I debated just putting this on the sustainable blog and then decided against it.
If you are not into bees or top bar hives this post may be a little boring, but I have to capture my thoughts somewhere before they are lost.
Love the Top bar hive, I built mine basically to the specs provided by Phil Chandler of www.biobees.com.
I love how it is so natural for the bees. I love that it is very managable. I love how it looks, and that I can see in to the bottom to stare at the little girls doing their thing.
All that being said, I have a couple of issues:
1 - This year has been a rough year for bees, lots of hot to get the flowers out, followed by cold and rain so the bees can't fly. Wind too has been an issue, and my top bar hive has actually been blown over at least once this year (I have fixed that little problem for the foreseeable future).
2 - There is no real way to extend the hive in any way if the bees get really going well. Sure you can make splits into another hive, but it feels like this would be really swarm promoting if you have a large colony which I now have. (update, we did cast off a swarm late this summer).
3 - It is going to be super cold this winter for these bees. I just don't see how this hive design will last through the cold winter.
4 - We got a lot of crooked comb this year. much of it due to the fact that I was trying to be smart and created different widths of top bars (some for brood and some for honey). It would have been better to have a deep ridge to force the bees on a specific location, and just have wider bars.
So, how to deal with these issues especially learning from the brilliant leaders of the past.
1 - 2x12 lumber instead of 1x12. It just feels like there needs to be more insulation. I can probably make this hive work with some pink styro-insulation which is what I will do, but there has to be a better way and I think that way is more wood!
2 - Bottom quilt box - I love being able to look through the bottom screen to see the bees but they need better insulation than that so I am going to add a bottom quilt box (2 inches of saw dust in a breathable box) this will prevent wind from coming in but still maintain breath-ability as well as allowing other symbiotic insects a better place to share with the bees.
3 - Warre style top bars - 1 inch wide with spacers on the ends to keep them 1/4-3/8 inch apart, and deep v ridges, I was trying to stay away from the deep v ridges because of the difficulty in repairing curved comb but the benefits far out weigh the disadvantages.
4 - A top quilt box - If you have narrow superable top bars like the Warre top bar hive, you have to have a top quilt box to insulate, provide darkness, encourage the bees to stay in the desired brood chamber
5 - Medium Tanzanean top bar supers, Because of the way I have laid out my TBH, these could even be medium langs used as supers (foundation-less of course) The quilt box would need to be such that it could ride next to a super under the roof.
So, for my next hive:
18 inch interior width so that a Langstroth super could be used or a Tanzanian TBH could be used
48 inch interior length so that 3 lang supers will cover the top
9.25 inches deep with a 7.5 inch intirior width bottom of the trapazoid (edges cut at 30* to make flat top and bottom)
3 5/16 tall quilt box on top in 3 sections each the dimensions of a langstroth box
35 @ 19 inch long top bars, 1 3/8 wide for 1 inch on each end and 1 inch wide for 17 inches in the middle. Each bar should have a 3/4 inch deep beveled spine to promote straight comb.
Hopefully this combination will promote better temperature control, straighter comb, and the ability to expand the hive as easily as a lang, but with the natural benefits of a top bar hive.