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Beekeeping Methods: Top-Bar Hives (page 3 of 4)

Our in-house beekeeper interviewed Melissa Elliott of Melissa Bees about her frameless beehives.

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What are the benefits of a frameless hive?

In a feral or natural state, say, inside a tree, a honeybee colony will build comb to allow air, heat, vibration and scent to circulate throughout the colony. Natural comb looks like a nerve center, with crennulated curtains of wax sometimes enfolding one another, crisscrossed by bee-sized passageways.

The comb is not only a home, but a communication hub within the hive and also with the land. I see the bees as the best builders and architects for this home — after all, they secrete the platelets that comprise the comb from their own bellies! A frameless hive allows bees more creative license then one with foundation.

There are discussions out there that the standardized cell-size of foundation might affect the bees just like standardized testing does humans. I find this interesting, though I wonder if it might be more instructive to humans than the bees, as mine seem to make any size cell they want to on foundation. I do notice however, that the bees build comb more quickly without foundation.

Beekeeping Is Easy and Fun

Courtesy of Melissa Bees

What are the cons?

There are a few pitfalls for the beginning beekeeper. Brace comb and cross-combing are common with top-bar hives. You have to be really careful removing bars to not damage the comb on the bar or adjoining comb. I've noticed my students are less likely to want to disturb a top-bar hive out of a fear of doing something wrong and hurting the bees.

Some might say that's good for the bees not being bothered, but it's really important in the first few years of keeping to see what's happening on the comb so you understand what's going on within the colony. With time and experience you'll bother your bees less regardless of the type hive they're in.

I've found that Kenyan-style hive bodies are quite small, and must be managed a lot, meaning removing honey from them so the bees don't run out of room and swarm, which can happen rather quickly and repeatedly. I make honey supers for mine so I don't have manage as often.

The Warre is difficult to monitor, to see what's happening inside the hive; that's why I recommend having a few years of beekeeping under your belt. When it comes to honey extraction from a frameless hive, honeycomb is removed and not put back like it can be in a hive with foundation and frames. It takes approximately 16 lbs. of honey for the bees to make all the comb in the hive — something to consider when taking it out.