Top bars are more than just strips of wood! We've taken the studies of progressive beekeepers, as well as entomologists, to discover that there is an exact science behind the way the bees cling to each other in the colony. If you ever notice how they cling and form a slight arc, that's engrained in the honey bee, they form an 11 degree angle, clinging to each other and working hand in hand (so to speak) in producing their own wax foundation. With that knowledge we've also tapered our top bars to reinforce that natural angle in which the bees cling to make the cells they produce are more structurally sound! That means less breakage of comb when removing it from the hive, and more strength to build out the combs fully and fill them with capped honey!


Saturday February 21, 2015
8:00 AM-4:00 PM
Location: Kalamazoo Valley Community College
6767 West O Ave., Kalamazoo, MI
For more information Click Here


Saturday February 28, 2015
611 E. Porter St., Albion, Michigan 49224
Click HERE for more Info

SEMBA Spring 2015 Conference
Saturday March 21, 2015
VisTaTech Center at Schoolcraft College
18600 Haggerty Road, Livonia, MI
Click HERE for more Info

Beekeeping Lesson
Saturday March 7, 2015 @ 11:00 AM
Call 517-748-7167 to schedule
$20 per person
$40 per family
(under 18 FREE)
1-3 Hours
Covered in lesson:
*Types of Hives
*Components of Top Bar Hive
*Advantages/Disadvantages of alternative beekeeping
*Honey Bee Biology & Their natural cycle
*Seasonal Maintenance
*Management Tips

Hive Building Workshop
Hive build workshop includes a beekeeping lesson and your very own hive assembled by YOU!
Please dress for the weather and bring appropriate safety gear.
Hive Builds are limited to a class of five due to space and safety issues
Cost: $550.00
Dates Available:
FIRST Saturday of every Month (October-March)
Click below HERE to download our registration form!

Feral Swarm List
Steller Apiaries offers their local, intact feral swarms to those that wish to be placed on our list for the cost of $150 each. The sizes of the swarms varies, as they are natural swarms that occur in nature, but average 2-3 lbs. Availability varies, when we capture a swarm, you get a call! If you cannot take the swarm, we move on to the next person on the list, but you will remain at the top of the list. Call 517-748-7167 or for more info or to be added to our list!

Though top bar hives are named for their popularization in Kenya, the first records of top bar beekeeping were in Greece in the late 1600's! Top bar hives are revered for their 'top bar' rather than a four-sided frame. this negates the need for foundation, leaving the bees to draw out their cells to their natural size, rather than forcing them to draw out 'one size fits all' foundation. Allowing the bees to draw out their own cell size has also allowed many top bar beekeepers to omit the use of both protective gear and medication all together. 


                     Steller Apiaries                                                                                            ...Keeping outside the box

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Kenyan Top Bar Hive Designs
The basics are in the name! Top bar hives, also known as a horizontal top bar hive, is a top bar for the bees to build their comb. Using a top bar in place of a four-sided frame promotes bee health. Honey bees cling to each other in the natural angle that will form their wax comb. Eliminating the obstruction of a frame bottom allows the honey bees to work more efficiently; and efficiency is key when it comes to survival of the hive!

'Steller Apiaries Standard' Kenyan Top Bar Hive
Our Kenyan top bar hive has been modified for the cold climates of Michigan. Our standard hive is constructed out of solid pine and is 7/4 or 1 3/4 inch thick, that's a full inch thicker than other available hive systems! Our standard model includes our gabled roof covered in either white, brown , hunter green, or coppertone (shown) aluminum flashing and comes with pressure treated pine legs for $500.00. That's just as much as starting the conventional, commercial way! And our personalizations and customizations are endless! The hive can then be painted, finished, or even sealed in our own beeswax and boiled linseed oil exterior finish ($10.00 for an 8 oz Container) Check out or photos for more custom ideas! The full body observation window allows you endless "progress checks" without actually hindering the progress of the bee's. No lost nest scent and no lost heat from opening the hive! Contact us today to place your order!

At Steller Apiaries, we want your beekeeping experience to be everything YOU want it to be. That's why we offer hive bodies that are completely customizable to you and your situation. No two beekeepers will tend their hives the same way, so why should that extend to what you put your bees in? Click HERE download our Horizontal top bar hive (Kenyan or Tanzanian) order form.

What is a Top Bar Hive?
A top bar hive is a hive that uses top bars of some sort, in place of a four-sided frame like traditional, Langstroth (square box) Hives. Many top bars still use starter strips of foundation, but at Steller Apiaries, we re-use our excess wax and begin a straight line of wax down the center of the top bar. This acts as a 'suggested outline' and allows the bees to understand where they can build their comb without restricting their cell size by using stamped foundation.

Our top bar hives are long, instead of square, and previously have been referred to as Kenyan Top Bar Hives or Horizontal Hives; as the bee's build their comb horizontally rather than vertically. Our top bar hives are completely customizable but our standard hive is 36" in length, 18" wide and about 3-4' tall (No beekeeper's back here!) Our top bars are 1 3/8" wide, with 24 per hive. The width of the top bars are specific to accommodate bee space between the drawn out combs. No man-made spacers to interrupt the bee's natural progress and nothing to hinder the bee's nest scent and/or heat retention! 

We use end entrances at Steller Apiaries, meaning our entrance is not on the long side of the hive, it stands at one end. Studies have shown that end entrances keep the queen from moving beyond her brood chamber, forcing the bees to work front to back and eliminating the need for two follower boards. In mid-hive entrances the queen has the chance to begin at one end, and work to the other with space left on either end of the hive. Come winter time this can affect the way the bees will cluster and eat their honey through the winter.

Top bar hives, in one form or another, have been used for thousands of years. There are even depictions of top bars being used in Greece; they simply used a fired clay pot or woven basket turned upside down and sticks laid across the top. They are one of the most basic methods of managing bees, as they are simple to build, simple to manage and and are more advanced than a skep or other cavity from which the comb cannot be easily removed. 

Why top bars?
Top bar hives are less expensive to build or have built than Langstroth hives or other similar frame-dependent hives. Top bar hives do not require heavy lifting in the form of honey supers, extra frames, foundation, or queen excluder's. An entire super of honey can weigh up to 50 lbs, a single honey laden top bar weighs between 3-5 lbs! Additionally you do not require excess materials or other expensive tools; the hives are fully self-contained beehives.

In addition to being cost effective to traditional equipment, top bar hives are significantly easier to work in than a Langstroth hive. Our top bar hives include a full body observation window, which eases the stress on the bees when it comes time to inspect. Removing the follower board and only one top bar at a time allows you to retain heat and nest scent, thus leaving the colony virtually undisturbed, and can leave you feel that your bees seem far less aggressive toward your presence.

Why OUR top bars hives?
We firmly believe in top bar hives and the alternative method, so why our hives? Well, we use local, quality materials and our hive has been adapted to deal with special cold climates common in Michigan and other mid-western states. We use a hive material that is 1 3/4" thick, meaning we have a full inch more insulating material between your bees and the cold in our hives rather than our competitor's. We completely customize your hive, depending on what you're looking for. From roofing materials to the type of wood, to exterior finishes and custom paint jobs, we can do it all! Lastly, we're a family-owned business. When you support us, you're directly supporting a local family in a local community

We use special-cut top bars that are designed to promote both comb production and stability. We do NOT use any type of foundation that could be misleading to the bees and promote uniform comb production. We place a liquid wax line down the center of our top bars, once hardened, the wax serves as simply a 'sniffer' line or a suggestion line for the bees to draw their comb.

Our top bars fit closely together to create a false roof, further insulating the bees and limiting the loss of heat and nest scent, and encouraging the bees to create their own necessary 'hi-ways' and 'bee-space.'

Top bar hive advantages
Our method isn't perfect, and we're not trying to claim it as such. We simply believe there is an alternative and this method works better for us and we believe it may work better for you.

  • Cost-Less than a standard Langstroth and no additional materials/supplies need to be purchased!
  • Management –Huge benefits in the ease of managing a self-contained hive with no heavy lifting
  •  Enjoyment –Hello, you’re saving the bees AND pollinating local food sources
  •  Honey Harvesting –Crush and strain method is easy and more cost effective than commercial beekeeping
  • No need for supers, frames, foundation or extractors

Top bar hive disadvantages
With any method of beekeeping there are advantages and disadvantages. No method is perfect (not even ours) but what does matter is you helping your little pollinating friends!

  • Few suppliers-there are far less outlets available to get materials than in commercial beekeeping practices.
  • Lack of standarzidation-Everything can seem different and it's sometimes a guessing game, but if you find one supplier (like us!) it's much easier, and it's for the benefit of the bee's!
  • Stigma-there is often a negative stigma associated with using and alternative beekeeping method. Whatever your reasons. do what you want to do for the reasons you want to do them! Our method is not perfect, and we're not here to claim it is; we simply believe there are alternatives out there and you should be aware of them, too; Having a purpose for the bees is what's most important and you know you're doing wonders for your local agriculture!

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Unlike most of our competitors, our hives are customizable and can include both a roof and legs – all you will need to provide is a location and your bees! With the legs attached the top of the hive is approximately 3 feet high, making the hive easy to work without a “beekeeper’s back” from heavy lifting.

The Queen honey bee releases a natural pheromone that alerts and informs the bees of the overall health and safety of the colony. She releases a scent that keeps her worker bees busy doing their specific duty within the hive. Using a top bar hive method allows the queens natural scent to be retained in the hive because top bars fit together more securely than in a standard Langstroth (square box) hive. Utilizing the top bar allows us to sustain the bees nest scent and generated heat by eliminating the air gaps or 'bee space' between each top bar. Using standard frames creates a wind tunnel effect, releasing all of the heat and scent out of the top of the hive every time it is opened. Regenerating that heat and nest scent takes energy, which means your bees are consuming more honey to replace what resources that were lost.
Our specialty is our full-body observation window, as seen on this custom 1/2 inch painted Pine hive body with a cedar shake roof, on the left. Also, our hives 'inner cover' consist of recycled or reclaimed fabric, in place of a rigid board inner cover (seen rolled up in the photo on the right). The fabric allows for better ventilation and allows the bees to propolize the cover easily and securely to the top bars. Other customizations have included copper roofs, solid ash or maple bodies, boiled beeswax and linseed finishes, and bolts added for the option of suspending the hive off the ground, as intended by its original Kenyan design.
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