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Hempsals Community Farm » Horizontal Top Bar Hive Building

1320610564 73 Hempsals Community Farm    » Horizontal Top Bar Hive Building

On Saturday 3rd April (and some of Sunday), some of the members of the community farm got together to build a Horizontal Top Bar Hive (TBH) with the intention of keeping bees on the farm to help pollination and for a little honey and wax too. Dan is a keen beekeeper and had come across an interesting design detailed by Phil Chandler of biobees.com. Phil argues that the current ways of keeping bees in framed beekeeping (as discovered and developed by langstroth in the 1850s) is rather un-natural for the bees and modern beekeeping practice might be the cause of some of the population decline that we have been seeing in honey bees globally. Whilst modern agricultural practice does not help matters, there are ways in which we can help honey bee colonies be as strong as possible by living as close to the way they would natively (after all, apis mellifera have been around a lot longer than humans and are thus a very highly successful species).

So, onto the hive building! First of all a note about wood. Seeing as the Horizontal TBH has taken much inspiration from very cheap-to-make african hives, we did not want to end up building a hive that cost more than a “shop-bought” one as wood is very expensive in the DIY stores and timber yards these days. Fortunately, I stumbled across a social enterprise in Cambridge called “Cambridge Wood Works” which collects wood from business and homes, de-nails and categorises it, and then sells it on at bargain prices. when I first walked in to the wood store, I knew that I would be buying all wood from now on in there! I managed to buy all of the wood that we would need for the TBH, including the top bars which came from the airing cupboard of an old peoples’ home at a cost of £25, and at the end of the day, we still had wood left over to make more things with!

Please note that unless otherwise stated, all dimensions are the same as those detailed in Phil Chandler’s brilliant publication: “How to Build a Top Bar Hive“.

First off we had to assemble a table saw that the farm had purchased which took rather longer than it should have. A combination of dodgy instructions and the “too many cooks” paradigm came into play here!

The first stage was to cut the top bars and build the follower boards that would provide a template for the shape of the hive. The follower boards act like book ends in the hive, allowing the beekeeper to adjust the internal size of the hive by sliding the follower boards around and adding/removing top bars. This means that a new colony or a nuc can occupy a small space to start with which can grow as the colony gets stronger. Alan was tasked with the job of making the top bars, which he aptly did using the table saw. mark then cut some plywood to size to make the triangular shape of the 2 follower boards. He then glued them to two of the top bars and created a jig out of wooden chocks, workmate and clamps to allow the boards to dry straight.

The main walls of the TBH are 12 inches (“) wide by 36″ long. so we needed 108 inches of 12″ board in total (including the board for the ends of the hive). Seeing as we had sourced our wood from recycled stock, we didn’t have the luxury of a load of boards that were exactly the right size so Kriss and Dan set about matching boards up to create 12″ boards. We glued and clamped them and also then quickly screwed some retaining bars on over the boards so that the clamps could be used elsewhere later. unfortunately there was some bowing in the wood, so this would have to be rectified with glue and sawdust later.

The ends of the hive are also 12″ wide but each is only 18″ long, so we made up another 36″ long piece and later cut it in half to create the ends.

The roof of the hive cleverly sits on the angled ends of the Hive legs, with the roof box giving just enough space to hold the roof just off the top bars (which are the ceiling of the hive). for the roof frame we used old packaging timber that had been heat treated (but not chemically preserved). I quickly knocked up the frame and screwed it together.

We decided to go for a pitched roof, using old feather board to allow the water to run off easily and also to make the hive look in-keeping with the chicken houses on the farm. mark cut some plywood to an apex shape, one for each end and we then simply screwed the boards to the end of the roof frame that I had made. Kriss and I then used a piece of wood to create a ridge at the apex and two supports from the ridge to the roof frame in the centre to add support for the feather-board roof.

The result was great! Although I will reserve boasting until it has seen a good rainfall!

As per Chandler’s instructions, we constructed the hive upside-down using the follower boards to create the correct hive shape and marking the ends of the hive with a pencil, ready for drilling and screwing. once we were happy that everything was right, we screwed the ends into the main sides.

Seeing as the farm has a lot of younger members (from newborns to teenagers), we were conscious of the fact the hive had to be accessible and fun for them as well. To make sure the hive was at the right height, we measured 2 year old Cara to get the height at the middle of our hive (as this was where we were going to place an inspection window). The legs themselves were cut from old pieces of Pine that had been the frame to the airing cupboard (same place as the top bars!) and we decided on the angle of the legs by eye, which then gave us the angle to cut the end of the legs (that the roof frame would rest on on). 4 legs were made up and bolted in with 2 bolts and nuts.

After a minor measurement miscalculation, and subsequent hive shortening exercise (By just over an inch) we stood the shive up and slotted the roof on top. A word of advice: If the length of the main hive walls are 36″, the inner measurement of the roof frame must be 36″ + the thickness of the 2 ends + a few mm for tolerance! We forgot to add on the thickness of the two ends and so ended up with a roof that was too small! Fortunately this is easily rescued by sawing off about 2″ from the main hive walls (thank god we used screws!).

Next, you can test that the top bars fit inside the hive…

As suggested in Chandlers plans, we drilled 3 holes, 3″ apart in the middle of the side of the hive with a 25mm (1″) drill bit.

On Sunday Kriss and I came back to finish off the hive and add some modifications that had been suggested on the natural beekeeping forums by FollowMeChaps (Robin). The first one on the list was an inspection window in the main wall of the hive so that we could see what the bees were up to without opening the hive up. It is also great fun for the kids to be able to see the bees in a safe manner. We first deconstructed the hive a little to get the hive side on a bench to make it easier for working with. We then marked out the window, drilled 2 corners and cut the rectangular shape out with a jigsaw.

Once this was done, we marked out a piece of Perspex (about 4mm thick) and cut that out with the jigsaw using a fine tooth blade (usually used for cutting metal). This worked really well, and was a log easier to work than using a conventional saw/blade.

We then used a router (borrowed from fellow members the Evans family) and routed out a rebate for the perspex to sit in. This would ensure that the perspex would sit flush on the inside of the hive so that the bees would treat it exactly like the other hive walls and hopefully not fill it up with propolis!

Once the rebate was cut, we ran a small bead of silicone around it before placing the perspex into place. One window completed!

After reading on the forums, it is suggested that the window be covered with some form of curtain when not looking at the bees so that the light does not disturb them too much. It is also a good idea to fill the space between the window and the outside of the hive (the thickness of your hive walls) with some kind of insulation as there will be a cold spot where the window is (thermal properties of Perspex does not equal those of wood).

Kriss and I were contemplating a nice simple plywood cover arrangement, when Farm owner Ben arrived with a stupid suggestion: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have sliding doors that open outwards”. at this stage of the build, the suggestion was met with what can only be described as annoyed enthusiasm. Annoyed, because 1) I didn’t think of it and 2) we wanted to finish the job. Enthusiastic because we now felt confident enough to take on any challenge and we knew it would be an innovative improvement on the window cover.

And so it was done, we build 2 rails for the doors to slide in, using the router to cut out the sliding tracks. Given the length of the window compared to the length of the hive, the cover had to be cut in half and 2 batons were glued on to act as handles. We later added a few screws to act as supports to the doors and a screw to act as an end-stop to prevent the open doors sliding right out of their groove.

We also then cut a piece of polystyrene to act as an insulative brick between the window and the doors (just less than 1″) which should be placed in each time the doors are shut, and removed when they are opened. We went for a 3 block arrangement so that the polystyrene can be removed block by block (the sliding doors maximum opening is slightly shy of the window size).

To be completed…

This entry was posted on April 05th, 2011 and is filed under Bees, Livestock. you can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. you can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


Hempsals Community Farm » Horizontal Top Bar Hive Building

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