@BBH and myself regularly receive calls to assist with all kinds of bee related issues. Several weeks ago we were asked to assist in inspecting a Top Bar hive that the owner had felt had got to the point that it was becoming difficult to manage. At the same time we planned to remove honeycomb from an extremely strong season so far in Canberra.
This was a quick visit, but I thought it was worth documenting the process as it’s a little bit different to the Langstroth photos I flood this forum with
The hive was a professionally built Kenyan Top bar hive with approximately 30 top bars. There is currently no follower board inserted so the colony has expanded to the full width of the hive.
Upon opening the roof of the hive it was immediately apparent that there was an issue with spacing with the top bars due to a missing bar (which is placed on top in the photo below)
One of the challenges when entering an unknown Top Bar hive is that you have no visibility down into the hive between frames to determine where the different elements of the colony are located (eg. drawn comb, brood, capped honey).
Separating the top bars revealed that the small gap between top bars was harbouring a small number of pests (moth / beetle) in areas that the bees couldn’t access
After attempting to lift the majority of top bars (after separating the bars and propolised sections) it was quickly apparent that nearly all the bars were either built down to the side of the hive or glued down with propolis. At this point it was decided to pull some bars from the end of the hive as this area is more likely to contain honey rather than brood (that we don’t want to damage).
When lifting the top bar from one end of the hive, the adjacent top bar also lifted, revealing a large combined comb of fully capped honey.
A close up of the underside of the removed top bar reveals that the bees paid little attention to the comb guide and have instead built a single combined comb across two top bars.
The third comb in from the side wall was bridged heavily with comb to the first two combs/bars so a hive tool was inserted down the side of the combs (in the opening from the first two top bars) and the comb was cut away from the hive wall releasing the 4th comb intact… revealing a comb full of honey, ready for harvest.
With space created by removal of the 4th comb, the 3rd comb could be pulled into the open space away from the first two combs, after cutting away the bridge comb. This comb was also removed for harvest.
With four top bars removed, the end comb was cut out in pieces and removed from the hive for harvesting. The fifth frame in contained brood so the edge of the brood nest has been found.
The combs were cut away from the top bars using a cerated kitchen (bread) knife and the top bars were then placed back on the hive to close the top of the hive. One top bar was swapped for a replacement as we ran out of storage for the comb ready to be extracted!
With access to the hive resolved, we moved on to fixing the incorrect top bar spacing. This top bar spacing was a result of the bars being placed back quickly after the colony became agitated during a previous inspection.
Luckily, this was a simple resolution as we were able to insert a traditional hive tool ‘j hook’ into the available space and free the combs from the walls of the hive so they could be lifted out without damage. Once lifted out, the frames were cleaned of burr/bridge comb that protruded past the width of the top bars, and the bars were then re-inserted into the hive tightly pressed against each other.
The finished product with all bars re-inserted and a shot of the cerated kitchen knife and the remaining comb that didn’t fit in storage