[Home] [Top Bar Hive] Building Instructions
Copyright 2002 by Leonard G. Barton - rights released for noncommercial use.


Working a Top Bar Hive (KTBH), the CalKenyan (Kenyan hive adapted for California).


The Hive Tools

A Combination pry and nail puller makes an effective topbar hive tool. An old bread knife will enable you to cut adeasions without getting your hand deep into the hive. A hacksaw blade can be effective in cutting comb.


A veil is essential, as you may accidentially stir up the bees. They will home in on the carbon dioxide in your breath. A sting on the face is not only more painful, it may be difficult to quickly locate and remove the stinger and so you will get more venom. The face also tends to swell up more noticably than other parts of the body.


Gloves are optional - I find that I have much more sensitivity to mood of the bees (always be cautions when removing and replacing bars) and being more exposed, I am much more careful to not disturb the bees. You can usually quickly remove a stinger from your hand.


The less smoke you use, the better. If you use too much smoke it can flavor the honey. Smoke will not be very effective in calming bees once they are stired up. I usually get the smoker started and set it down upwind of the hive - just enough to get the smokey scent in the air. Beware that the smoker can get hot - hot enough to melt nylon or polyester clothing, and of course it is a fire hazard in dry grass and leaves. If your hive is in a fire dangerous area, use "liquid smoke" in a spray bottle.

The Frame Holder

This job is made much easier if you build a frame holder. This should sit on the top bars but not block acess to too many bars. My frame holder is more elaborate than necessary as it is designed to transport and display a single frame (with or without bees), so it has tempered glass on both sides and a latching top with a carrying handle. If you make a simple frame holder I recommend using a draft stop on one side (some poly will do). You can then reverse the bar in the holder to inspect the hidden side. I mark all bars on one end so that I am sure to insert them in the original orientation.

Hive Inspections

The inspection is made back to front. Your hive should be long enough so that you have some unused space behind the movable back wall.

Clearing Adheasions

A fully developed comb may be stabilized with attachments to the side. If you lift the bar without clearing these the comb can tear near the top of the bar. Using the hive tool, cut these loose. Give the bees time to move out of the way. [Cutting_Adheasions]

Lifting the Bar

Take care not to twist the bar. The comb can fold and weaken if stressed this way. Below is a picture of honey stores comb, heavy with honey and about 60% sealed. [Stores_Comb]

This was originally worker brood comb that broke (due to improper handling) and was inserted into a wild comb frame. The darker areas are brood regions that have been converted to honey storage. The lighter areas near the top and sides have never been used for anything but honey. The dark areas on the bottom were drone brood cells.

Converted brood comb does not produce the best honey - it can take on a bitterness from the residual protein in the cell walls. If you are salvaging honey from such comb you may want to separate it into two grades, based on the color of the comb.

This is also an example of what develops if you do not remove the temporary spline after the comb is attached to the top bar. You should always remove the spline because sometimes the bees will drop comb from each edge of the spline, forming double comb that cannot be inspected. Such comb is contrary to most agricultural department rules and can also provide a place for the queen to hide during inspections.

Brood Comb

Below is a picture of brood comb.


A detail of the brood comb shows several white larvae with cells in the process of being capped. Just to the left of the worker cleaning a cell is an emerging adult, working on removing the wax capping.


Queen Cells and Spurs

You may encounter a queen cell spur - this is prepared for the hanging of a queen cell. You may also encounter one or two queen cells in development which are inverted cups about the size and appearance of a single nut peanut shell. The workers will prepare these cells and may even devlope a few queens in case they loose their queen. If the reigning queen is in good condition she will kill the emergant usurpers.


If you encounter a large number of queen cells it is likely that the hive has lost its queen. The first new queen to emerge will kill the others or fight to the death with any that succesfully emerge. The surviving queen must then go on several nuptual flights to get the sperm required to lay fertile eggs that will give rise to female worker bees.

If you are in an area with Africanized Honey Bees this puts you at risk of having an africanized hive, which can be very dangerous. Under such conditions you must replace any missing or wild breed queen with a queen of known ancestry.

Correcting Skewed Comb

A picture of a developing bar with a skew - note that the attachment closest to the camera is approaching the edge of the bar.


The skewed portion has been cut loose with a hacksaw blade and pushed into alignment. The bees will rapidly reattach the comb. Wax near the edge is cleaned off the bar.


Skewing can occur even with deep web bars, but is much easier to correct with the shallow web bars shown here. Correction should be done early in comb development so that the correction will not result in insuffient "bee space" between combs.

More to come

A section on inspection of drone brood for varroa mite assesment will be added here.
[Home] [Top Bar Hive] Building Instructions