Since the nuc we are getting will have five frames, let us resume our horizontal top-bar hive apologetics with a discussion of why we have until now rejected this last of the three basics of modern beekeeping technology in our hive.

We have discussed frames and honey extraction in an earlier post about foundation and will not repeat those arguments here. Otherwise in their favor they do prevent attachment of the comb to the sides and bottom of the hive. This is because there is only enough space between the corresponding frame and hive surfaces for a bee to cross. Much wider and they would bridge it with comb. Much narrower and they would seal it with propolis. Although the eventual outline of the resulting comb is constrained to be rectangular rather than the catenary of freely built comb, we have found nothing to indicate that this is a problem and while we lean towards keeping things ‘natural’ we are not that hard-core. We are, after all, keeping our bees in a box not a tree.

But the frame is a fiddly thing. It must be assembled from precisely precut pieces of wood and fastened with tiny nails. Done incorrectly it will not be strong enough to hold together when full of honeycomb. The wood parts are too difficult for the typical hobbyist to make and so they become another item that must be bought and then assembled. So why bother? In nature bees simply require something from which to hang. The outline of the resulting comb is not neatly rectangular but that is no matter since we will be crushing it anyway. We could just use the top side (bar) of the frame. Furthermore there is, in a horizontal hive, no need for the top bar to have its special shape allowing access to an upper hive body. It may have a uniform width. Such a bar is easy to make from standard lumber, ripping to width and cutting to length. And so we reject frames not as forcefully as we did foundation but reject them natheless as too much bother.

The astute reader may object that such a collection of rectangular top bars pressed together very much resembles a solid ceiling. What is to prevent the bees from building comb any which way, thwarting our intention of lifting a single top bar with its own planar comb? In answer we must admit that a top bar has a little more structure than we let on but is still simpler than a frame. The top bar requires some feature to give the bees a hint that comb should be built along it rather than across it and its fellows. Beeks have used several kinds. Beeks have also had stubborn bees build cross-comb when it suited them.

The easiest if least reliable is to simply saw a kerf (groove) running the length of the top bar (figure one in the diagram) and pour in a little melted beeswax, available in craft stores if you have none from your own bees.

More reliable is to make the bottom of the bar not flat but with some sort of ridge (figure two) running its length. The bees will start building at this ridge and along it. The ridge may be a strip of foundation inserted into a groove or a mere craft stick (popsicle stick) which may then be waxed or not. Care must be taken that whatever guide is used does not fall out of the groove.

Most reliable is to make not a narrow ridge but cut the bar itself to have a peaked cross-section (figures.three, four, and five). Figure four is the kind we have. It is figure three with a groove for beeswax. Figure five is reputedly the kind that allows the strongest attachment of comb but is also the most intricate to make. Nevertheless it is the kind we intend to make when we build our next hive and we will post instructions then.

< Previous post in series Next post in series >