Words by Muhammad alFatih (Anthony Andrist) honeybeepermaculture@gmail.com

Phil Chandler describes natural beekeeping as “beekeeping for the sake of the bees, not the honey.” Using natural comb has many advantages. Natural comb leaves the bees to build what they need, to communicate through vibration across comb and the ability to select diverse cell size, such as worker or drone comb. The bees, being able to draw out and manage their own space, are less prone to pest invasion and comb space is less likely to be left unattended. Renewal through fresh virgin comb helps the hive to rid contaminants or toxins that may have been picked up from the surrounding environment.

“Go to the bee, thou poet: consider her ways and be wise.”  George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

The issue some beekeepers have is that honey production is significantly reduced. Because it takes the equivalent energy of 7 to 8kg of honey to make 1kg of wax, a hive may produce about a third of a conventional or “productive” system, but for the cost of a more resilient and stronger disease-resistant colony. This is kind of a no-brainer for those who are concerned about bee health and stability.

The sustainability of a natural system means that the use of available resources are not being exploited but are more in balance with the productivity of the environment. Emile Warré was referenced to have liked the top-bar design quite a bit and some have attributed his “People’s Hive” as a natural progression from the traditional horizontal top-bar style. As a top-bar system, the benefits are more than just the natural comb.

Kenyan top-bar without the cover

Kenyan top-bar without the cover

This design makes is easier to access the entire hive and inspect it at one time, raising it to waist height avoids the problem of back strain from lifting boxes (especially ones full of capped honey which can weigh in excess of 50kg). The hive can be placed on a stand or have legs attached, making it harder for pests to enter the hive.

Overall, the use of natural comb is not exclusive to the top-bar design but can be utilised in other hive designs, including the Warré or Langstroth hive. The simplicity and basic functionality of the top-bar gives us inspiration that backyard enthusiasts, regardless of their background, age or experience, are able to participate in sustainable, simple and bee-friendly beekeeping. This enhances our interaction, pollinates our gardens and helps us to appreciate the social order found in nature.

With the growing number of bee enthusiasts, there are a growing number of questions. They can be found in the ongoing dialogue of the worldwide web machine. The discussions make evident the diversity of a global beekeeping community; they also highlight the simplicity of assisting or keeping bees and how through our engagement with this amazing insect people and communities are empowered.

For any questions go to:



Reading Lists:

Tim Malfroy: http://www.malfroysgold.com.au/naturalbeekeeping.html

Dennis Murrell – http://beenatural.wordpress.com/about-bee-natural/resources/

Blogs and Info:

Phil Chandler – http://www.biobees.com/index.php

Beesource – http://www.beesource.com/forums/index.php

Bush bees – http://www.bushfarms.com/bees.htm

Sam Comfort – http://anarchyapiaries.org/

Marcia Meehan – http://kiwitopbarhive.blogspot.com/

Dennis Murrell – http://beenatural.wordpress.com/

Peter Dilley – http://permaculture.org.au/2010/06/21/home-made-bee-hives/

Amanda – http://www.buzzaboutbees.net/index.html

Sean – http://topbarbees.wordpress.com/

State Governments:

NSW – http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/livestock/honey-bees

QLD – http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/27_124.htm

VIC – http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animals-and-livestock/bees

WA – http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/PC_91802.html?s=883170335

TAS – http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter.nsf/WebPages/EGIL-5BA9EG?open


Top Bar Bee Keeping Australia – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Top-Bar-Bee-Keeping-Australia/149052515210098

Warré Beekeeping Australia – http://www.facebook.com/groups/warrebeekeepingoz/

Hives and Construction:

Beesource – http://www.beesource.com/build-it-yourself/

Backyard Hive – http://www.backyardhive.com/General/General/BackYardHive_Beekeeping_Shop/

Gold Star – http://www.goldstarhoneybees.com/

Top-Bar Bees – http://topbarbees.wordpress.com/about/design/

Tim Auld – http://www.allyoucaneatgardens.com.au/products/top-bar-bee-hives

Read Part 1 of this story here.

About the Author:

Honeybee PermacultureAnthony Andrist is the founder of Honeybee Permaculture, creating educational coursework and providing consulting services for Apiculture and Permaculture. He is currently on the managing team for Permaculture Sydney North’s Garden Team and he is bee-keeper for the Permaculture Sydney Institute. Anthony teaches our Responsible Backyard Beekeeping Course and our Build your own Bee Hive course.