We had the best harvest from our Topbar hive yet! After some trial and error that always seemed to result in too many bees dying, yesterday we perfected (we think and hope) our technique.
In our previous harvest, when we tried to remove the bars of comb, the comb broke leaving a sticky mass at the bottom of the hive along with lots of bees, which then had to be removed by hand. It was quite upsetting to cause so much destruction and we knew there had to be a better way. We had tried using a knife to separate the comb from the side of the hive as it is always stuck, but there just wasn’t room to manoeuvre. We realised we hadn’t left enough working room by having all the bars within the follower boards.
As it was April and getting cooler and our aim in that previous harvest was to reduce the hive size ready for winter, we removed all comb from four bars and placed them outside the follower board at one end of the Topbar hive. Between the follower boards we made sure there was still some comb being drawn, and a couple of empty bars so the bees had space to add more comb and honey. We also hoped this would give us the working room we needed next time to slide the knife in to separate the comb from the sides of the hive.
And so it did. Yesterday’s harvest was the most successful yet in terms of the least damage to the bees (which was our main aim) and the least mess. Instead of a knife we used angled stainless steel cake icing blades, and they were just perfect for loosening the comb from the sides of the hive.
Using the cake icing blade to loosen the comb from the side of the hive
These angled blades and having the extra space made all the difference. We had bought three different sizes, and they each were useful at different times.
Angled cake icing blades
Opening the hive and removing the empty bars and follower board, we could easily use the icing blades to separate the comb from the sides with minimal disruption to the bees. The hive tool was used to separate each bar from the one next to it, and then it was easy to lift out the beautifully built comb.
Beautiful, whole comb removed cleanly from the Topbar
The bees were gently brushed off and the comb cut from the bar with a knife into a tub. The bars to be replaced inside the follower boards were left with 3-4 cm of comb, those to go outside the follower boards were left completely clean. All with no apparent distress to the bees- thank goodness!
Cutting the comb into the tub
When completed, we made sure that there were two to four empty bars at each end, then the follower boards, then a partially filled or empty bar (each end). Then we closed up the hive and walked away feeling much better than after the previous harvest!