Top bar hives for “bees that don’t smoke”

Posted on: 9th March, 2015

Category: Home, Garden & Environment

Contributor: West Cork People

by Justine Sweeney, Clonakilty GIY

“Our bees don’t smoke!” said April Danann, guest speaker at last month’s Clonakilty GIY meeting. Most beekeepers smoke their bees before opening the hives, April explained to a rapt audience, “this makes the bees think the hive is on fire and so they start to eat the honey until they are gorged and docile.”

April and her family have an alternative. They have kept bees in a ‘top bar hive’ style for years now. Their bees are not really aware when one bar, full of honeycomb, is removed as there are no gaps in the bars; they are butted up tight to each other and so the hive inside is kept in darkness – no smoking required.

Top bar hives have an inverted triangle and trough design to mimic hollowed out logs where bees might make their home in a natural setting. This design also stops the bees from attaching their combs to the sides of the box. When the lid is removed from the hive, inside is a series of bars where Max has cut a notch in the underside, thus allowing the bees to attach their combs — this results in triangular honeycombs.

April’s husband Max makes the hives using native hardwoods like cedar or larch, which is screwed together, avoiding the use of glues that could harm the bees. In fact the Danann’s treat their bees (Black Irish Bees) to as natural a life as possible. Although Max and his son Trevor were trained to use chemicals in raising bees, they decided to try an alternative way; allowing the bees to live in a safe environment with as little interference as possible. The family harvest only a third of the honeycomb in August, which allows the bees time to replenish their honey supplies for winter.

The hive is relatively cheap to make whilst bee keeping suits and gloves, which provide protection, are a one-off investment. Only bees around the opening of a hive are aggressive, April explained to the group. As bees steal other hive’s supply of honey, they are on the lookout for who is coming in and out, but your bees will get used to you over time.

If you like the idea of having bees in your garden but don’t want the honey or the risk of getting stung, April suggests getting a hive with bees and placing in a sheltered part of your garden. This will help keep the species alive and pollination of your plants and fruit trees will increase. Bees don’t need us but we certainly need them!

Some suggestions of how we could help our friends the bees followed; they love trees so grow more; don’t spray weed killer on dandelions as bees love them; don’t burn or cut back hedgerows as bumblebees, insects and bees all need them.

The next meeting will be on Monday, March 9 in O’Donovans Hotel in Clonakilty at 8pm. Guest speaker Gemma Hughes will be coming all the way from Waterford GIY to give a talk ‘Spring Health with Herbs – easy herbs to grow and forage for the body to wake out of its winter slumber’.

The general public is welcome to attend. To be informed of all meetings please send your email address to or look on the new facebook page GIY Clonakilty.

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