A blog originally for keeping track of my hobby of being a Beekeeper which has evolved to include Home Brewing and even more recently to follow me and my families approach to "The Good Life". Eventually I hope to include baking recipes and stories of our flock of chickens also reporting on the success and failure at the allotments.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Natural or National

After doing lots of research into becoming a Beekeeper I have come across an alternative to the national hive that I have already posted details about. The hive I talk about is The Top Bar Hive or TBH. Unfortunately I started reading about this hive design after I had purchased my National hive or I would have strongly considered the TBH option.

For the hobbyist beekeeper the TBH has lots of advantages over the National standard option.
  •  The first obvious one is the cost. My National hive was a budget option that I had to construct myself and was over £100 (£190 including suit, smoker etc), while a TBH can be constructed using spare wooden boards or the timber can be purchased relatively cheap, even as flat pack they can be bought for £60 or there about.
  • The second major advantage for the hobbyist is lack of heavy lifting involved. With a National hive if you want to inspect the brood body you have to lift off the supers above and if there is a large amount of honey in them they can be heavy, also by removing a large section of the hive you have a risk of annoying the bees more than needed. With the TBH there is little to no heavy lifting, once the lid is taken off you can lift each individual bar one at a time to inspect the colony, the only weight being lifted is the weight of the bar and the weight of the comb (plus any bees that stay on the comb).
  • The third reason is ease of harvest. With the TBH all you need to do to harvest is to remove the comb that has honey stored in it and cut the wax away from the top bar then place the bar back in place for the bees to remake the honey comb, you then can mash up the honey comb and strain to separate the honey from the wax, this also gives you more beeswax than a national hive and removes the need for expensive equipment to spin the honey from frames like in a National hive.
  • The fourth reason is probably the most important reason and that is the Bees health. A TBH seems designed to be healthier for the Bees. The Bees make their own comb with a TBH so you don't have to buy wax foundation, further decreasing the cost. Bought comb can contain residual traces of disease or pesticides that shouldn't be put in a hive and when the honey is released from a National hive frame you put the comb back in. This apparently has the advantage to the Bees in that they have already got their comb built so can concentrate on collecting honey thus giving a higher yield, though I have read somewhere that there isn't a great difference in yield. With a National hive the tendency is to remove large quantities of honey at a time by taking off full honey supers and with TBH you take it as it's ready, 1 or 2 combs at a time. By taking it in small quantities at a time you a leaving the Bees with more of their natural food, honey, thus keeping them healthier. Also due to Bees making their own comb in a TBH they make it to their own size that they require unlike National where the foundation is already pressed out to a size defined by the manufacturer of the foundation. The Bees that make their own size comb are usually healthier and manage pests, such as Varroa, better.
There are other advantages and disadvantages but these are the main ones from my point of view. As I already have my National hive I will be sticking with that for the first year but come the next one will be looking into building my own TBH and putting Bees from my National hive into the TBH. I will post photos of the TBH when I start making it. For now I have a couple of photo's obtained from The Natural Beekeeping Forum.

These pictures have been kindly supplied by user tonybloke from The Natural Beekeeping Forum.

The picture on the right is a unoccupied TBH. This image is lifted straight from Phil Chandlers Natural Beekeepers site. The main page for Natural Beekeeping is here and includes free plans to build your own TBH.


  1. good luck with the beekeeping, I am based in Wakefield and have just started this year with 3 hives so I probably am not to far away from you

  2. Thank you, I live in Middlestown. Have looked at your blog and can see you seem to be having success with your beekeeping (and gardening). Hope they do well overwinter and into this year. If they get too crowded at any point and you need to split your hives let me know unless you fancy more hives yourself obviously!