Picture of 55 Gallon Top Bar Barrel Bee Hive
FPS combines my passion for hunting and wildlife conservation with the overall need for self sufficiency.

Step 1: This 55 gallon drum will be the foundation of the bee hive.

Picture of This 55 gallon drum will be the foundation of the bee hive.
cumbria427 months ago

So how did the bee's get on in the hive's, just wondering with them being plastic

That will overheat and cook your bees inside the hour on a hot summer day! The basic idea is fine, but please add at least 2 inches of insulation between the bars and the roof. Foil-backed foam is fine - the thicker the better. For the same reason, I suggest keeping them in the shade - at least during the afternoon - iIf you don't do this, you will get a meltdown and a big mess! Vent holes in the floor would also be a good idea - covered with #8 hardware cloth/mesh.

txadams made it!1 year ago

I used plastic honeycombs frames from betterbee.com. They needed to be trimmed a little to fit with a jigsaw. I used a jigsaw blade made for paneling so as to minimize vibration and cracking.


txadams - I was thinking of doing the same thing. So just to clarify - did you buy complete frames and cut them down somehow, or did you just buy the plastic foundations? If it's the former, is there any chance you could post some pics?

I was thinking of doing the latter - attaching foundations to the cove molding on the top bars. I just wasn't sure the foundations would be strong enough without some kind of frame support.

I purchased the frames complete then cut to fit. A little crude but I think the bees won't mind. I also purchased bees wax to spread on them even though the frames have a coating. I read more bees wax promotes hive building. Purists have written these plastic frames have nooks and crannies which can harbor parasites so I caulked them up (note brown on sides). No bees swarms came in so I'm purchasing a started colony from the locals.


You can use the threaded barrel plug for the entrance. That's the way we do it in our design:


noelnny2 years ago
Very very interesting - but I have to ask - if I build it, how do I know they will come..."????

Sort of like the old question about a Thermos - how does it know to keep the liquid hot or cold???

Seriously though - I live about 30 miles from Canada in northern NY - I see a few hives (old style stacked box hives) here and there out in the rural area where I live - how do they find this "home" or what do I need to do to attract them?

Again - a wonderful project!!!
You live to far north for a top bar hive I think, top bar hives are good in cold weather
Waiting for bees to come can take a long time and not happen at all. Mostly, bees are purchased. You can probably find a apiarist's store and get a "Box O Bees" in the spring. If, like you mentioned, you know other people that have bees, you may be able to ask one of them to split his/her hive and buy the artificial swarm. If you are determined to catch a natural swarm, you can purchase pheromone to attempt to lure the swarm in. However, as I mentioned above, this may take a long time and may not happen at all.
caseymo502 years ago
In what climate do you live? I am concerned about the bees keeping warm enough through the winter in this hive.
This is a simple, durable, and elegant design, however.
Top bars are not practical for the winter. Bees move up during the winter. The orientation of the frames means they must brake there cluster to travel from frame to frame. Cold bees= dead bees
fretted2 years ago
The bees that swarmed in the wall of my home started hanging their hive from the top cap of an inside wall i had to cut out a wall and suck them into a bee box and then they were transfered to a hive a couple miles down the road .

It was neat being that close to a swarm of bees and they didn't even act like tey were mad i had them all over me just walking around and as soon as the queen was in the box they all settled down for the short ride to their new hive .

I tell you i have a new respect for hives and bees they are amazing creatures this Ible will make for a great project on my little place i have enough room for a couple of these .

Great job keep up the great work ...
Get a langstroth it's better for beginners and in areas where there is a cold winter it is hard to maintain top bar hives do to the need to store 70+ pounds of honey. Also take a class
mjohnson842 years ago
what about keeping the queen from making brood in the honey cells?? No bee keeper - just want them.
In a "natural" beehive the honey is separated by hight and in beekeeping queen excluders are rarely if ever used in everyday. In a horizontal hive it is needed only because it is not a "natural" shape for the bees.
RushFan2 years ago
I love this. I want to start bee keeping, and I have a cheap source of plastic barrels. Thanks!!
Very excited to find this. Thank you so much for documenting the process and sharing your work with us! We are helping to save our planet one recycled plastic barrel at a time... filled with bees!
rippa7002 years ago
If you drop a wooden dowel vertically down from the centre of the top bars it encourages the bees to build straight and it makes the combs easier to lift should you have to inspect them. Makes the combs less floppy.
Otherwise great project I love it. A plastic drum might give better temperature stability to the hive. At least make sure that one is in the shade.
attached to the top bar?? brad?
Yes, drill a hole in the top bar and insert the dowel vertically downwards. I have seen a successful queen excluder built in wood. It is basically like a vertical hanging frame with wooden slats like a venitian blind. The bees propolysed up most of it bu continued to work through it to store honey leaving the brood in the first half of the hive.
curious - could you also use 3 dowels the same way - to stabilize?

Do you have a picture of the queen excluder built as you say?
drill hole for the dowel - use wood glue to hold it?
Yes. My friend who does this has just one dowel in the cenre and it works fine. No need for 3. I'll see if he has a picture of his queen excluder as it is a beautiful bit of work.
Yay, I will look forward to seeing it. I no nothing about bees, except that they love the borage I have in the summer. I am putting in a few blueberry plants, and 3 fruit trees. I have the suit - smoker - and almost have the hive. lol - and "want" the bees. I got my frame made today for the barrell top bar hive. got round post for the legs - too bad I didnt check out that pic again - cause he used landscape timbers. Advantage - two flat sides. ;/ guess I may have to chisel out a spot to flush the brace. ;/ live and learn. btw - are italian bees more agressive than the carolinas? I'm from the south - so of course, I'm partial.
I'm in UK - and I use local bees, but so called Hawaii bees are popular here for being docile and good honey producers.
I saw a man online that said he would never use a queen excluder because it damaged the bees wings... ? I need to do more homework.
Possibly a cheap zinc one might but I have used one in all my hives for some years and all the friends who keep bees use them and I have never ever heard of damaged wings that way. Varoa mites cause wing defects and he might be confusing that...
thanks for your replies - I appreciate any and all info -
foodplotsurvival (author)  rippa7002 years ago
Thank you for the dowel idea!! I will try it.

These hives will be slightly shaded... cooler in the summer and heat absorbers in the winter when the leaves have fallen.

Here is one that I made in 2007. Biggest issue is that you have to keep on top of them when building comb. Bees, by instinct, will curve comb on top bars that are longer than 12" or so, so you must cut and straighten as they build, otherwise by the time they get to the edge of the barrel the comb will be attached to the adjacent top bar. If you don't stay on top of it, you can end up with a huge problem/mess when all the top bars are attached to multiple combs.

More details can be found at http://robo.bushkillfarms.com/beekeeping/barrel-top-bar-hive/

It was also features in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Backwoodsman Magazine.

 I would also recommend http://www.beemaster.com for any new or hobbyist beekeepers, great community, ad-free, and geared towards hobbyist
mjohnson842 years ago
awesome - one for me ;/ ^^
mjohnson842 years ago
nice house.
mjohnson842 years ago
it's not the level - it's the "pink shoes" ^^
mjohnson842 years ago
beautifully done.
mjohnson842 years ago
here's to ten fingers AND ten toes! lol
finton2 years ago
Excellent Instructable foodplotsurvival!
One question though: given that the ends of the barrel curve inwards (thus making a smaller diameter), doesn't that mean that fully drawn comb from the middle wouldn't fit in the ends? I'm thinking of brood nest manipulation and so on.
Otherwise, I have one of these barrels and am considering following your very clear directions to make two of these.
foodplotsurvival (author)  finton2 years ago
The brood nest should stay at the front of the hive. The bees leave plenty of room around the comb for all the farther you will slide the top bars in order to make room for more as you expand your hive.
Since the comb laden with honey is destroyed for honey extraction the size of those combs no longer becomes an issue.
Okaayy, I think I'm with you. Couple more questions then, if you would:
1 Do you have problems inspecting such large combs, especially given they are unsupported
2 How have you gone with apiary inspectors checking your hives? For my Langstroth hives they've always done the inspections while I wasn't there - I'd be reluctant to let them do that with a topbar hive.

I have been a conventional beekeeper for years, and have read a lot about topbar hives, but would like your experiences in these questions. Thanks.
lucek2 years ago
Your neighbors must love you.
aje127 lucek2 years ago
lol why? for the free honey or the bee stings. lol
lucek aje1272 years ago
From my experiences you get the honey (maybe a few neighbors to each side) They get the sting. You are literally bring a biblical plague un to your street to have honey.
FrozenIce2 years ago
Am i the only one around here, that expected to read something funny in the bottom line of the main picture's caption?
I seen the thumbnail of this Instructable and was expecting a meme or demotivational poster.
antoniraj2 years ago
nice project... I have a few doubts..

I did not see any brood chamber in your design. Did I miss it?

Secondly, how are you going to extract honey without damaging the honeycombs?

However good project
foodplotsurvival (author)  antoniraj2 years ago
Please google top bar hives. it is not my design, top bars have been around much longer than commercial hives. the bees create the brood chamber naturally without interference from us.
caracal2 years ago
Great instruction and I love the way it looks. We are new to bees. I got alot of good tips as well. I found 3 bee homes on our property, 2 in the ground and 1 in a tree. Joined the local bee organization for additional help. They got to run out of room sometime. Right?
Corvidae2 years ago
As a warning if apiculture is big business for you area you may have restrictions on hive types. Top bar hives do not have easily removed and inspected frames so they are illegal to use here in Florida. We have to use frameed hives. You can go foundationless in a hive type that uses frames if you want a more 'natural' hive. Your apiculture inspector may make you change out your top bar hives for something else if you go that route. I reccomend getting inspected because your inspector is usually a really helpful person when you are getting started or have a problem. Don't worry inspection is cheap. In FL its $10 for up to like 25 or 30 hives. You can probably get more help learning to keep bees if you use the same style hive that everyone around you uses. You may have a local bee club where all the keepers in the are get together. They are a treasure trove of info. Check with your local county extension office or ag office to see if they know about where the club meets.
That statement is incorrect, "Top bar hives do not have easily removed and inspected frames" I have two top bar hives and in both of them all of the bars are easily removable.

hlanelee2 years ago
Corvidae has a point. Bees have a tendency to build across the bars so that combs are not removable for inspection for foulbrood without destroying them. As a result a hive like this would not be legal to keep in South Carolina.
I have two top bars hives and neither of them have comb build across the bars. All of the bars come right out for inspection.
My only concern is the use of pressure treated lumber,it has Arsnic and othe toxins in it. Otherwise it's brilliant! I raised bees as akid in West Virginia and you have me exieted about it all over again.
Pressure treated wood is no longer made with arsenic, it is made with copper. Only the legs and frame need be treated wood, all of the wood that the bees contact can be untreated.
lemuzz2 years ago
Most countries require hive inspection for bee diseases. These combs will not be legal in most countries because they will not be easily removed for inspection and could result in prosecution. Also as black will absorb the heat of the sun I suspect the bees would have trouble keeping the inside temperature at the correct level
hsteinbe lemuzz2 years ago
I have two top bar hives and you can open either of them and lift any bar right out for inspection. The ones filled with honey are extremely heavy and so you need to build a rack that you can set the frame in to inspect it. The full frames at too heavy to hold but then honey frames don't need much inspection...
Foo_Plinger2 years ago
Next time can we use a different font or placement on the title picture,everytime I see this project it looks like an internet meme/joke.
Bubbler2 years ago
This is a very economical hive compared to the kits from the apairists supplier where I live. A seperator should be your next project, at least one to suit the frames for this hive. Well done.
Good. But, now you have to create a particular type of honey extractor because your plates are out of standard dimensions.
wapatterson2 years ago
Great job. I love the design! I'm also interested in where and how you get the bees in there as I think I might make one or two for our homestead.

Bee Lure


Bait Hive

foodplotsurvival (author)  wapatterson2 years ago
Google "top bar hives" alot of information available. Youtube also has some good videos of bee package installation.
You can buy bees for your hives (and have them shipped to you). See the following link for Queen breeders and package bee suppliers. Usually shipping season is in the Spring time.

Are you concerned about your bees and the honey you may consume being exposed to the plastic and masonite off-gasing? Not sure why the standard that has been in place many years needs changing. Nice Instructable though!
Jim_B_2 years ago
are there any states in the US that still allow top bar hives? What about Europe?
silveravnt2 years ago
That's a great design. How are you planning to populate them? Are you purchasing bees or are you hoping a swarm will find them? We are trying to decide which way to go. Thanks!
jwhyman2 years ago
Bees hate the color black, so I'm thinking white barrels would be better? As a DIY type person, I like the top bar hive method. I would modify a queen excluder since I'd hate to destroy brood when harvesting honey or as I say "pay rent" Perhaps an excuder can be added horizontally where the roof is and a hive body placed on top of the barrel part? The artificial board used as a backwall may be toxic, yet I have taken bees from buildings with lots of particle board.
These barrels come in a cobalt blue also.
tinajuarez2 years ago
Since you barrel looks as if it is plastic, I offer this thought: I've pulled all of the plastics out of my hives due to concerns about hormone/pheramone disruption.. Queens lasting longer with 100% beeswax honey comb but I lost an entire year's harvest whilst they built the comb!
stefaans2 years ago
Great my dad build normal hives when I was a kid. It didn' t really deal with the inside moisture and lasted only up to ten years. Great job!
mailmam712 years ago
This is a fantastic instructable! I have a regular hive but the top bar hives have intrigued me and I think even I could build this. Also, the bottom would make a great feeder for my horses!! Two ideas in one!
One thing I forgot to ask about, the back wall built out of hardwood. Is there only one? Does it sit near the front for the bees to build on and then you push it back? If there is only one, then to they start their comb at the top of the bars? I'm confused on this point.
Ziggythewiz2 years ago
Cool project!

Steps 5 and 6 look like a lot of work for a simple cut-out. Just do the bottom cut as shown then do 1 cross cut.
Love the helper or is she the supervisor really!
Jayefuu2 years ago
Nice build. Do you include a separator to keep the queen and brood in one portion?
hitro2 years ago
Great job!
Toxictom2 years ago
I am a beekeeper with Langstroth hives. I am wondering how you go about extracting honey from a top bar hive like this.
foodplotsurvival (author)  Toxictom2 years ago
Using a honey press is the easiest method.
aeszok Toxictom2 years ago
You ask the bees of course.
This is fantastic! What a great use for a barrel. :D

I hope you'll update with bee photos!
foodplotsurvival (author)  jessyratfink2 years ago
Very good project. I hope you will update us on the bee activity with some new bizzzzzzzzzzy pics. ;) :)
I promise.
keastes2 years ago
looks quite a bit like Make's honey cow ( http://makeprojects.com/Project/Your-Own-Honey-Cow/539 ) do i see an inspiration there?
Ranie-K keastes2 years ago
I don't believe Make was first -I can't find a date on it. Here's another instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-your-own-Honey-Cow-Top-Bar-Bee-Hive/

The same user mentions this project in 2009: http://velacreations.blogspot.no/2009/10/top-bar-beehive.html
foodplotsurvival (author)  Ranie-K2 years ago
I researched those also before starting my project.
foodplotsurvival (author)  keastes2 years ago
Yes, always trying to reinvent the wheel :)
pdub772 years ago
Is there any kind of queen excluder anywhere?
foodplotsurvival (author)  pdub772 years ago
No excluder, she is allowed to manage the hive on her own. Generally brood in the front portion of the hive and honey in the back. Google "top bar hives" alot of information available.
caarntedd2 years ago
This is great, but how do I convince bees to move in?
I think you should give them some incentive. Maybe put up tiny posters saying things like "Maternity leave granted" and "Free pollen supplied to first hive owners".
you have to infiltrate the bees secret society become good friends with the queen and then maybe i mean MAYBE she will come and move in with you... The things i do for bees <3
mikeandre2 years ago
Nice job! Have you had good success with this?