Package? Swarm? How do I get bees into my top bar hive?

As you may already know – until we can make “top bar nucs” available for top bar beekeepers – you need “loose” bees for starting a colony in a Gold Star Top Bar Hive.  Loose bees means bees WITHOUT any of the conventional Langstroth hive equipment – no frames, and especially no foundation – because we are ALL ABOUT THE WAX here!  A conventional “nuc” or nucleus colony won’t work for starting bees in a top bar hive because they are already installed on and working conventional equipment – with frames and foundation.

More on this later – but first, let’s talk about what does work in a top bar hive.

There are two good ways to start bees in top bar hives:

Capturing a swarm

Capturing a swarm

1)  With a swarm.  The beautiful thing about a swarm is that swarming is the natural reproduction process of honeybees.  That means that the bees in a swarm are a finely tuned, well organized “colony”.  The bees are the right ages for the tasks they will be performing in their new home when it is found, and they are all related to each other, and they are all related to their queen.  This is about as close to natural as you could ask for – if you are willing to ignore the rude experience they had when they were knocked off the branch of a tree and carried off by a beekeeper, to be introduced into a man-made beehive.

The difficulty with starting your hive with a swarm is that you cannot predict its arrival time – or even if a swarm will come your way at all.

Happy to have bees!

Happy to have bees!

2)  With a package.  A package of bees has not had the best time of it just before they come to live in your beehive.  They are bees of random ages, tumbled together with bees from many other hives in an apiary – they are unrelated, disorganized, and expected to get on with an artificially raised queen that they have never met before.  This is a bit further from natural than one could ask for.  It does however, have the advantage of being something you can “order”, with an expectation as to an approximate arrival date.

It’s an artificial process and not so good for bees, but they seem to be able to adapt and overcome, and organize themselves into a colony and go forward.

So – with those options before you – you need to make some choices.  Swarm or Package?  Think about that and we’ll go on and talk some more about nucs.

We said there would be more later on conventional nucs  and here it is.  Just what is a nuc?  A nuc is the nickname given to a “nucleus colony”.  It’s like this – you buy a  tiny little starter hive of bees – you take it home, and you remove five frames from your Langstroth hive, and you replace them with five frames and the accompanying bees, from the nuc.  Voila – instant beehive.  If you are using Langstroth equipment, this works beautifully!

But sometimes novice beekeepers don’t realize that a conventional “nuc” isn’t what they need in order to start a top bar hive.  And they may not be quite sure what questions to even ask, so the company they are purchasing from doesn’t even know how to keep them from making this error and buying bees that won’t fit in their top bar hive.

Primarily, it’s a question of non-compatible, non-interchangeable equipment.  Top Bar Hives do not equal Langstroth hives.  Yes, there are tales of brave beekeepers who cut apart a conventional nuc in order to make it fit into a top bar hive – we call that a “hack and slash” job.  But we encourage you not to do that – it’s hard on you and it’s very hard on the bees.

And since you’re here looking at a top bar hive manufacturer’s website – you know that beekeeping is best when it’s good for the bees.  And easy for the beekeeper.  So obviously chopping up a nuc is not the best choice for populating your top bar hive.

Make sense?  We thought it would.

Thanks for listening!



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