Top bar hives for healthier bees

by Christy Hemenway

The best and most important features of a top bar hive? Is what goes on inside the hive…

Top bar hive
Letting the bees be in charge of their own natural process — This is what makes for natural beekeeping.

Honeybees make “brood comb” to raise babies in, “honey comb” to store food in, and all this comb is made from beeswax, and made specifically for the very important things that bees do inside the hive. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Bees make beeswax. That’s the way nature intended it. And bees know how to do it best.

So in a Gold Star top bar hive, the bees make their honeycomb naturally — and most importantly — they do it without any “assistance” in the form of sheets of wax-coated plastic known as “foundation.” This is important – to bees, and to us — for three reasons:

So you could say that natural beekeeping is “ALL ABOUT THE WAX!”

  1. It’s important because of the cell size
    — It allows bees to make the cells in the honeycomb in the size that is best for the purpose they will use it for. The size of each honeycomb cell figures into many of the workings of the hive – even down to the length of time it takes a worker honeybee to be born!
  2. It’s important because of the comb shape
    — It allows bees to make the honeycombs themselves in the shape they prefer – a gentle curve known as a “catenary curve.”
  3. It’s important because of the chemical contamination that’s been discovered in foundation.The pesticides that have been used by beekeepers in beehives since the mid-1980’s to treat for a parasite infestation — the varroa mite — are “wax-soluble.” This means they are literally absorbed into the bees’ wax honeycombs. Eventually these honeycombs are recycled – melted down, and made into more foundation. Disconcertingly, these pesticides also survive being melted down and made into new foundation. So that even brand new foundation, just purchased, contains detectable levels of these poisons. We have made the inside of a beehive a chemical catch-all!

But at Gold Star Honeybees, we say:


We don’t treat our hives with chemicals, and we don’t use foundation wax at all – the bees make all their own beeswax from scratch. But we wondered, does this all really matter? What if the bees bring back toxic chemicals and pesticides from the environment around them — enough to contaminate the wax?

These were all good points, so we had the wax tested. Maybe it doesn’t even help to let bees make their own beeswax without the use of foundation. It’s prettier, sure, and it’s less invasive, yes — and it looks like art when you see how they build honeycomb on their own without being forced into the “one size fits all” of pre-printed foundation — but we wanted to know: Does it really make a difference?

We sent a sample of wax to the good folks at Penn State – natural beeswax honeycomb, taken from a Gold Star Top Bar Hive in its second year. This test checked for detectable levels of 170 different pesticides. Not a single one of them was found in the wax from the Gold Star hive. Click here for a downloadable PDF file of the results of the testing. (Note: Key to the results codes: N.D. = Not Detected, PPB = Parts per Billion, and LOD = Level of Detection.)

So now we say -“THE CLEAN WAX CAMPAIGN HAS BEGUN!!!” Keeping bees on their own clean, natural beeswax is one key to having healthy bees. You can be a part of this clean wax movement too. Get in touch with us today and keep your bees in the cleanest, greenest top bar hive available.


Christy Hemenway is the owner and founder of Gold Star Honeybees, a complete resource for all things related to beekeeping in top bar hives. A passionate bee-vangelist and advocate for natural, chemical-free beekeeping, Christy is a highly sought-after speaker, helping audiences to understand the integral connection between bees, food, human health and the future of the planet. She is the author of The Thinking Beekeeper: A Guide to Natural Beekeeping in Top Bar Hives.

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4 thoughts on “Top bar hives for healthier bees”

  1. I have four top bar hives, but I’m experimenting with a langstroth hive that is full of top bars as well. It’s working great. I’m a die hard fan of the all natural top bar system. I also have a langstroth hive that I’m experimenting with standard frames, but no foundation. It works too but not as trouble free as a tapered top bar.

    • Hi – There’s actually no need to use a queen excluder, since (in an newly established hive) the bees arrange the broodnest close together, in such a way that they can manage the heat and humidity that is necessary for baby bees, and they do that before there are honey stores.


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