Top Bar Hive Inspection Notes: Recording Your Bar-by-Bar Observations

Julie Demars push pin color comb contents

Julie Demars' push pin color coding for recording comb contents

In a Facebook group that I belong to all about Top Bar Beekeeping, I had started a conversation about taking hive inspection notes. In that post, I had shared my Simple Top-bar Hive Inspection Form for Recording Comb Contents. A fellow member of the Facebook group, Andrew Botham, brought to my attention a very simple and efficient method of tracking what you see from bar to bar while inspecting a top bar hive.

Julie Demars push pin color comb contentsAndrew mentioned how Julie DeMars of Happy Hour at the Top Bar Hive, uses colored push pins (otherwise known as ‘thumb tacks’ or ‘drawing pins’) in her top bars as a way of logging the contents of the comb from bar to bar. Back in 2013, prior to using push pins, Julie had tried different colors of sticky tabs, but noticed that the sticky tabs don’t always want to stick.

Regarding the push pins, Julie uses a color coding system to distinguish the various elements found.

The color coding legend looks like this:

  • White Pin: Empty Bar
  • Yellow Pin: Honey
  • Green Pin: Worker Brood
  • Blue Pin: Drone Brood
  • Red: Queen Cells
    • Top = Teacup
    • Middle = Teacup + Egg
    • Bottom = Capped Cell
The not-so-successful sticky note method used by Julie Demars initially.

The not-so-successful sticky note method used by Julie Demars initially.

The only downside I could see to using push pins is that you could not easily allow the bar to rest upside down while inspecting your hive. You would have to put the bar of comb in an inspection stand so it does not tip over because of the protruding pins. So, I’d imagine, if you don’t want to rely on an inspection stand all the time, you might be better off using thumb tacks instead of push pins. (For a complete guide to Push Pins versus Thumb Tacks, see this Wikipedia).

taking notes top bar hive

Pen on tape for taking notes on a top bar hive

Now, depending on the construction of your hive, push pins might not even be feasible. I had received a reply from Julie Demars on that original Facebook post, with un update on her current hive inspection note-taking / recordkeeping practices. In her replay, she stated, “Actually, a couple of years ago, I stopped using tacks because my insulated roofs sit directly on the bars. Now, I use a pencil and write notes directly on the bars. Because the notes are in pencil, I can easily either strike or erase notes as things change. However, I like how Don at Buddha & the Bees uses pen on tape. The tape can be pulled off, and pen is more visible.”

phil chandler barefoot beekeeper

Part of a discussion had with Phil Chandler (The Barefoot Beekeeper)

In another discussion I had regarding my Simple Top-bar Hive Inspection Form for Recording Comb Contents, on Facebook, Phil Chandler (the Barefoot Beekeeper), expressed his concerns about the time involved in inspecting every single bar and recording their results. Phil said, “That hive is going to be open a long time.” In reality, it really shouldn’t take more than an hour to do a 32-bar inspection of a top bar hive (especially if there is no comb repair or straightening going on during the inspection). Phil replied, saying, “An hour is far to long for any hive to be open. There would be a danger of brood being chilled even after 10 minutes on an average day in Britain”.

I explained to Phil that this type of detailed inspection (a full bar-by-bar inspection) isn’t for everyone. Not everyone has the time or the desire to record this kind of stuff. I had replied to Phil saying that “if the bees can’t handle it, you can close it up and come back the next day to finish the inspection”.

My goal in creating the Simple Top-bar Hive Inspection Form for Recording Comb Contents was to make the inspection and recording process as simple as possible, but also as detailed as possible. While it is true that there is rarely a need to remove every comb, each time you are performing a hive inspection, it is also true that every beekeeper has slightly different reasons for why and how they inspect.

top bar hive inspection software

Healthy Hive Management Software by Beepods

At Beepods, we try our hardest to approach beekeeping from a scientific standpoint. The reason we look at such detail is to gain an understanding of the hive’s health and progression throughout the year. The more data we gather from other top bar beekeepers, the better we will be able to predict when an issue might arise. Also, with our online Healthy Hive Management Software, it will help us to offer contextual notifications or warnings to the beekeepers that might aid them in better managing their top bar colonies.

Scott Offord
Scott Offord
As an entrepreneur, Scott enjoys identifying and reaching new business markets, growing online communities and partnering with business start-ups. With a strong background in the field of web development, Scott currently focuses on online marketing strategy consulting. In his off time, Scott enjoys running various tech meetup groups. He also spends as much time as possible with his wife, his baby girl and his Great Dane.

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