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Lessons Learned (The Hard Way)

1. Robber bees will visit your hive so keep the entrance small.

When we moved to our neighborhood, we didn't see one honeybee for six months. We had built the top bar hive with a large entrance opening (approx. 3/4" x 10"). Our mentors at the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association warned us to reduce the size of our opening to reduce robbing. Having not seen one bee in the neighborhood, we thought they were crazy, but we did reduce the size to about 3/4" x 2". Now I'm glad we did. As soon as out first comb fell from its bar, robber bees (very easy to distinguish by their markings and unique buzzing noise by the way) started appearing at the hive entrance trying to gain entry. Once robbers find a hive, the bees have to fight to defend it, resulting in large losses of bees (especially in a newly established or weak hive). For my area, I would recommend no more than a 1/2" x 1.5" hive entrance opening (even while a good flow is on).

2. Entrance feeders encourage robbing.

Once robbers have found your hive an entrance feeder only encourages them to bring more of their buddies resulting in losses of your bees due to bee fighting. Use an internal division board feeder or feed your bees (and strangers too) away from the hive during the spring and summer months. Entrance feeders just mean that you'll see a lot of dead bees at your entrance as a result of the fighting.

3. Never let your TBH get too hot.

Always leave an insulating air gap between the top bars and the cover so that the bars don't get too hot. If they do, your combs will fall off the bars. We had the Plexiglas cover directly on top of the bars when we went on vacation. after several days of 100F temperatures, we came home to find that all of our combs had fallen from the bars. When this happens, you will lose a staggering amount of bees due to being crushed or trapped by the comb or drowning in honey. Other will wander into the honey and die also. Only if you're extremely lucky, as we were, will your queen survive such a catastrophe. Be sure your TBH has plenty of ventilation. It's always easy to keep the hive warm during winter, but it's hard to get it cool in summer.

4. Avoid entering the top bar hive if at all possible.

Each time you disturb the hive, you run a serious risk of damaging the brood combs or squishing the queen. You also invite a lot of bee fighting from invading robber bees. The first two combs that fell from our bars were probably due to the fact that we pulled them in the hottest part of the day to examine them. We also experienced many deaths due to bee fighting when we installed our lights after the bees were already in the hive. At least now our hive can be illuminated from within and we can see the entire hive interior through the observation glass.
If you do have to enter your hive, pull only one or two bars at a time and replace them immediately with extra bars while they are out so the hive stays sealed against intruders.

5. Go easy on the equipment purchases

As a minimum, I would recommend buying only the following to get started (besides your bees of course):

We still haven't used our smoker and smoker fuel. We use our bee suits sometimes. We neveruse gloves any more.

6. Observation hives are delicate and not for the inexperienced.

In order to be successful in an observation hive (which is, by its nature, a weak hive), one must do certain things:

  1. Start with a frame of brood, a frame of honey/pollen and an empty but drawn frame. The brood frame goes on bottom, the honey/pollen frame in the middle and the drawn frame on top. (We started with 3 empty and non-drawn frames.)
  2. Place at least 1/2 pound of bees into the observation hive. (We started with too few bees. There weren't enough to accomplish all the tasks that need done, much less enough to feed the queen and defend the hive.)
  3. Screened vents (necessary to rid the hive of excess heat) are confusing to the bees for awhile as they think that they are entrances/exits. However, they are still necessary.
  4. Although necessary to keep the bees in the hive while introducing a new queen, blocking the entrance also confuses the bees (after the queen is released) as to where the hive entrance is.
  5. Don't use fans to blow air out of the hive, it attracts too much attention from robbers. (We used a small computer CPU cooling fan to suck air out of the top vent on the OH to reduce heat build up. All this did was attract robbers to our weak hive.)
  6. Don't expect any bees to successfully start from scratch in an OH. They need a big head start with young brood that is ready to go, food stores and a place for the queen to begin laying immediately.