TBH slightly redesigned, bee brush, etc.
- Hello all--
I recently redesigned the "divider board" that goes between the
hive body and the ventilated "attic" of my first homemade
Tanzanian (straight-sided) top bar hive. Took a couple new
photos and updated my webpage at:
This is my first experience with a top bar hive, and I like it so
far. The bees seem to like the hive also, and although the days
here in New Mexico are in the 80s and 90s now (late May), the
nights at this altitude (4,050 ft.) are typically about 30 degrees
cooler (upper 40s to lower 60s). However, the bees seem to
like the ventilated aspect of the hive. They cluster inside the hive
when it is cool (I can observe them by removing the sliding
board beneath the 1/8th-inch mesh mite screen and looking
up into the hive from beneath), but they do very little fanning at
the hottest times of the day. So far I think the ventilation is
a good idea, and the "attic" also provides a convenient area
to place jars of sugar syrup to feed the bees inside, without
the supposedly robber-prone use of lower entrance "boardman"
The thing I personally fear the most in a hive, aside from getting
way too hot, is to be both cold AND wet inside which I'm sure
promotes disease, and I'm sure
the ventilated attic will greatly reduce the moisture inside the
hive and will help condense the nectar the bees gather as
the warm moist air rises and escapes from the ventilation holes
in the attic.
The bees have loved the thousands of tiny blooms on our
asparagus, and have been gathering pollen and nectar very
vigorously from them. Now that the asparagus is almost done
blooming, the yellow sweet clover that lines the sides of
the roads is coming into bloom.
Steve D, New Mexico US
--- previous correspondence between Steve and Leonard G. Barton below ---
--- Steve's text is double-quoted (> >), Leonard's is single-quoted (> ) ---
> > I also wish I knew how to use a bee brush without making the bees
> > angry. Perhaps it is better to brush firmly and smoothly rather than
> > with short gentle strokes.
> It is important not to "roll" the bees. If you take them off individually
> you can get much more control. I just place the brush tip next to the bee
> at about a 45 degree angle to the surface and flick the bee into the air.
> This lifts the bee, rather than pushing across the surface.
> > How are your bees doing? Is there a good honey flow now? Here in
> > New Mexico we have had less than a half inch of rain this year so
> > far (WAY below normal) so I was afraid the bees would have nothing
> > to gather, but they are finding a surprising amount of both pollen and
> > nectar.
> We have had a good flow - my neighbor with langsroths fills a drawn super
> in a week or so. There is always something blooming here until mid Summer
> with another flow in the Fall.
> I was planning on taking honey this weekend but we have had an unseasonable
> cold wet storm (this may actually be a symptom of global warming - central
> California is predicted to be cool and wet under some scenarios). I'll let
> the bees refill the combs and will pull two or three bars. The first part
> of the hive was used for polen stores but this has been cleaned out and is
> now used for honey stores.
> I will also need to do a mite check on the drone brood - I saw one badly
> damaged drone ejected.
> My new drones are very black like their mother while the new workers now do
> not have that Italian mix appearance (two and a half black stripe on
> translucent amber), but are more like Yugoslavians (two gray-yellow stripe
> and two brown stripe on black, with a black tail, some variation toward
> more black). They are be out working even in our cool, windy dampness. It
> remains to be seen how they will handle dry heat.
> When it is cool the bees fan in the twilight and evening - I suspect that
> it is the increased relative humidity with the cooling that they are
> responding to. There has not been an opportunity to test under hot
> conditions. I need to see if they are using my fanning zone with its heat
> I will build one more CalKenan about 8 inches longer using the same design
> and then will try a tanzanian following your model. I will probably use
> sides on the brood frames with a dowel across the bottom (per Jackson). The
> attic will be expanded to take standard supers with Perco frames (this is
> plastic foundation with integral frame). My neighbor uses these and they
> look fine for honey supers.
> I hope to get some swarms this year to start a second hive. I now have a
> fenced in beeyard that will have room for three or four hives after I
> remove another garden shed. I'd like to get enough honey to make mead.
> Best wishes,
- Hello Leonard, all--
Leonard, I have a question regarding the use of a movable false
wall to place at the rear of the hive body, which you use with your
CalKenyan top bar hives.
I like the idea and understand and agree with the reasons you give
for having one, but there is one difficulty regarding them that I have
been wrestling with.
I made a movable false wall for my straight-sided top bar hive, from
3/16" masonite with a half-bee-space (3/16") shim glued to the front
top of it to both hang it by (the shim protrudes from either side at
the top, allowing me to hang the wall just as I would a top bar or
frame) and to provide the extra half bee space that is necessary
to space it from the top bar just in front of it, toward the front of the
I also cut a piece of wood to place behind the false wall, to lay across
the top of the hive body and to cover the gap caused by the removal of the
back-most top bar.
Now when I want to open the hive and work with the bees, I can remove
the false wall and have a little space to work with, to pry the top bars apart
and lift a top bar with comb from the hive as I work forward from the
back. (The bees haven't built comb that far back yet, but I'm sure they
will in time.)
But what bothers me about the false wall is the space behind it. I can't
decide whether it is better for the bees to not be able to get into that
space at all, so that they don't build comb in that space, or whether
there may be some way to allow the bees access to that space to
keep it free from cockroaches, moths and other insects that might
otherwise want to take up residence there. I don't like the idea of a
space that the bees can't get into, but which other insects and
I have thought of no suitable way to both allow the bees to roam in
that space behind the false wall, but to prevent them from building comb
there. Right now the false wall hangs from top to bottom and grazes the
hardware cloth of the screened bottom board. If a bee or bees did happen to
get behind the wall, they would probably not be able to get back into the main
part of the hive and would probably die behind the wall. On the other hand,
the other day when I opened the hive there were no bees behind the false
wall, but there was a cockroach and some ants.
I'm wondering if there might be some way to accomplish all of the following:
a) reserve some extra space for the beekeeper to easily work the hive;
b) allow the bees to roam that extra space to keep it free of pests;
c) prevent the bees from building comb in that space and using it as part
of their main living chamber.
Some of those ideas seem mutually exclusive. I HAVE figured out how to
keep from trapping bees behind the false wall after I work the hive, when
I'm closing the hive back up. Since my false wall is a thin piece of masonite,
I place it in contact with the inside back wall of the hive and slowly
slide it downward until it contacts the screen of the bottom board. That forces
any bees that may have been walking over the inside of the back of the
hive downward and then forward. Then I gently push the false wall forward
until it contacts the adjacent top bar, watching and being careful to keep
the bees away from the extra space (as much as I can). Then I place the
extra wooden shim behind the false wall across the top of the hive body which
seals it from the bees (but not other insect pests).
Anyway, it seems to work OK for now, but I'm wondering if there might be
a better way to accomplish these goals, a different design or something.
I'm going to continue to try to think creatively about this particular problem
and see what might occur to me, but so far all my ideas have had
flaws from a practical standpoint. One of my ideas was to work with the piece
of wood that lays across the top of the hive body behind the false wall, and cut
many pieces of masonite to glue to that piece of wood, crosswise, hanging from
that piece of wood, with only a bee space between them and a bee space at
the bottom between the hanging strips and the screen of the bottom board.
Then I would cut a notch (3/8" x 3/4") at the top (like I did with all my top
bars--pictures at http://www.xscd.com/tbh/ ) so that the bees could enter
and exit the space by way of that notch and across the other top bars,
beneath the divider board that separates the main hive body from the
Hopefully the hanging masonite strips, with only a bee space separating
each one, would discourage the bees from building comb in that space but
would still allow them to patrol that space to keep away invading pests.
But this idea seemed overly complicated, and I couldn't rid myself of the
feeling that there was a flaw in that design or my reasoning regarding it.
Anyway, best wishes all,
New Mexico US
- Greetings All:
(Response to Steve's concerns about access to space behind the adjustable
Leave an access for bees down low (in my hive the wall only extends to the
hanging ("anti-swarm") grid. The bees can (and do) access the space freely.
By their nature, they will not build comb in this region - this is not the
case if they can travel through the wall higher up. Also, you may move the
wall forward so that no more than one undeveloped bar is on the active side
of the wall. This makes it easier to get working room by lifting the unused
bars out which will not be stuck together.
My bees have access to the attic space under the roof via some gaps caused
by sagging plastic bars and could travel over the top to get behind the
wall, and could even build burr comb on the roof, but as they have free
space for comb development they are not inclined this (even though bees are
suposed to put honey stores high in the hive). The bees have sealed up
excess inter-bar gaps but still maintain passages and some bees (nurse
bees?) hang out on the top of the bars. I'll post some pictures next week.
Steve: What are the interior dimensions of your hive and how many bars are
- In order to examine a bar of comb well it is necessary to get the
bees off the comb. It seems that every beekeeper has his or
her favorite technique for doing this.
In my experience, using a bee brush makes
the bees angry. Leonard suggested:
> > It is important not to "roll" the bees. If you take them off individuallyThat sounds like good advice, and in my continuing search on the Internet
> > you can get much more control. I just place the brush tip next to the bee
> > at about a 45 degree angle to the surface and flick the bee into the air.
> > This lifts the bee, rather than pushing across the surface.
regarding this subject I discovered two other techniques that are
highly recommended, though neither use the ubiquitous bee brush.
Pluck or cut a shock of grass, tie the thicker ends into a bundle, and use that
to brush the bees. The beekeeper that suggested this idea said that he can
use considerable force with this technique and still the bees do not get angry.
He believes that the fact that the material he uses is fresh vegetable matter,
something the bees are very familiar with (perhaps they smell it or are comfortable
with its texture), is what makes this method of brushing the bees preferable to
using brushes with mineral (plastic) or animal bristles.
Use a large feather--a turkey feather, goose feather, etc.--to brush the bees from
the comb. The feather is soft and gentle yet effective, and the bees cannot get
tangled within the filaments as they can with regular commercial bee brushes.
Both of these ideas sound great to me. I found a large turkey feather and plan
to use it the next time I open the hive, to see whether it works well. I like Leonard's
suggestion about how to use a bee brush too, but I feel rather clumsy using a
brush and don't like the idea of making the bees angry while I learn the proper
technique. Of course the grass and feather ideas may not work that well either
until one develops a good technique, but I guess I will try and see how it works
Best wishes all,
- Hello all,
Thank you Leonard for your suggestions and the interesting information
below. I will cut my movable wall a little shorter from top to bottom (leaving
a 3/8-inch bee space at the bottom between it and the screen of the hive
base) so that the bees can get under it to patrol the area behind it.
I will also move the wall toward the front of the hive, leaving just one or
two yet undrawn top bars between it and the bars the bees have
already drawn comb on.
I am enjoying watching my bees and how they use the hive.
It has flaws, but I am reasonably satisfied with it as my first attempt
at designing and building a hive (with the help of a good woodworker friend)
and it has been a fun project.
I need to get apistan strips and menthol I guess. The last time I kept bees
(22 years ago) varroa and tracheal mites were irrelevant in the U.S.
I also bought a hatless ("monk's hood" type) veil and a smoker, although
I haven't had to use either of them yet. Regarding smoke, I would prefer
not to use it because I believe it makes the bees panic, rushing to gorge
themselves in case they have to flee from a burning hive. But one thing
I HAVE learned is that when smoke is used, it should be used extremely
sparingly (heavy doses seems to do real harm to bees as it does to humans,
and can also make them very angry).
Years ago I spent a little time with the state beekeeper in Texas, a very
likeable and practical man. Instead of a smoker he just took a pack of
cigarettes with him to the bee yard. He didn't normally smoke; he just
allowed the cigarette to smolder, in his mouth or placed on a rock or
some other object, and if he thought a little smoke was necessary
while working the bees he would suck shallowly on the cigarette and
blow the tiniest puffs where he wanted them, and it was very
That really impressed me, but since I am an ex-smoker with a real
weakness for cigarettes, I decided to buy a smoker instead and just
use it conservatively if need be.
I remember reading many years ago that Lorenzo Langstroth, the
generally regarded discoverer of the bee space and inventor of the
modern standard frame hive, preferred to use instead of smoke, a
container filled with sugar solution flavored with mint that he could
sprinkle over the bees to keep them happily occupied while he
examined and worked with the hive.
Best wishes all,
--- --- previous correspondence below --- ---
On Tuesday 28 May 2002 17:38, Leonard and Anita at AT&T Broadband wrote:
> Greetings All:
> (Response to Steve's concerns about access to space behind the adjustable
> Leave an access for bees down low (in my hive the wall only extends to the
> hanging ("anti-swarm") grid. The bees can (and do) access the space freely.
> By their nature, they will not build comb in this region - this is not the
> case if they can travel through the wall higher up. Also, you may move the
> wall forward so that no more than one undeveloped bar is on the active side
> of the wall. This makes it easier to get working room by lifting the unused
> bars out which will not be stuck together.
- Leonard asked:
> Steve: What are the interior dimensions of your hive and how many bars are
Hello Leonard, all--
I think my top bar hive is actually kind of small. The dimensions of the interior
cavity of the hive body (not with the ventilated attic) are:
35.25 inches depth (front to back)
11.5 inches height (to bottom surface of top bars)
17 inches width (side to side)
There were 25 top bars in my hive, but I took one out and replaced it with a
movable wall and a shim. Each top bar is 1 3/8 inches wide, to allow for a
fully drawn comb down the middle line plus half a bee space on either side.
My previous experience in beekeeping was with several standard Langstroth
hives. Only in recent years did I learn of the top bar hive and became fascinated
with it. Most of the references I read suggested space for 30 top bars in a TBH,
and many suggested dimensions so that standard Langstroth supers could be
placed on top of the hive during good honey flows.
But I live in a desert and was doubtful that the honey flow would be plentiful enough
to support a large hive. That and the fact that I am a thin, kind of small person made
me decide to try a slightly scaled down hive that I thought I could manage, as well
as one that I felt might be appropriate to our harsh dry climate. I don't yet know
whether there will be even enough nectar gathered to support the colony itself,
much less a surplus that I can harvest. My interest was and is more in the
nature of a hobby and an enjoyment of the bees and their activities.
However, I hope that the honey flow around here (eastern New Mexico dry
grasslands, where from January to now (end of May) we have had less than
1/2 inch of rain this year!) will be sufficient enough for me to harvest at least
a little honey, even if I have to feed the bees to make up for what I harvest.
A stupid beginner beekeeper (me) story
I was thinking some more today about smoking the bees while working a
hive. I remember when I got my first smoker I loved the ingenious little device.
I stuffed it and stoked it until hot sparks shot from the opening.
I then puffed thick billows of smoke into and around the hive, the hot
smoker close to the bees as if to warn them to stay away.
MAN did the bees get angry. Rather than rushing to gorge themselves
in preparation for possible flight, they flew out of the hive immediately
and began to buzz angrily around me. I was stung several dozen times
(despite protective gear, the bees found their way inside my shirt and
up into my veil). I ran to the house, the bees in angry pursuit. My
horrified brother and sister, who had been observing me from
the safety of the window inside the house, rushed to lock the back door.
They refused to unlock it until I promised to give them 30 seconds
or so to leave the house by the front door.
As soon as I heard the front door slam I rushed inside and down the hall
to my bedroom, slammed the door behind me and sat on the bed feeling
very sick and faint. I passed out, and when became conscious again there
was a little group of bees at an upper corner of the window trying to get out.
I went to the bathroom and my swollen face in the mirror would have been
comical if it weren't so sore.
Anyway, I learned that the best use of smoke is to be very sparing
with it. The smoke should be THIN and wispy and COOL, and the
smoker should not be held too close to the hive or to the bees where
the smoke could be so dense it could harm the bees or the air from
the mouth of the smoker so hot it might burn the bees or their wings.
All that is necessary is the merest whiff of smoke to get the bees
to run down into the hive body to begin to gorge themselves
I wish I had already known that. But a bee smoker is so efficient at
creating dense clouds of smoke that it almost begs one to use it at its
maximum potential, which is WAY too much.
- Greetings All:
> I need to get apistan strips and menthol I guess. The last time I kept bees
> (22 years ago) varroa and tracheal mites were irrelevant in the U.S.
I have had my bees now for 8 months, with endemic varroa and they are still
healthy. Apistan is not recommended for top bar hives as it is less
practical to seasonaly separate the honey frames from the brood frames.
Sample the drone brood. Use a multi-needle cappings scratcher to dig out
capped drone brood or simply cut out the comb for later inspection. I have
had up to an average of one mite per drone (some none, some more, up to 3 or
4). Cutting out the drone capped brood agressively reduced the mites. I
stoped cutting out brood after moving to the 30 degree hive and sampling
reveals almost no mites in brood, although there are some as I see damaged
wing workers and drones and some mite fall on the bottom board. I do have a
lot more drones, so destroying drone brood will improve the economy of the
hive if you desire, even if not needed for mite control. At present I have
achived varroa mite control without chemicals and can step up the excision
if shown to be required by sampling.
I have not treated for tracheal mites. The symptoms are said to be large
numbers of crawling bees (which I did see up to several dozen a day when the
hive was young). The organic method of treatment is to use baker's sugar
(not powderd, which contains starch) in Crisco as patties on top of the
bars. The bees clean up the suger and get coated with the Crisco. The
Crisco smells to the tracheal mites the same as a newly emerged bee, which
the mite must infect to complete its reproductive cycle. As all bees now
smell like newly emerged bees this interferes with the cycle. The bees are
adversly affected by physical congestion in the trachea, so breeders are
attempting to breed resistan bees with larger tracheas. Conformation of
tracheal mites requires microscopic disection and can be done by your ag
department - just drop the bees in alcohol.
>Steve wrote:Both varroa and trancheal mites can be handled with formic acid. Here in DK
> > I need to get apistan strips and menthol I guess. The last time I kept bees
> > (22 years ago) varroa and tracheal mites were irrelevant in the U.S.
we use a mixture of drone brood trapping and fall-treatment with formic
acid. In essence we place a cloth or fiber(whatever), which has been
saturated with a measured amount of formic acid, in the hive and let the
acid evaporate from that. It is very effective against both pests. No
residue in wax or honey, but it may kill a weak queen now and then.
Apistan, on the other hand, leaves residue in both wax and even in the
honey. It also bad for the bees' immune system - lowers it. The utterly
perverted and immensely stupid practice of using Terramycin is prohibited here.
best regards / venlig hilsen
P.H. Rankin Hansen
Mølletoften 45, Gaarslev