The Kenya top bar hive (KTBH), was developed for beekeepers in Kenya and has also been used in Uganda. The KTBH or TBH combines simplicity, economy and efficiency. Go here to see a real KTBH built by an enterprising Kenyan Eddie Muigai in Nairobi.
Unlike most common designs of modern hive, it does not use frames, rather it uses slats of wood called top bars, which is of course how the hive received it’s name. Instead of filling out frames, the bees build comb from the top bars down. The bar is the only means of support that combs have in this type of hive.
Because of the simplicity of the Kenyan Top Bar Hive’s design, one can be built from readily available salvaged materials. In fact the design of a TBH is so adaptable that boxes, 55-gallon-drums, old crates and even dilapidated refrigerators can be used to keep bees. In essence, nearly any large container can be modified to produce a productive honeybee hive.
There are excellent top bar kits and hives available from The BackYardHive, for those not wanting an old refrigerator or cut-down oil drum lying around. The BackYardHive also has shaped top bars, special hive tools, DVDs and tbh plans available. Click here to download plans to help you build your own hive.
Click on the videos here to see how a Kenya top bar hive is managed in a natural and sustainable way which mirrors the way bees live in the wild.
Unlike most other hive designs, the KTBH does not impose artificial segregation of the colony by physically dividing honey from brood by use of separate hive bodies, rather the entire hive is made of a single chamber.
It’s said, by the converts, that Kenya top bar hive beekeeping is a more healthy and sustainable method of beekeeping, it allows bees to make their own pure, natural beeswax which means they can make it in the way that suits them best. They make the honeycomb cells the size that they need them to be. In a top bar hive, they do it by building their comb straight down from the bars which rest across the top of the interior cavity of the Kenya Top Bar Beehive.
This natural beeswax is important for strengthening the bees’ immune system, helping to combat varroa mite infestations and other bee diseases that have been affecting the honeybee. It is also free of any toxic chemicals, since the bees make it themselves!
All that is required for a Kenya top bar hive to be successful are a water and wind tight cover, defensible entrances and healthy bees.
It is also important to note that the design of the parts does not need to be precise; as long as they fit into the hive, the bees are happy to use them.
They are not usually suitable for migratory beekeeping, moving bees in a top bar hive is considerably more difficult than the Langstroth. It is often said that there is no such thing as a beekeeper without a bad back – due to all the heavy lifting involved with conventional beekeeping equipment. The Kenyan Top Bar hive stands on legs at counter-height, eliminating awkward bending and heavy lifting. The hive is a complete, self-contained unit and honey is removed from the hive one ‘top bar’ at a time, avoiding the lifting of 40 to 80 pound boxes. However unlike the Langstroth style of hive, the Kenya Top Bar Hive does not require heavy lifting of hive bodies or supers.
It has been said by people that manage both KTBH and Langstroth hives that managing TBHs is more pleasant, as the bees are less stressed when worked and less likely to exhibit defensive behavior. This type of hive is better for bees, but it”™s also better for the beekeeper.
The combs on a TBH can be manipulated a few at a time instead of one by one. Less disturbance means that inspections expose a much smaller segment of the hive at any given time. Bees in and on the unexposed portion of the hive tend not to notice the beekeeper’s intrusion and as a result seem not to become particularly aggressive.
The result of honey production in a Kenya top bar hive is, by default, honeycomb which is often considered more valuable than extracted honey by honey connoisseurs. If desired however, a honey press can be used to produce liquid honey, such as that produced by an extractor.
Because they are managed differently to framed hives, inasmuch as honey tends to be harvested a little at a time rather than all at once, top bar hives are less attractive to the commercial beekeeper, who wants to maximize profits by minimizing time spent in harvesting. Other than that, top bar hives have no real disadvantages over framed hives, especially for the smaller-scale beekeeper.
During seasons with heavy nectar flow, beekeepers may need to harvest honeycombs more often to prevent the hive from becoming honey bound.
There exist no real standards for top bar hives, because of this the beekeeper must be responsible for construction of the Kenya top bar hive. However, the existence of standards has frozen the development of beekeeping sometime in the nineteenth century, so this is hardly a disadvantage.
On the contrary, the fact of there being no standards has encouraged creative experimentation among top bar beekeepers, who many now regard as being at the leading edge of beekeeping development.
There is a belief among framed-hive beekeepers that TBHs are less productive, but no evidence for this has been produced. Wax production, on the other hand, tends to be higher, as comb is not returned to the hive after extraction. This, in itself, is beneficial in terms of disease control, as no potentially disease spore-bearing comb finds its way back into the hive.
Because no foundation is used in comb production, there is no reinforcement other than what the bees create. This means that new comb must be handled carefully to avoid breakages.
Overall the KTBH is something which every beekeeper should experiment with at some time, if only just for the fun and experience, Click here to find out more.