As a business, we first and foremost provide information and education. Our gathering and classes are geared toward hobbyists, enthusiasts, backyard beekeepers, and the commercial minded alike. We strive to work toward finding the practice of beekeeping that will work for you and the bees!
Perfect for tea, biscuits, in our out of the comb! A dollop of honey is best enjoyed daily! Gifted with a unique sweetness our honey truly gives you something to talk about.
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 excluders. 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.
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.'
NEST SCENT & HEAT RETENTION
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.
Abbé Émile Warré came just after the time of Langstroth, and worked for many years on over 350 progressive hive designs. His hive designs varied, from rounded barrels, to square boxes, to hexagonal varieties. The key to Warre's success in beekeeping? Opening the hive strictly once a year, namely at harvest. In spring the addition of boxes underneath does not necessitate a hive opening because the heat is then let out. The importance of the retention of nest scent and heat are crucial to the queen's reign over her colony and makes the difference between productive hives and those that tend to fail.
We also offer Standard and Customized Warré hives. Click HERE to download our vertical top bar hive (Warré) Order Form.
Warré sometimes used a square box, similar to the Langstroth, but opted to use top bars in place of the four-sided frame. The photo above is what is known as the 'Warré Magazine Hive.' This top bar allowed the bees to build out their comb to their necessary size, and to continue progress at their own pace. Studies have shown that using foundation can sometimes hinder the bees progress because they are actually consuming honey for energy, and wasting that energy and time on fighting the pre-determined cell size. There is no 'one size fits all' for humans, why should it be any different for the honey bee? Different genus' and species of bees are slightly different sizes, though all characteristically the same; much like humans. no? But it is ignorant to think that the bees need only once cell size to build out their brood chamber, their honey stores, their drone production, etc. Giving them free reign of the hive can produce amazing results, happy bees and delicious honey!
In addition to the Warré Magazine hive, Warré also used rounded hives. His designs included a hexagon, an octagon, even a 16-sided barrel style hive! The idea was that a dead, hollowed tree made for the perfect habitat for the honey bee. No unnecessary heat is lost heating the four corners of the Magazine hive, and the materials used to construct the hive offered more insulation since they measured 1" to 1 1/2" thick. Obviously offering more heat retention than its thinner counterparts that do not measure more than 3/4".
Both our horizontal top bar hives and our warre hive designs feature top bars in place of four-sided frames. We whole-heartedly believe top bars are the foundation of our success (Yet, we use NO Foundation, get it!?) What is a Top Bar Hive?
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.
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.
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.
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 standardization- 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!
OK, it doesn't just smell good, our beeswax products are all-natural and good for the body! Just wait until you try it!
Apitherapy: A form of therapy that uses all aspects of the bee and the hive. The six main components are bee venom therapy, (bee stings to make you healthier!) honey, pollen, propolis, wax, and bee bread. Here is the link to the American Apitherapy Society.
Eastern Apicultural Society: A Group centered around using the health benefits of all components to honey bees and their hives
We strive to provide new beekeepers with all the supplies and knowledge one would need to begin beekeeping. That means hives, knowledge, and even bees. We source our bees from a commercial keeper who practices ethical keeping located in Jesup, Georgia. We're proud to have a connection directly to the source!