TBH design: feedback and ideas please?

TBH’s have evolved a lot since I got my first one 2 years ago. I am getting a custom one made and I am trying to have as many features as I can think of incorporated to make it better for the bees, and the human operator. I would be interested in others’ ideas and your views on my thoughts so far…

Entrance: as large holes are tricky to guard (some colonies only seem to put one guard per entrance), I am going to try lots of little holes. I reckon twenty blockable 6.5mm diameter holes will allow even a queen to transit easily, but will offer a barrier to the larger hornets, and twenty guards will be better than a smaller number on a few larger entrances. Also they will resemble tunnels if the wood is an inch thick, which should help put off wasps.

I’m also considering making the entrance a removable slab of wood over a huge hole. Then I can experiment with different entrances such as a handful of large holes, hole position etc.

The entrance position will be at each end, not in the sloping side. But should they be near the bottom of the combs, or higher up? I have heard people say high entrances help avoid trampling over brood, I don’t follow the reasoning there. It seems to me that low entrances mean returning bees can go straight under the combs, where there is always space, to wherever they want.

I don’t understand what landing boards are for. We have two identical hives, one has a landing board I bodged on; if anything its colony is weaker than the other.

Walls: one inch thick cedar.

Window: full length window one one side. Possibly both sides.

Base: hinged mesh with sliding baseboard. So the hive floor can be cleaned easily; I have the choice of ventilating on really hot days; or closing the baseboard up for maximum insulation in winter.

Angle of wall slope: I’ve seen a modern TBH which has a much nearer-vertical side wall than the ones I have. Thus resulting in squarer combs. Why have people gone to this angle? Is there some huge advantage? It would be awkward if our hives had non-interchangeable accessories.

Horizontal feeder below roof: Gareth uses one of these, it’s quite clever, no drowned bees and easy to refill without opening the hive itself. I assume it requires a bigger space under the roof.

Bars: integral reinforcing dowels for the comb. Selection of spacers.

Well, that’s as far as I’ve got so far. I would hate to have the hive delivered and kick myself because I hadn’t heard of a new development. Any other ideas I can steal? Particularly things I haven’t covered so probably haven’t thought of – handles to lift it with, hinged roof, teflon coated legs to stop ants climbing up…

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8 Responses to TBH design: feedback and ideas please?

  1. FollowMeChaps says:

    Paul – I could offer some suggestions most of which are outlined on this page (section 3) and the subsequent linked pages. I’d also go for a single entrance hole to replicate a natural colony (tree).

    However, my real advice would be to ditch the horizontal hive and go instead for a Warré. Since starting horizontals 5 years ago I have found them problematic in several ways – all of which require the beek’ to open the hive to sort out – bad for the beek’ and disaster for the bees. A Warré on the other hand is simple to operate and requires very little opening – the result being healthy, happy bees.

    Robin

    • Paul says:

      On reviewing Robin’s comments, researching on the Web, and a chat with Simplebee himself tonight, I am suddenly intensely interested in Warres. Seriously enough that I’ve put the order for a new TBH on indefinite hold for now.

  2. simplebees says:

    Paul
    As you know, I’ve gradually modified my horizontals over the last 5 or so years to incorporate thicker walls, space under the roof for both a top feeder (as you mention) and wood shaving insulation and space below the combs for the bees to ‘hang out’.

    I started natural beekeeping (after many years as a more conventional beekeeper) with horizontal hives not because I thought them the best hive but because I was not, at the time, aware of the vertical approach using Warre hives. I have now had some experience of the latter, particularly this season through helping a friend (not Robin) who has a number of Warres and a single horizontal. This has enabled us to compare the two systems side by side.

    The result is that I find the Warre hive to be better by quite a long way. It enables the bees to control their environment more closely. Bees evolved in trees that are mainly vertical and, it so happens, air circulates in a vertical fashion far more easily than a horizontal one. I started using dowels in horizontal hives to strengthen honey storage combs because of collapses due to over-heating. I have recently seen signs of brood stress in horizontals due, I suspect, to heat management issues.

    This leaves me with two options: continue to modify my horizontals or move over to Warres. I have not seen any of the problems I describe in Warres and have not heard of them from other Warre beekeepers. I have found Warres to be far easier to manage than horizontals, with much less stress on both the beekeeper and the bees. In addition, I have found the issue of lifting boxes with Warres not to be as problematic as some suggest.

    Hence, after much thought, I have decided to convert entirely to Warres this year. The friend with Warres and one horizontal has just ‘donated’ his horizontal to me, in part because he too thinks the Warre hive is a better hive all round.

    Hope this helps your deliberations.

    Gareth

  3. Paul says:

    Well that’s serious food for thought! I am particularly struck by the “less intervention –> happier bees” point. I am indeed finding TBH’s need a bit more management than I expected.

    Two questions about Warres spring to mind…
    – Are Warre top bars interchangeable with TBH top bars? Could I simply lift combs out of a TBH into a Warre?
    – How do bee inspectors / Warre users inspect a Warre when you have to look for disease?

  4. simplebees says:

    Paul

    One can always, of course, leave a horizontal alone. But, just as with ANY hive that is left completely alone, things get stuck together and the bees will cross comb and have a degree of fun with the comb. So, opening the hive for a disease inspection or to make a split, as you have recently done, can become a mess and ends up being highly intrusive.

    What I am finding with Warres is that one can, for example, do a split very easily by treating the boxes as the part that is moved (complete with undisturbed comb) rather than handling individual bars. Hence, even for a beekeeper that wishes to do some management, the Warre is potentially far less intrusive.

    When the bee inspector comes knocking, it may be necessary to look at individual combs. For this reason I am using dowels at each end of the bar that sit just inside the box wall. The friend that I have been working with has this on a number of his hives and we have found that individual bars can be removed if required. There is a special Warre knife that can be used to assist with an comb adherence or cross combing, although I am pleasantly surprised by how regular the combs are in my friend’s apiary.

    If you really want to play with the combs, have a look at Gilles Denis’s videos here.

    Gareth

  5. FollowMeChaps says:

    Gareth – Yet again it seems that the most ‘off-putting’ thing people perceive about Warré is the lifting – people imagine the need for strapping great blokes, complex hive lifts, damaged backs, etc.

    In fact, lifting is NOT a problem at all as various tricks can be applied to get around this and it is also generally only done once a year unlike with a horizontal where the combs often need frequent lifting to try to straighten the comb. Also remember conventional beekeeping where one is weekly lifting gert great boxes – well I am from Bristol, after all 🙂

    Given this, I plan to draft a “Lifting a Warré” page which I can either add to the YABeeP blog or you could edit and add to add to this site. Would that be helpful?

    Robin

  6. Paul says:

    Yes, I think a “lifting a Warre” page would be useful, if you keep in mind that there are smart idiots like me out there who have never used a Warre and have preconceived, but wrong mental images of what they’re like. For example I didn’t twig until Simplebee explained that there is a gap in the comb between Warre boxes, thus you are not limited to simply handling the top box.

    By the way, we’re not really seeing colony failure or disease problems with our two TBH’s. This is only over two years, so not really statistically significant, and we may just be lucky in our microclimate or bee genetics; but there doesn’t seem to be any bee health based reason to switch to Warres for us. Yet. Nor have we had any issue with cross combing or non straight comb once we got the spacers right.

  7. Tony says:

    This is very interesting. I too have switched from a horizontal top bar hive to a Warre simply due to the management problems of an hTBH. I wanted to have as little interference as possible in my hTBH but found that the cross combing was so bad in the end I had to get in there to sort it out. This resulted in a very calm and “friendly” hive becoming really upset and nasty. I would too if someone came poking around my home. I had an empty Warre so decided to switch there and then. The colony in the hTBH was pretty large and I was wondering how I could do it but the problem was solved as the bees decided enough was enough and swarmed. I was able to take out eight top bars, cut the comb to fit in the Warre and lay the top bars on top of the top Warre box with the comb inside the box. Hope that makes sense. I then made another roof which fitted over the old hTBH top bars as they were obviously too big and sticking out over the sides of the Warre box. This is only temporary as once the bees build down into standard Warre boxes I will harvest the top box and ditch the old hTBH top bars. The bees have settled down fine and if the weather would just be a bit kinder they will get on fine. They are foraging in small numbers even in this miserable cold and wet we are having. Hope this helps anyone considering swapping from an hTBH to a Warre. I only wish I had started with the Warre last year instead of the hTBH.

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