The top bar hive is an excellent way to make comb honey sections. The bees do all the hard work of drawing new comb; without the need to put in any thin foundation. You just need to remove the top bar with comb and cut out the comb honey section. Remember that comb honey is considered exotic and sells for about twice that of extracted honey (provided you don’t flood the market).
However, the top bar hive does have several drawbacks. The foremost is the tendency of the bees to attach the comb to the angled sides of the hive. Do to this difficulty of pulling the comb, the beekeeper tends to inspect the top bar hive less often or not at all! In addition, populating a new top bar hive requires either a package of bees or a captured swarm. Trying to populate a top bar hive with bees from a Langstroth hive, while possible, is a challenge, because you need to shake bees from the Langstroth frames into the top bar hive.
After reading an article in American Beekeeping Journal about horizontal hives, I have decided to address these issues by building a hybrid top bar hive this winter. Instead of the angled sides I have retained the vertical sides of the Langstroth hive. In addition, instead of the top bar I have sized the hive to use standard 9 5/8 inch Langstroth style frames. In essence this is a horizontal Langstroth hive. A hive length of approximately 5 feet would be the equivalent of a vertical Langstroth hive with two 9 5/8 inch deeps (the normal brood chamber) and four 6 5/8 inch medium supers. There will space for about 40 frames. That volume should accommodate most hive colonies except a really booming colony. If its a booming colony you can easily pull several capped frames and give them empty replacements to abort their inclination to swarm.
To populate the hive I can simply take a split from a standard Langstroth hive. I have the choice of letting the bees raise their own queen, adding a queen cell or using mated queen. The frames from the split are placed at the end of the hive with the entrance. The bees naturally keep the brood nest close to the entrance. Conversely the bees use the frames far from the entrance for honey storage. No queen excluder is required.
For my first year with this hive I will start with twenty (20) 9 5/8 inch frames with foundation. About six of these frames will come from the split. Then will come fourteen (14) frames with new foundation. These first 20 frames will always be left for the bee colony at honey harvest time, so that they have sufficient winter stores (this is the same as two (2) deeps). The next 20 frames will be foundationless. I have experimented with foundationless frames in the past year with good success. The bees can easily draw out a frame in less than a week during the honey flow. Being foundationless these frames can then be cut up for comb honey.
This hybrid hive can be constructed at a lower cost than a standard Langstroth hive because you need not buy the bottom board, excluder, four super bodies, inner cover, telescoping cover and the foundation for about 50% of the frames. So far, I have spent $30 for the 5 pieces of 1” X 12” X 6’ pine boards used to construct the box itself. Another $8 or so will be necessary for plywood for the top cover. It also provides a therapeutic winter project for those beekeepers that are also woodworkers
This arrangement will allow for easy removal of brood frames for periodic inspection without the hassle of the foundation being attached to the top bar hive side walls.
Here are a few photos of the hive. I will report on its progress throughout next summer and next winter. Winter will be the big test to see if the bees will move horizontally to their winter stores.
Another view of hive showing frames at one end and single frames at 20 and 30 frame points