drawers type hive. So, build extra if you plan to make a business out of beekeeping.
We don’t; we just want to produce enough honey for our own consumption, and I figured that two such hives would be enough.
I figured, and Jerry built them. The following video is a bit over thirty-three minutes long, but if you download the free plans to build a top bar beehive from biobees.com and then follow this video step-by-step, I believe it will be a lot more helpful than just trying to follow written instructions. Also, you will save at least 75% building the hives yourself than purchasing them ready-made. If you can find appropriately sized scrap wood for free, you’ll save even more.
So, without further ado, here is the video I created to teach you how to build a top bar bee hive! Please be sure to share it with your online homesteading-minded friends; thanks. 🙂