Thinking about top-bar beekeeping?

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If you’ve been thinking about beekeeping with top-bar hives, The Thinking Beekeeper by Christy Hemenway is a great reference. It is the first book I’ve read on top-bar beekeeping, and it explains a lot of things that I had questions about — things that Langstroth hive beekeepers haven’t answered to my satisfaction. (In case you’re wondering, we have two Langstroth hives and no top bars.)

The book starts with a history of beekeeping and talks about the unintended consequences of using the Langstroth hive — the box hives most people have associated with beekeeping for the past hundred years. Why do most modern beekeepers use insecticides to kill insects that bother bees? And why do bees need antibiotics to survive now? Bees have been around forever and survived without our chemicals and drugs. Why do they have so many problems now? One reason — because the artificial plastic comb used in Langstroth hives has a single size cell (unlike real comb), which makes it “easier for varroa mites to thrive and harder for honeybees to resist them.”

Christy also talks about other modern practices that can be harmful to bees, such as removing swarm cells, splitting hives, and over-harvesting of honey. Because it is so easy to harvest honey from a Langstroth hive, people are more likely to over harvest.

For trivia fans, the book also busts a common beekeeping myth. Although most people would say that a hive has only one queen, about 15-20% of hives actually have two. Christy says that most people never notice this because they’ve heard there is only one queen, so as soon as they see one, they stop looking.

Comb and bees from a top-bar hive

Part Two of the book explains the top bar hive, gives you info on supplies, equipment, hive preparation, and installing bees, as well as how to do hive inspections. You’ll learn about what’s normal in a hive and various problems you might encounter, as well as natural ways to fix them.

There are chapters on overwintering and harvesting honey, which includes info on rendering beeswax. Although harvesting is not as easy with a top-bar hive as with a Langstroth hive, the equipment needed is much cheaper, so score one for being ecothrifty! I have to admit that harvesting honey was one reason I have been hesitant to get a top-bar hive, in spite of all the things they have in their favor.

Interested in reading the The Thinking Beekeeper? You can order a paperback by clicking on the title above. Prefer to read it on your Kindle? Click here.

Want to know more?

On Friday, Christy will be our guest blogger! She’ll be talking about the importance of wax in your hive. If you have never thought about the wax, you will be in for quite a treat. I had no idea how much the wax affects the health of the bees before reading her post and her book. As Christy says, “It’s all about the wax!”



Between my personal interest in top-bar beekeeping and knowing the author from the Mother Earth News Fairs where we have both spoken frequently, I asked the publisher if I could have a copy of the book to review here on the blog. Other than the book, they gave me no compensation, and I agreed to review the book honestly. If you ever wonder why the reviews on here are generally positive, it’s because I only read books that I like, and I only review books that I read. Life is too short, and my to do list is too long to read books I don’t like!

This post includes affiliate links to Amazon. If you purchase a copy of the book by clicking on the links in this article, you will pay the same price as if you went directly to their website, but we’ll receive a small percentage.

8 thoughts on “Thinking about top-bar beekeeping?”

  1. My husband and I have been thinking about starting bee keeping and I'd love to learn more about the top bar method. I'll definitely have to check out this book, thanks for the review!!

  2. This was a very timely blog post as my husband just finished building me a top bar beehive. But now what? I need a book. I would love to win one but I will end up with one anyway. Thank you for the review.

  3. I am sceptical about the plastic foundation making it harder for bees to resist varroa mites. We are in our 3rd year of beekeeping, and I have never heard of that before. We started off using a Warre hive, which is like a stacked top bar style. However, we switched to Langstroth hives because we found them to be more user-friendly. There are multiple options out there, and I recommend doing some research to see what’s available before getting bees. If there is a club in your area, I highly recommend going. You can learn a lot and ask questions to multiple beekeepers at the same time.

  4. I agree with the last commenter. I’ve been keeping bees for 5 years and I love my bees. Bees come with many challenges so I recommend finding a bee club or mentor. It doesn’t hurt to read books, but in my opinion, top bar hives are not for beginners.


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