Top Bar Hives – more specifically, “Kenya Top Bar Hives”, are an increasingly popular way to keep bees for those who enjoy the Do-It-Yourself process. Where one of the big attractions to the standard Langstroth design is the standardization, Kenya Top Bar design hives are more of a concept than a specific design. The Kenya Top Bar Hive was designed and developed by the Peace Corps as a beekeeping system that could be built and maintained using only basic tools. You can download the original Peace Corps plans here from the University of Minnesota.
If your focus is on producing the maximum amount of honey, top bar hives are probably not your best choice. Unlike the Langstroth hive, where the comb is reused by the bees, in a top bar hive, the comb is not reused so the bees have to work to build comb before making honey. If, on the other hand, you also want to harvest high quality beeswax, then a top bar hive might be just what you’re looking for.
Since the Kenya Top Bar design is so well suited to design tweaks, we are using this page as a way to collect design ideas and modifications – all in search of the “perfect” Kenya Top Bar Hive. If you have an idea for an improvement, please use the Contact link or the Comments section and let us know. If you have photos or drawings, that’s always a plus.
There are really only two important dimensions for a Kenya Top Bar design:
- The top bars must be 1-3/8″ wide, (1-1/4″ to 1-1/2″, may vary by location). This is the distance apart that honeybees like to build their comb.
- A good length for the top bars is 19″ so that they can be inserted into a standard Langstroth hive for starting comb before moving it into the Top Bar hive – it’s just an added convenience that gives you more options, and not a necessity.
This page is not about buying top bar hives – it’s about building them, so let’s start with some free on-line plans:
Top Bar Plans
- Original Peace Corps design
- Video – Peace Corps in Ghana building a hive (just for some background and to make you grateful that you have access to good tools)
- Phil Chandler design – The Barefoot Beekeeper
Top Bar Tips
- Your hive must be kept level. Without frame and foundation to guide them, honeybees build their comb straight down, so plan accordingly. Make sure that the support legs don’t sink down into soft sand and check the level every once in a while if you’re not sure.
- Some way of adjusting the support leg length could be helpful in keeping it level.
- Painting the top surface of the top bars (this surface is not accessible to the bees) allows you to use chalk to identify specific frames for various purposes.
- A jar lid attached to the top cover so that a jar can be screwed into it makes it easy to store small items used to care for the hive.