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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Langstroth to Topbar conversion

If you read the history on this blog you will remember my work in a bee yard this spring. For my efforts I was offered a couple of the hives. One of the reasons I didn't take any was I didn't have knowledge of an efficient way to move the bees from the Langstroth hive to the Topbar. There are many ideas and several people have been successful at making the bees move to the different format. But with my limited time to manage a hive I didn't think I would be able to make the transition successful

Moving bees from one hive to another is nothing new. This is not really that difficult. You basically take the frames, in the case of Langstoth, topbars, in the case of those hives and put them in another. The problem is that the Langstroth frame will not fit nicely into a topbar hive. So it is not that simple to change formats.

Generally speaking to change formats you want the bees abandon their brood to move into and build new comb in the topbar hive. But the brood is the most valuable asset to a hive and they don't abandon them. In fact it is almost impossible. So to successfully move formats you have to move the bees through several steps.
1) Get the queen and most of the bees into the new hive.
2) Allow the bees that tend the brood access to them.
3) Allow the hatching brood access to the queen and the rest of the hive.
4) Make the queen stop using that brood comb to continue laying.

Successful moves usually entail turning the brood comb upside down after moving as many of the bees and queen into the topbar hive.

SOOO I finally got some time to think about this situation. After working through several possible solutions. My first was to build a special hive that has a place for Langstroth frames at one end and KTBH bars on the other. I thought it would be a cool looking hive but a bit too complex for this project. So I decided to leave that project to others to work out the details expressly how to make it "bee tight" with the Lang frames. There were other managment issues that were too numerous to keep that as a serious design.

In the end, I think I have come to a very simple solution. It is just a modified Langstroth hive top cover and a small box with two holes.

The idea is to take the complete brood box of the Lanstroth and place it on top of a topbar hive and force the bees through the topbar hive to exit. This is a temporary situation and should be completed in a about 3 or 4 weeks so I took no thought about making the hive water tight. In other words you will have to cover the hive with something like a tarp to keep the water out until the process is complete.

The key to the success is the strategic application of a one way bee door and/or a queen excluder and smoke. I had this type in mind but I am sure anything will work.

The top of a Langstroth hive seals or covers the hive body completely and if you sandwich the hive body with two tops the bees would be trapped and not able to get out. This is not necessarily a good thing but it will allow us to force them through my trap door.

So you build a small box with a hole the same size as the opening in the bee door. You will add the bee door later. Attach that box to one of the tops that will become the bottom. By attaching this to the bottom it will hang just below or down into the topbar hive when the Langstroth is placed on top. Now drill a hole in the top and down into the box that is attached. This basically creates an exit to the Langstroth that is lower than the bottom of the topbars.

You may also want to create a hole in the hive body then cork it up so you can apply smoke later.

So the move from Langstroth to topbar should be in several steps.
1) Place the modified top on your topbar hive in position to become the bottom of your Lanstroth hive. This should not take the entire length of your topbar hive so complete the rest of the length with prepared topbars. This is just like you would for a package of bees.
2)Grab the Langstroth hive and set it on top of the modified top. Put a normal top on it.
3) Leave the hive for a week or two until the bees figure out how to get out of their new entrance and start producing again. In a perfect world they would feel crowded without honey supers and start to build comb on the topbars. In a more perfect world the queen would start laying in the new comb. Since those are both highly unlikely the next steps will most likely be needed.
4) Add the bee door to the entrance or exit as the case may be of the modified top and then close the topbar hive.
5) Smoke the Langstroth hive body real good. This should drive the queen and most of the bees into the new topbar hive. You may want to add a queen excluder to topbar hive entrance / exit so you will not drive the queen all the way out of the hive. Thus trapping her in the new topbar hive.
6) Over the next few weeks continue to check the brood. As they hatch they should move on thier own into the topbar hive to be with the queen. If not add smoke if necessary to encourage them.
7) When all brood has hatched and moved into the topbar hive you can remove the old Lanstroth hive, harvest what you can and add topbars in place of the modified top.
8) After the topbar hive is queen right remove the queen excluder from the topbar hive entrance.

I will only know if this works when someone builds this and reports back. I hope between my instructions and the drawing you will understand what I am trying to accomplish. If you have questions please ask.