Top bar beekeeping is a great, low-cost way to keep bees, especially if you want to harvest extra beeswax for making candles, lotions and lip balms. If you're more interested in keeping bees for the wax than you are for the honey, this is definitely a good choice for your backyard beekeeping.
Beeswax is a valuable commodity, both for an all-natural way to make lotions to sell, and also for the best smelling, all natural drip-less candles available.
If you are looking for a home business opportunity, all-natural beeswax products, along with in-comb honey are items that sell well.
Photo courtesy of Mike Edmondson
Plus you can build one of these hives for considerably less than what it costs to buy a traditional beehive. These hives can be made out of any wood, including plywood, for about $40. And unlike the traditional Langstroth hive, it doesn't require the purchase of frames and foundation - the bees make their own comb.
The only critical aspect of a top bar hive is the width of the top bars. They must be about 1 and 3/8 inches wide or slightly wider, the distance bees prefer when building their combs. Also, make your top bars 19 inches in length.
With good care, your bees will multiply in numbers, and periodically you will need to divide your bees. Later on, if you want extra honey you could invest in a traditional Langstroth hive.
If your top bars are 19 inches in length, they will fit easily into the traditional hive, making the transfer of comb and brood far easier.
Photo Courtesy of Mike Edmonson
Bees tend to build their brood nest near the entrance of the hive, so for ease of harvesting without needing a queen excluder, put the entrance to the hive at one end of the hive. Also, encourage your bees to build their comb in the right place by placing a 1/2-inch strip of wax foundation along the length of each top bar.
That way, your bees will build their combs the way nature intended. In the wild, bees attach comb to the ceiling or to the walls of their home, but not the flooring. That's the beauty of top bar beekeeping. Because the walls slope inward toward the bottom, the bees treat the walls like they would the floor and won't attach as much comb to the walls. This makes the comb far easier to pull out.
With top bar beekeeping, you don't need an expensive extractor to harvest your honey. Instead, you cut the comb off the top-bar, leaving approximately 1/2-inch of comb on the bar to encourage your bees to rebuild their comb in the right way.
The hives are much easier and less expensive to build, plus you don't need to purchase extra foundations or frames. There is no heavy lifting involved as there would be with a traditional hive, and you get far more beeswax for candles and other projects with this type of beehive.
Be aware that you will get far less honey with this method. Bees will use eight pounds of honey to make one pound of comb. That means at the end of the year, you will only get about 10-20 pounds of honey per hive, as opposed to 80-100 pounds of honey with the traditional Langstroth hive.
But whether you choose to keep your bees in a top bar hive, or a traditional hive, please consider keeping bees. If you have never kept bees, consider learning. Because of diseases, the bees are dying, and it's up to us homesteaders to ensure their survival, making for a more fruitful homestead in process.