Kenyan Top Bar Beehive – Part 2

After deciding to raise honeybees, mainly for their pollination of our garden and orchard, but also for their honey and beeswax, we decided to build our own beehive.  If you missed part one, you should go back and read it HERE.

Once the body of the hive was built, we needed to add the actual top bars, an entrance reducer (I will talk about that later) and a feeder.

This is sometimes called a "follower".  We used it to separate the body of the hive from the mason jars.  That way the bees couldn't get into this area and we would be able to replenish the sugar water without too much disturbance.

This is sometimes called a “follower”. We used it to separate the body of the hive from the mason jars. That way the bees couldn’t get into this area and we would be able to replenish the sugar water without too much disturbance.

We decided to put the feeder inside the hive at the back.  That way, we wouldn’t be feeding every sugar loving creature out there and fewer critters and insects would be attracted to the area.  The downside of putting the sugar inside the hive is that we have to lift the roof to get to the feeders.  While that really shouldn’t be a problem, we decided to put two pint mason jars into the hive so that we would need to feed them less often, which means lifting the roof less often.

Ray cut two circles into a piece of wood and then attached that piece of wood to another piece of wood cut into a wedge shape (sometimes called a “follower”), to fit snugly inside the hive.

Two pint sized mason jars hold the sugar water solution to feed the bees.  When attached to the "follower", the bees cannot enter the top chamber of the feeder.  Small holes are punched in the metal lids to allow the bees to get the sugar water from below.

Two pint sized mason jars hold the sugar water solution to feed the bees. When attached to the “follower” (not attached yet in this picture), the bees cannot enter the top chamber of the feeder. Small holes are punched in the metal lids to allow the bees to get the sugar water from below.

This assembly was then attached to one of the top bars, so that it could be hung from the top of the hive, just like all the other top bars.  A one inch opening was left at the bottom for the bees to enter from the main chamber of the hive into the feeding chamber.  With the jars in place, bees could not get into the top where the mason jars are, which helps when refilling the jars.  We just used the canning jar lids and poked several small holes in them.  Yes, they dripped a little bit, but the bees were sure to clean this up anyway!

Our next task was to make the actual top bars.  Again, we used poplar as the main crossbar, but then we used pine lattice as the downbars.  As you can see, the top bars are actually made of two pieces:  the main crossbar that rests on top of the hive body, and the downbars, which is what the bees attach their comb to. We simply cut the top bars to length, cut a groove down the middle of each bar, then glued the downbar into the groove. Done!

How to make a beehive

The down bar was glued into the groove of the top bar to complete assembly.

I did a lot of research on top bar versus traditional Langstroth hives, and it was suggested on several websites that we coat the downbars with a little bit of honey so that the bees

Make a Kenyan top bar beehive

My little trough to melt the honey/beeswax/pollen mixture so that I can dip the top bars in.

would understand that this is where the comb is supposed to be.  This is especially important if your bees come from stock that was raised with the traditional Langstroth hives, where a comb foundation is already given to the bees.  I found some organic raw honey that also had pollen and honeycomb in it and used it to coat the downbars.  I made an aluminum foil “trough” for the honey mixture, placed it on an insulated cookie sheet and set that over a pan of hot water.  This gently melted the honey mixture and I was able to dip each downbar about 1/4 inch in, which was perfect!

The top bars all loaded with honey and ready to go!

The top bars all loaded with honey and ready to go.  Now all we need are bees!

The last little piece of equipment for the hive was the reducer.  All a reducer does is actually make the entrance/exit hole into the hive smaller, and all we needed was a block of wood!  The reducer is needed for a new hive to help guard the hive from predators, like wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, etc..  When a bee package is purchased, it usually comes Beehive part 2-6with a queen and about 3 pounds of bees.  That sounds like a lot of bees, but it really isn’t, so with the reduced number of bees, they can’t protect a huge opening.  So, we placed a piece of wood on the landing board of the entrance/exit to the hive.  This closed up about two thirds of the opening to the hive. Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of the reducer on the hive. Every month or so, the wood will be cut smaller, so that after several months, the reducer shouldn’t be necessary at all.  That doesn’t ensure that the hive won’t be raided by the predators, it just helps the bees build up their hive numbers so that if they were attacked, they might be able to to stave off the predator and claim victory.

About an inch of olive oil in a small tupperware container will prevent ants or other crawling bugs from getting into the hive.

About an inch of olive oil in a small tupperware container will prevent ants or other crawling bugs from getting into the hive.

One last thing we added was olive oil.  Olive oil?  Yes.  Where the hive will be sitting there are a lot of ants.  Ants can quickly take over a hive, if you aren’t watching.  However, they cannot (or will not) cross over oil.  So, with each leg of the hive in a plastic tupperware container, we poured in about 1 cup of oil.  With a new hive, every precaution  helps!

Now, all we need are the bees!

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