The first thing I needed to do was build a hive. There were several hives available for purchase online, but they all seem to run from $300 – $450, which seemed pretty steep considering that one of the advantages of top bar hive beekeeping was suppose to be that it was considerably less expensive than more contemporary hives. So, I downloaded some plans from Phil Chandler’sNatural Beekeeping Site, biobees.com
I’m not much of a carpenter and have only limited space and tools to work with, but the Kenyan top bar hive is fairly simple to make with only basic tools. I decided to make it 48″ long allowing lots of room for a colony to expand, or to house 2 hives if necessary. I also decided to add an observation window to the side since I wanted the ability to monitor what was going on inside the hive without having to open it all the time.
I had hoped to use cedar for the hive, but ultimately went with pine to keep the cost down a bit. I have a lot of old plywood around which I could have used, which would have cut the cost down to a fraction of what I spent, but for the cold winters here I wanted something a little heavier, and I didn’t feel that the plywood would last long in the weather.
I assembled the hive body easily enough. As I’ve said, I’m not a great carpenter, but it seemed to come out ok. I then made top bars out of some 1 1/2″ x 3/4″ board cut to 19″ lengths. I nailed a piece of square dowel to these and coated the dowel beeswax to act as a comb guide. Only time will tell if it worked.
There were no instructions for building the roof and I got a little carried away. I made it with large overhangs on both ends and shingled it with roofing shingles. It turned out to be way too big and heavy to handle, so I had to cut it down a bit to make it manageable. I also made the legs too thin initially and had to replace them with 2x4s which were a bit more sturdy but I didn’t get them cut to fit the roof quite right. Ultimately, I doubt the bees will care too much about my lack of carpentry skills.
Once the hive was completed I treated the outside with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and melted beeswax. I also splashed some lemongrass essential oil around the inside because several people recommended doing so as bees supposedly like the aroma of lemongrass.