Why Top Bar Hives Are Designed For Bees

Humans have been beekeeping for over 9,000 years. Egyptians first kept bees in clay pots made from the Nile River mud. They would even ferry the hives downriver to fertilize a wide variety of crops. Other cultures such as Celtic and South American, would keep bees in hollow logs or stumps along with skeps. The downside of these hives is that to harvest the honey, they have to be smashed open, killing the bees. Luckily, by the 18th century, wooden boxes became popular, saving countless colonies. 

It wasn’t until the 1850s when Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth created his hive that beekeeping became more efficient. Langstroth hives remained the standard until the 1960s. At that time, several designs rose in popularity, leading to the top bar design that Beepods uses today. The creation of the top bar hive is as unique as the relationship between humans and bees. In this blog, we’ll be discussing how the top bar hive came to be and why it’s best for the bees.

Ancient Designs and World History


One of the first known top bar hives was a method used by the Greeks that involved terra cotta pots. The pot has two holes in the bottom to allow bees to come and go while the top is covered with a wooden lid. Beekeepers remove the lid to harvest comb and honey without destroying the colony. 


However, the inspiration for today’s design comes from Kenya and Tanzania. Even though both of these models are named after places in Africa, there are subtle differences that can impact the way you keep bees.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive


Ideal for natural beekeepers, the Kenyan hive design makes inspections and honey harvesting as non-invasive as possible. The Kenyan hive sits on four legs and has a sloped box. The lid is on a hinge and only opens from one side. It was designed this way to prevent agitation to bees during inspections and honey harvesting. If your bees are less agitated, they’ll be less stressed out, and you and your bees will have much more pleasant inspection.


It may come as a surprise that the Kenyan hive was actually designed by Canadian researcher Dr. Maurice V. Smith, making the name a little confusing. That shouldn’t be the case with the Tanzania hive, right?


Tanzanian Top Bar Hive


Although there are major similarities between the two top bar hives, the Tanzanian hive was developed separately from the Kenyan hive. Also, the original Tanzanian hives were made from logs and looked nothing like the modern ones. In the 1960s the Tanzania government offered a solution for a top bar hive that didn’t have to be destroyed to harvest honey. This is what became the modern Tanzanian hive. Confusing, we know. 


What separates the Tanzanian hive from the Kenyan hive is that instead of a sloped box it has a rectangular box and the lid is completely removed during an inspection and honey harvest. The square box means there is more room for comb to be built and that means higher brood and honey production.  With these benefits, it didn’t take long for these models to become popular in other countries like the United States. 



Beepods uses a variation of both hives. Our hives have a sloped body but a lid that is fully removable. Single bars can be removed for inspection and harvesting without disturbing the rest of the colony. Not to mention, lifting bars out of the hive is a lot easier than with a Langstroth. There are so many great benefits that come from a top bar hive, mostly for your bees. 




It’s always interesting to look back on how the things we use today have changed and developed. What started out as logs and clay pots have now become essential tools in ensuring our bees stay happy and healthy. We can only learn from what we have now to make things better for the future.

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Monica Cull

Monica Cull is a writer, part-time traveler, and professional concert goer.
Monica Cull
Monica Cull is a writer, part-time traveler, and professional concert goer.

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