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Robbing Bees
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[Updated Sept 2013]

Why do bees rob another hive?

Robber bees will rob another hive if the hive is weak or if there are drought conditions and there is a lack of nectar sources. Normally a hive that is being robbed is a weaker hive or is low in numbers and they are not able to fully defend themselves. Normally you will only see robbing in the fall time, going into winter when bees, yellow jackets and others are all looking for that last source of food before winter sets in. Yet with the drought conditions and warmer temperatures we are now experiencing, robbing is also happening in the spring and late summer as well.

In our area in Colorado in 2012 we saw robbing in the spring as the temperatures were very warm in early March but little rain for plants to start blooming. So there was not nectar available and we saw some robbing within our hives in the early spring. Most of our hives are in rural areas where plants don't get watered like they do in a neighborhood or suburban area. When there is no rain, many bee plants and trees still get watered in suburban areas providing a nectar source for the bees.

During the summer of 2012, Colorado also had a drought and again we saw lots of hives being robbed.

Make sure your hive is being robbed

Over time you will be able to tell if your hive is being robbed or if the activity you are seeing is something else, such as orientation flights of young bees or drones being kicked out in the fall.

Using Spacers in the Top Bar Hive
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The spacers are the thin strips of wood (1/4" thick) that come with our hives and are described in our hive plans. Bees in natural habitats do not create equally-spaced combs. In a tree hive, for example, the bees will create two basic spacings. The typical space between brood combs is 1 3/8", but the spacing for honey combs is slightly larger at approximately 1 5/8". The 1/4" spacer, when placed adjacent to a topbar, will create the larger space needed to accomadate the fatter honey combs. The spacers are a unique development that  thus encourages good alignment of the combs throughout the hive.


For the average size swarm or 3 lb package of bees, place your false back 10-12 bars from the entrance for a small hive or our Backyard Hive and 8-10 bars for our Golden Mean Hive. To install the spacers, start behind the false back and insert the spacers in between each top bar moving toward the back of the hive, placing each one on edge (not flat). Our DVD visually illustrates this. Once the spacers are installed, keep the extra topbars as they come in handy when it comes time to harvest honey comb. You can pull out a comb and fill the space with one of these empty top bars.


Each hive of bees is unique. Since the construction of comb is somewhat fluid you may need to adjust the position of the spacers. Observing through the window, you'll be able to recognize where the bees have recently drawn out honey comb (by the long comb attachment on the window) and will be able to add or subtract spacers accordingly.


When working the hive (during your Spring assessment or when harvesting honey, for example), you can remove the spacers in order to peer down into the hive and track the curvature of any misaligned comb -- all without having to pull out the combs. If you do need to remove a comb, you can use that space to access the walls with your hive tool.

Insulating Your Hive
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Winterizing Your Top Bar Hive for the Colder Months
Insulating your beehive for winter

Here in Colorado we experience very cold winters. Most of the content in this article is directed toward those who live in cold winter climates. Insulating the beehive, and keeping a full hive of honey is important in areas where you will experience below-freezing temperatures for many days at a time. Obviously, if you live in a very warm climate like Florida it will not be necessary to winterize your hive. Understand that you may need to adjust this information for your specific climate and area.

Because of how the bees use honey over the winter, we have changed our thoughts on when the best time to harvest honey actually is. We find that it is more supportive of the bees to harvest honey in the spring instead of in the fall in colder climates because the bees will need the honey for warmth. Not only do the bees eat the honey, but they also take advantage of the honeys’ incredible heat storing properties as thermal mass. During the day, the honey absorbs warmth from the radiating sun, stores it, and slowly releases that warmth back into the hive throughout the coolness of the evening and night. That being the case, we feel the last honey harvest in the fall should only be to prevent the bees from attaching their comb from the false back. Do not remove more than 1-2 honey combs. Labor Day is a good reference date to keep in mind as around the last time you want to harvest honey.

There are four fall “chores” to prepare your hive for the winter:

1) Move the false back forward

2) Install a feeder cup if your bees don’t have enough honey stored

3) Reducing down the entrance of the hive

4) Insulate the hive

Winter Feeding in a Top Bar Hive
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All You Need to Know for Winter Feeding 

Looking through window of beehive

Ideally, in the winter bees will hibernate by forming a ball where they circulate in a "dynamic system", an inter-weaving pattern much like penguins in the antarctic use to keep all the members warm. In a continual flow, the bees on the outside move inward into the center of the ball, and the bees in the center move toward the outside of the ball. If you were to put your hand in the hive in the winter you would find it pretty warm in there. Honey is passed from one bee to the next until all the stomachs are well fed. Their biggest challenge is to slowly move as a ball of bees to a new honey store as the old is depleted.

Wax Moth Infestation
Wax Moths moving in
Sometimes it happens when our bees don't make
it due to many various situations. If for whatever
reason your hive didn't make it, you will want to clean
all the comb out of the hive. Otherwise wax moths will
normally move in very quickly and "clean out" the hive
for you. Making a mess along the way.

Wax Moth Infestation in Hive

Store your combs in a sealed container
Clean out your hive of all combs and scrape the sides clean.
If you want to keep your combs, especially combs that
are filled with honey, keep these in an air tight container.
A well sealed Rubbermaid type plastic tub works well
for this. Or a sealed glass jar or container. If you want to
save the wax for melting down for candles or salves, etc,
in the future, you can do a quick initial melt down in an
old crock pot (we get ours from the second had store)
as once you put wax in it, it will forever be your wax melter :)
Wax moths don't seem to bother these solid pieces of
melted wax. You can strain the wax of particles later, when
you are ready to make candles, etc.

Keep comb in a sealed container

A Simple Harvest


Honey Harvest

I want to share with you a very simple method of harvesting comb from a top bar hive. This should give you an idea of the potential yield and the relative simplicity of working with the top bar hive. The best part of this single comb harvesting method is that it can be done in less than 30 minutes and you will still get to the office on time!  

Catching Bees - By Will Dart
swarm of bees in tree

How to catch a swarm of bees

My bee-wrangling journey began very simply, with a call to a bee supply company in a neighboring town. I was looking for a swarm to purchase; the woman I spoke with informed me that they were out of swarms (I called in June, too late in the season), but that she could put me on their “swarm list” if I wanted. (A “swarm list” is a list of people who volunteer to remove bee swarms that show up in people’s yards.) I had no experience with swarms whatsoever—I’ve never even seen one in person—but I had a friend who had told me about catching swarms and who I knew I could call for advice...

Organic Beekeeping Conference 2010

From Snow to Saguaros

By Claire Anderson

Bee on flower in Ft collins

It was a misty morning and Karen, Corwin and I were all bundled up inthe car chitchatting about honeybees, life and random ideas on ourway to DIA. Corwin and I were heading to Tucson, AZ for the organicbeekeeping conference. As we cruised through DIA and security with a number of rather odd objects packed among our clothes - including 18top bars - my mind was reeling on fast-forward mode thinking about the upcoming conference. I’ve only ever had conversations about natural beekeeping with people who have top bar hives in the Boulder area and here we were, heading to Arizona to meet a whole variety ofbeekeepers who all practice or are interested in an input and chemical-free approach to working with honeybees.

Brood Nest Top Bar Hive
Articles on Beekeeping

Placing the falseback (divider board) in the middle of the hive when installing the bees, helps the bees establish their brood nest towards the front of the top bar hive.

The steps to placing the falseback when installing bees are:
1) Place the falseback about 2/3 from the front of the hive
2) Install the bees
3) After a few days (unless it is below about 50 degrees),
remove the falseback, and move it to the back of the hive.

This sets the bees up to have their brood comb near the front of the hive.

The first few combs they draw out will be quickly filled with honey and pollen.
Then they draw out comb to put the larvae (brood) in. It is best that the brood
comb is near the front of the hive.


Honeycomb Attached to Sides of Hive - Brace Comb
Articles on Beekeeping

The walls of a top bar hive are sloped inward towards the bottom so the bees will build less

comb attachment to the walls of the hive. This is the reason for the angle of the sides of the hive. If the hive were a square box the bees might attach the comb they draw out along the entire side of the hive. This would make it very difficult to harvest the honeycomb from the hive. 

Bees attach a few inches of honeycomb to the sides of the hive,
this is called, brace comb.

Taking Initiative for the Survival of the Honeybee
Articles on Beekeeping

How can I help prevent the decline of the honeybee?

Become a Bee Guardian 

Bee Guardian

What is a Bee Guardian?        
A Bee Guardian is interested, in aiding bees as a species in order to recapture their genetic vitality and diversity. Bee Guardians utilize beekeeping methods that respect the honeybee and oversee the local environment, ensuring it to be safe for the bees.