The Ultimate "Kenyan TOP BAR HIVE"

Back in 2008 or so, I developed an interest in alternative beekeeping methods and came across a number of wooden beehive designs - in addition to the commonly used Langstroth hives.

Among the designs I explored was the so-called Kenyan Top Bar Hive (TBH).  There are other variations of top bar hives... among them: the Tanzanian Top Bar Hive (similar to Kenyan but with parallel as opposed to slanted sides), the Warre' Hive, and even standard Langstroth hives without the use of foundation frames.

To the right are familiar pictures of what bees build in Kenyan top bar hives hive.  No foundation is used in TBH's - the honey bees do what they do in natural settings, that is, build their own comb in their own fashion attached to the top bar of course.

Being a bit of woodworker/carpenter/handyman type I created and built numerous variations of the Kenyan TBH - probably 6 or more design variations to date.  One of the latest designs I now produce for myself and others is shown below.  It looks great in a garden setting - and is relatively easy to manage by the backyard beekeeper.

This hive is available for sale - built on special order only.  The price as of May 1, 2014 is $345 picked-up or delivered (no extra charge) within 20 miles of Hillsborough, NJ 08844.  Sorry, I cannot ship - nor do I sell plans.  Modifications and color changes to the basic design shown here will be gladly discussed. Delivery time may be up to 6 weeks from time of order.   If you are interested in acquiring a TBH, please email me: honey (at) bamboohollow.com

Pier V. Guidi, a central NJ Beekeeper.

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Bamboo Hollow Apiaries & Honey Farms Kenyan Top Bar Hive

Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (front) This is the Top Bar Hive front view.  Perhaps it appears a little aggressive and overbearing but everything has a purpose... for ease of use and care for the honey bees.
  • Except for the actual roof, the TBH is primed and painted on the exterior only.   All interior space visited by honey bees is natural wood.
  • There is ample space "in the attic", under the roof above the brood/honey chamber where the top bars are. This will be explained later and is a major feature of this new design.
  • The roof is red cedar... looks good in the garden and its rot proof naturally: no paint, no preservatives and ages well like those ol' Cape Cod houses.
  • The view window door is hinged (Plexiglas  is used behind the door) and metal straps are used to keep the door securely shut tight.
  • The holes can be configured to have a bee entrance either left or right. There are more in the back for ventilation or a different/separate entrance. YOU CAN OF COURSE HAVE TWO ENTRANCES FOR 2 SEPARATE COLONIES IN THE SAME BOX - the hive includes 3 division boards so a split (2 colonies) can be made and kept inside the same TBH.
  • And, all the entrance holes are "wine cork size" - easy to open or plug as the seasons require. I finally found a use for all those bottle corks that accumulated in a kitchen drawer!
  • The rot proof legs (pressure treated, painted wood is used) can be easily removed (2 bolts per leg) if one wishes to put the TBH on a different platform/stand.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (back)

This is the Top Bar Hive back view.

  • Note the corked ventilation/alternate entrance holes.  More can be drilled to order.
  • The top cover/roof is securely hinged with 3 metal hinges - the same type used on the front view window door.
  • Although not particularly obvious in this picture, there are two pull out bottom boards (barely seen between the legs) that are positioned about 2 inches below the screened bottom.   More on this below.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (pullout bottom board) Integrated Pest Management (IPM): screened pullout bottom boards.
  • This TBH has an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) screened bottom - and two pull-out bottom boards (one for each half of the hive) about two inches below the screen for Varroa mite control, ventilation control, and to catch and analyze hive droppings.  Miticides and other vaporizing medications can also be placed on the board.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (front strap & hinge) View of the Top Bar Hive's front view window door hinge and latch.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (front open)

Shown is the Top Bar Hive's open front view window door.

  • The beauty of this design is that hive demonstration and bee  inspection can be as easy as unlatching and opening the front door and observing all the honey bee activity through the plexiglass window.  [It is amazing how much interest casual visitors express being so close and being able to observe an active beehive!].
  • In this picture, seen inside are 2 of the 3 division boards included with the hive.  
  • Multiple division boards allows the hive to be configured for multiple colonies with separate entrances.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (divison board)

Top Bar Hive's division boards have a passage opening.

  • The opening in all 3 division boards allows for flexibility of use: e.g. the colony can be fed with a feeder placed on the other side of the division board. The bees have easy access through the open hole.
  • The holes are pluggable with a standard wine bottle cork.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (open top) Top Bar Hive's open hinged top/roof.
  • The hive is approximately 48" wide.  More importantly, the interior volume is the near equivalent of two Langstroth deep brood supers... the amount of space considered sufficient for normal, healthy colonies of 30-60,000 bees in summer and for honey storage space (full comb build-out) to survive northeastern winters.
  • All 3 division boards are shown - top bars are not shown for clarity. Unlike the top bars, the division boards have painted tops for easy identification when the hive is in operation.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (pail feeders) Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (pail feeders) Why such a high profile roof (attic)?
  • The space under the roof and above the top bars has been sized for essentially 3 things: (1) feeders and medications (2) insulation (3) storage.
  • The roof is high enough to allow use of a standard 1 gallon Pail Feeder or equivalent: simply separate two top bars about 3/8" and place a pail feeder over the gap for that all important spring or possibly fall feeding.  The same technique could be used for applying such "soft" vaporizing miticides as ApiLife Var, ApiGuard or Mite Away Quick Strips.
  • The space can also accommodate insulation (6" or more)) to aid the colony's survival in winter.
  • The space is also a good place to store gloves, hive tools, etc. for the casual beekeeper.
Note also that the hive is tall enough to place pail feeders inside. The smaller picture shows a pail feeder sitting inside the hive on two support sticks - creating enough space for bees to access the center pail screen where the syrup can be consumed.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (3 division boards) The Top Bar Hive's hinged roof has a handle for easy lifting. The roof can be lifted out of the way (beyond 90 degrees).  A chain (not visible) supports the roof preventing it from falling back while you are at work examining your bees.
Ultimate Kenyan Top Bar Hive (top bar design) This Top Bar Hive can hold and is supplied with 30 top bars in addition to the 3 division boards.
  • Each top bar is pre-waxed along the edge for quick acceptance by the honey bees.
  • The preferred wedge design (see inset picture) is believed to provide a stronger attachment point for the comb that the bees build.

    UPDATE: After a few years of experimentation with different designs, I have concluded that a slightly better design is using strips of pre-waxed plastic foundation inset in the top bar wood and hanging down about 1/4-1/2 inch. The foundation has a cell pattern of course but more importantly, gives a better grip to the freehanging comb that the bees build, and like other designs, tends to help the bees make a straight-line comb. But don't forget - the hive must be perfectly level as the bees will build the comb seemingly to take gravity in mind.   If the level is off in enough in either direction, I've experienced bees making diagonal combs crossing multiple top bars (and ignoring anything we humans consider straight)!

More Top Bar Hive Pictures

Top Bar Hive Top Bar Hive Top Bar Hive Top Bar Hive

Questions or Comments?

Send an email to honey@bamboohollow.com ...and make sure the subject line insludes the words "top bar hive" or we won't see it.