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Make your own Honey Cow (Top Bar Bee Hive)

 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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More information: http://velacreations.com/bees.html
More photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/velacreations/sets/72157622528453587/

Beekeeping is an ancient DIY art, performed by amateurs and makers for centuries. Anyone can produce natural honey at home. People keep bees in many different kinds of hives, but we will focus on a cheap and simple design, called the Honey Cow.

The Honey Cow is designed to mimic nature as much as possible. Unlike commercial hives, it does not have frames, foundation or excluders. Instead, it just has top bars, allowing the bees to do what they would in a fallen log: build beautiful, natural combs. Because it is less intrusive to the bees, it's easier to make and manage, which makes it a perfect beginners backyard hive.

Once you have a hive, you will want to gather a few extra bits of equipment, like a veil, a smoker, and a bee feeder. With your equipment at hand, you can explore ways to get your bees, from capturing a swarm to buying a package or nucleus from a fellow beekeeper. After your bees have had a full summer to build up honey, you can start reaping the rewards of tending bees: wonderful, home-grown honey.

I encourage everyone interested in beekeeping to join a local bee club. These clubs are filled with wonderful people who love to help get beginners started. Don't be discouraged if folks in your bee club don't have the same type of hive as you. There are as many ways to keep bees as there are beekeepers.

Kits, Bees, Supplies
Gold Star Honeybees is an excellent resource for top bar hive* beekeepers.* They offer kits, information, tools, and accessories for top bar hive beekeeping. They feature three levels of DIY hive kits for both novice and experienced beekeepers.* You can find them on the web at http://www.goldstarhoneybees.com/

Gold Star Honeybees
PO Box 1061, Bath, ME* 04530
207-449-1121
http://www.goldstarhoneybees.com/

MATERIALS:
55 gallon plastic barrel, preferably food grade (makes two hives)
22 feet of 1”x2” nominal lumber
46 feet of 1½”x1” lumber
2 X 8 foot of 2”x4” nominal lumber
A 3 feet by 4 feet piece of tin
20 - 1½” wood screws
10 - 2” wood screws
8 - ½ “ screws
Bungee Cord or tie wire
45 feet thin moulding OR natural fiber string and beeswax

TOOLS
circular or jig saw
drill
tin snips
tape measure and marker

The Barrel
Cut the barrel in half lengthwise, making sure that there is a bung hole in each half.

Clean it well. You never know what was in it.* Choose a food-grade container to avoid potentially dangerous chemicals.

Lay the barrel down like a canoe, so that it would catch water. This is the position it will be in from now on.

On one end of the barrel (which used to be the top when it was whole) there is a rim of plastic that protrudes. Cut this away.

Rub the interior with beeswax. This will remove any foreign smell that remains and make it more attractive to a hive. A drop or two of lemongrass oil is good as well.

The Frame

Measure the length and width of your barrel and cut the 1”x2” lumber to make a frame. For example, if your barrel is 36” by 24”, cut 2 lengths of 25” and 2 lengths of 37” (the extra inch allows you to screw one piece into the next).

Glue and screw the frame together.

Screw the barrel inside the frame.

Cut the 2"X4" boards into 40" pieces.* These boards are now the legs.

Screw the legs into each side of the barrel. Make sure you screw the frame to the leg and put several screws from the barrel into the leg for a good, sturdy fix.

The Top Bars

Cut 23 X 24” lengths out of the 1 ½”x1” lumber.

These are the bars to which the bees will attach their honeycomb. However, you need to provide a guide so that they make straight combs. There are several ways to do this, for example:

a) Screw a thin piece of moulding, 20” in length, centered on each top bar, with at least an inch on the ends of the top bar. This moulding will face down, into the barrel, when the bar sits on the frame. Rub some bee's wax on the molding.
or
b) Attach a piece of twine, coated in wax, also centered on the top bar, at least an inch from the ends of the top bar.
or
c) Carve a narrow groove into the top bar and fill it with molten bee's wax.* The groove should be about 1/4 of an inch wide, and you need to leave at least an inch on either end of the top bar.


The Roof

Using the 1”x2” lumber, make a frame that fits around the barrel frame, with a ¼” gap on all sides.

If you cut 2 lengths of 25” and 2 lengths of 37” for the barrel frame, cut 2 lengths of 27 ½” and 2 lengths of 39 ½” for the roof frame.

Take the piece of tin and screw it to the frame, leaving equal space on all sides. *

Bend the extra bits of tin down and screw to the sides of the frame.

Using the tin snips, cut any extra bits hanging below the frame.

Put the roof on top of the barrel frame.

Wrap the bungee cord around the roof and barrel, attaching it to itself. This will prevent the roof from blowing off. Alternatively, you can use a few bits of tie wire to tie the roof securely to the hive.


Ready for the Bees


You are now ready for the bees. You can buy a “package”, a queen and bees, however the most satisfying way to get into bee keeping is to capture a swarm.

Get a package here: http://www.goldstarhoneybees.com

When dealing with bees, you cannot think of them as individuals. It is the hive, as a whole, that is the animal. And in this sense, each year, if conditions are right, the hive will reproduce, sometimes several times over. If they have filled the space they inhabit and food is abundant, they will create another queen and the hive will split, creating a swarm. This swarm, laden with honey, will leave the hive in search of a new home.

The swarm is heavy with food and preoccupied, and consequently very docile. Be sure to wear protection when handling swarms, because bees can always sting, even when they are docile. If you come across a swarm on, for example, a branch, you can put a box beneath them, shake the branch, and the bees will fall into the box. Take that box to your hive and empty it into your barrel. They will do the rest.


RESOURCES

Gold Star Honeybees is an excellent resource for top bar hive* beekeepers.* They offer kits, information, tools, and accessories for top bar hive beekeeping. They feature three levels of DIY hive kits for both novice and experienced beekeepers.* You can find them on the web at http://www.goldstarhoneybees.com/

Gold Star Honeybees
PO Box 1061, Bath, ME* 04530
207-449-1121
http://www.goldstarhoneybees.com/

http://www.velacreations.com/bees.html - author's website

http://biobees.com – natural beekeeping forum

 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
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Thanks for sharing all the 'How To' info 

I would love to hear how the honey is harvested - as I cannot picture how that hive works.

Where do they build their combs? 
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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I love the top bar hive design and if I ever make a hive, it will be a top bar.  But we don't eat sweets, so we don't need honey!  I love bees though.  Thankfully we have a healthy wild hive on our place.

 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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they build their combs on the top bars, and harvesting honey is as easy as removing a top bar, and cutting of the honey comb!  You can always chop and press to get the pure honey (minus the comb).
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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Wonderful  Thanks for explaining how it works.
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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it is actually the ultimate simple, everyman's hive.  You don't need many tools to make it, and you could do it for pretty cheap (under $10)
 
Emerson White
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
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HL Tyler aka Ludi wrote:
I love the top bar hive design and if I ever make a hive, it will be a top bar.  But we don't eat sweets, so we don't need honey!  I love bees though.    Thankfully we have a healthy wild hive on our place.




No bread or alcoholic beverages either? The the very least you can pull the honey off the wax and give it back to the bees.
 
john giroux
Posts: 145
Location: Cumming, GA
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I just finished bulding a tpo bar hive last week. Got it in the back yyard with lemon balm leaves in it for bait. I hope to attract a swarm this spring.  Do you know where in GA gold star gets their BEES?
 
Abe Connally
Posts: 1502
Location: Chihuahua Desert
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Gold star raises their bees.  They seem to be very much on the level, and very helpful to beginners.  I would contact them to discuss a package purchase, and see what you think. 
 
Collin Vickers
Posts: 104
Location: Rutledge, MO
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Thanks for the demo Abe,

About how much would you figure the cost of a hive to be, according to the method you described?
 
Beatrix Hives
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Thanks for the design.

I went ahead and built one of these hives and I've had bees in it for just over a month. I opened up the hive today and while the bees have been very productive, I have a bit of a problem on my hands. All of their combs are crooked and about five of the bars are stuck together with one big old comby, heavy, honey filled mass. I was only able to remove and inspect one of the newer combs because all of the other bars are stuck together so badly. Any ideas about what to do with this mess and how to prevent it happening on the rest of the bars? The comb guide that I used on the bars was miniature dowel (approximately 20 inches long) stapled to the underside of each bar.

Any suggestions on how to remedy this dilemma would be very much appreciated
 
Mr. Bill Anderson
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Location: Zone 8A Hartwell, GA, USA
rabbit trees woodworking
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Beatrix Hives wrote:Thanks for the design.

I went ahead and built one of these hives and I've had bees in it for just over a month. I opened up the hive today and while the bees have been very productive, I have a bit of a problem on my hands. All of their combs are crooked and about five of the bars are stuck together with one big old comby, heavy, honey filled mass. I was only able to remove and inspect one of the newer combs because all of the other bars are stuck together so badly. Any ideas about what to do with this mess and how to prevent it happening on the rest of the bars? The comb guide that I used on the bars was miniature dowel (approximately 20 inches long) stapled to the underside of each bar.

Any suggestions on how to remedy this dilemma would be very much appreciated


There is a reason for everything that bees do. Here are some of my observations.

Only been a month? Ouch. I'd say leave them alone for at least 5 months or so and let them work. Natural inclination is to check them to see if they are doing their job. Uh, they have their own natural inclination, which is to be left alone. Which is why we get stung, lol. They know what they are doing.

However, if you set them up with the bars too close together, they'll paste the combs together. If they are too far apart, they'll start fastening the combs together for stability. Check the size of your bees, there are plenty of size charts online to see what size your's are. Size the bars to the bees.

Make sure the ends of the dowels that you installed on the bars are far enough away from the ends. This keeps the bees from building comb against the sides of the hive body.
Make sure the dowels are STRAIGHT and not too large. Crooked or large foundation strips will, of course, make the combs touch in certain areas. Bee space is critical. They need to be able to get between the combs to keep the honey cool in summer by fanning their wings.

All that to say, I suspect that the bars are too narrow for your bees, or the dowels may be a tiny bit crooked. I've had good luck with cutting a groove in the top bar and melting some beeswax into the groove. Cheap ol junk wax works just fine, no need to use top quality stuff for this.

Don't give up!!! Keep at it and soon you'll be a proud beekeeper. Got Pics of your setup?
 
M Johnson
Posts: 119
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I am just starting this year with bees. I bought a nice langstrom box and while prettier, I feel a little silly after seeing this setup. Looks great and I will do this this year also. Maybe I can do a side by side comparison.

Great post! Love the pics on Flickr. That really helped

Matt

 
richard valley
Posts: 240
Location: Sierra Nevada mountain valley CA, & Nevada high desert
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Hi, Interesting thread. I noticed there was no mention of a queen extruder. So, you have larva in the comb. I've seen bee keepers eat comb with larva and all. What do you do, how do you handle the larva situation?

Thanks Richard

Well, I just noticed the age of this thread, maybe to old for people to be checking back, we'll see.
 
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