New apiary enthusiasts are excited to get started on their beekeeping hobby. Once you’ve decided to build your beehive, you want to keep it simple by choosing one that offers fewer opportunities for failure. So, we’ll look at some of the best top bar hive plans you can find to get started nurturing and homing our pollinator friends.
Many beekeeping experts cite top bar hives as one of the easiest to build and most straightforward to maintain. These uncomplicated bee boxes allow the residents to build their honeycombs down from the “top bar” in any way they choose, hence the name.
Manufacturers build Langstroth and Warre hives much like filing cabinets, with the queen sequestered in the bottom drawer. Each “drawer” above it provides an extra layer between the comb and the queen. Every drawer has frames that the keeper lines with a foundation. The keeper slots the structure into place and the bees use them to build the honeycomb. This design permits the beekeeper to access the honey by removing the frame from the top layers and then later returning it in place, unharmed.
While others laud the Langstroth hive because it uses frames that the keeper can easily extract without damaging the comb, they can be unwieldy hives to work with for those with physical limitations. Most new beekeepers find them quite tall and somewhat heavy. And many experts claim that patience will permit the beekeeper to carefully remove honey from a top bar hive without alarming the bees. In fact, many also cite that for those who produce honey for income, honeycomb provides a better return on investment. The secret is simply knowing where to stop harvesting.
Several experts claim that top bar hives result in happier bees. Perhaps this is because they’re allowed to follow their creative instincts. Or maybe because they’re closer to their colony’s queen. Bees are calmer and more docile, even though (or because) it means they must work a little harder making more honeycomb.
A top bar hive is a very uncomplicated elongated box. With a roof to provide privacy and protection from the elements, the keeper inserts a wooden bar along the top. The bees subsequently build their honeycombs from the bar downward. You can add a starter strip of wax using a beeswax candle, but you won’t need to use foundation on the top bar.
One of the many advantages to this design is that it’s much lighter than the Langstroth or Warre hives. Instead of lifting down a heavy “super” (the top level) filled with bees and combs, you simply pop the top and harvest.
You can also build your hive just as high as you like by placing it on legs or a stand. This adjustability relieves pressure on your back.
In fact, top bar hive plans will allow you to build a hive for young aspiring beekeepers as well as those in wheelchairs.
There are disadvantages too, however, and mainly they’re naturally smaller than the other two types of hives. This difference is size means you may get less honey than you’d hope. However, for new or hobbyist beekeepers, this may prove to be an advantage instead, especially if you’re quickly overwhelmed by many bees and their care.
Because of this no-frills but flexible design, top bar hives are inexpensive and easy to build while meeting a variety of needs. All you need is one of the many top bar hive plans available online and some lumber to get started.
You’ll find a wide selection of top bar hive plans online for free, but if you’re looking for something with additional material, consider the following:
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Bee Built offers two options with their top bar hive plans. The first is detailed schematics via PDF download. The second option is a set of physical drawings of the plan plus the necessary hardware to put the hive together. Customers lauded the plans as being easy to read and follow.
You’ll find “Build Your Own Beekeeping Equipment” by Tony Pisano for both Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. The book includes top bar hive plans along with detailed drawings and instructions for some beekeeping projects, including stands and swarm catchers.
Luckily for those on a budget, you’ll discover many free-to-download top bar hive plans on beekeeping sites and community forums.
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Keeping Backyard Bees provides online top bar hive plans that are fully detailed and free. Unfortunately, they haven’t been presented in an easy-to-use fashion. So, you’ll need to expand the images and probably print them separately from the directions.
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With DIY articles covering nearly every angle of homesteading, Instructables offers this tutorial on how to make a top bar hive using a 55-gallon drum. You couldn’t call these precise instructions. However, the bee box itself is usually the most complicated part of constructing. Using a barrel or drum cancels out the need for complicated instructions. The best part is that it provides step-by-step photographs.
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These schematic top bar hive plans from David Bench are easy to follow for anyone accustomed to working with construction plans. The downside, however, is that they don’t provide instructions for assembly or a list of materials. All you get are the drawings. However, if you have some woodworking skills, they should give you a head start.
Jon Peters is an artist and furniture builder whose website offers some how-to products for woodworking. Along with plans for chairs and cabinets, he also provides a wealth of home and garden project advice and instructions. His website is a pleasure to browse for any DIY enthusiast.
Jon’s top bar hive plans include measurements and rough sketches. But best of all, he offers a how-to video on his YouTube channel.
Mistress Beek Top Bar Hive Plans
Visit this helpful blog about beekeeping and download the free plans and the notes. Don’t forget to print out both before shopping for lumber. Uploaded in PDF, the drawings utilize standard drafting conventions. The notes download offers excellent advice for not only building your hive but also some fascinating facts regarding the dimensions used. The designers did their homework. This isn’t “just about right” for bees. It’s perfection. These thoughtfully engineered top bar hive plans include careful research on what size and shape top bars bees most prefer. The placement of the entrances was based on careful observation by these beekeepers.
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Accessible from the California Bluebird Recovery Program (CBRP) website, you’ll find beekeeping resources. These include the free top bar hive plans from Philip Chandler, author of The Barefoot Beekeeper and several top bar hive management books.
One of the advantages of Mr. Chandler’s plans is that the download provides a printable shopping list for the supplies needed that you can take along to your home improvement or hardware store.
The instructions include photographs for every step of the building process, plus a couple of add-ons that many beekeepers may appreciate.
Chandler owns and runs the Barefoot Beekeeper website (BioBees), where you’ll discover several free beekeeping book downloads on offer from this expert.
This website from the United Nations intends to provide small agricultural producers with the technologies and education to support themselves. You’ll find their top bar hive plans as an easy download with plenty of pictures.
In fact, this download will probably teach you more about using a top bar hive than you’d expect. Filled with fascinating photos from around the world, you’ll see the fantastic array of natural materials people use for building their hives. The creative use of local materials includes raffia palm wood, woven wicker, bamboo matting, and even thatched to match the local houses. The builders seal the hives with mud to keep out other insects.
You’ll also get building plans and step by step photo instructions for putting your hive together. It’s a fascinating look at beekeeping in all parts of the world.
You’ll find many top bar hive plans online, and nearly all are provided for free. So, you’ll never have to limit yourself to just one — download them all. Choose the one you find easiest to interpret and implement. Look for creative uses of materials and even decoration, and you may even come up with a personalized design of your own.
There are only three critical measurements for your top bar hive. First, it should be large enough for your bees. Second, it should be small enough for you to lift and move if necessary.
Lastly, the top bar should be 32 to 33 mm (or 1-1/4-inch) wide. Bee specialists have observed and noted this optimal measurement as early as 1792 and recorded it as just wide enough to give the bees enough space between their combs, which range between a little over 20 mm to nearly 23 mm thick.
If any of the top bar hive plans you find happen to fill all three crucial requirements, you should choose whichever best fit your building skills, budget, and schedule.
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Beekeeping is a mystical and wondrous art that has lived in reverence since the earliest days of agriculture. Probably even earlier; after all, even our chimp cousins harvest honey from natural beehives using sticks. And archeologists have found images of bees in cave paintings dating back over 15,000 years. Honeybees decorated the ancient temples of the Egyptians who considered them messengers from the gods.
Folklore in the British Isles dating back to the Dark Ages demands that a household member “tell the bees” of any death in the family. Early medieval Irish law covered the keeping of bees. The Brehon laws of Ireland included the Bechbreatha, or “Bee-Judgments,” related to the management of bees and their hives. The printed text in Irish extends to 20 pages long because the Emerald Isle thought much of bees and their keeping.
Many bee advocates claim that the top bar hive is the most like a bee’s natural habitat. They’re simple and easy to make out of found materials, which means nearly anyone can keep bees on a budget. Or without a lot of carpentry skill. We hope this reference gives you a step up to learning this ancient art and gives you pleasure building more naturalistic homes for happier bees.