Picture of Make your own Honey Cow (Top Bar Bee Hive)
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Beekeeping is an ancient DIY art, performed by amateurs and makers for centuries. Anyone can produce natural honey at home. People keep bees in many different kinds of hives, but we will focus on a cheap and simple design, called the Honey Cow.

The Honey Cow is designed to mimic nature as much as possible. Unlike commercial hives, it does not have frames, foundation or excluders. Instead, it just has top bars, allowing the bees to do what they would in a fallen log: build beautiful, natural combs. Because it is less intrusive to the bees, it's easier to make and manage, which makes it a perfect beginners backyard hive.

Once you have a hive, you will want to gather a few extra bits of equipment, like a veil, a smoker, and a bee feeder. With your equipment at hand, you can explore ways to get your bees, from capturing a swarm to buying a package or nucleus from a fellow beekeeper. After your bees have had a full summer to build up honey, you can start reaping the rewards of tending bees: wonderful, home-grown honey.

I encourage everyone interested in beekeeping to join a local bee club. These clubs are filled with wonderful people who love to help get beginners started. Don't be discouraged if folks in your bee club don't have the same type of hive as you. There are as many ways to keep bees as there are beekeepers.
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Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools

55 gallon plastic barrel, preferably food grade (makes two hives)
22 feet of 1”x2” nominal lumber
46 feet of 1½”x1” lumber
2 X 8 foot of 2”x4” nominal lumber
A 3 feet by 4 feet piece of tin
20 - 1½” wood screws
10 - 2” wood screws
8 - ½ “ screws
Bungee Cord or tie wire
45 feet thin moulding OR natural fiber string and beeswax

circular or jig saw
tin snips
tape measure and marker

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velacreations (author) 3 years ago
Any questions related to management of a top bar hive, please make sure you visit this forum:

Most of your questions can be answered there by lots of folks that have more experience than me.
Neat and simple. i may try this.
chriskepics8 months ago

Can this be made using a 55 gallon metal drum instead of plastic?

velacreations (author)  chriskepics8 months ago
You probably could, but plastic is better.
Don't use metal. You will cook the bees in Summer!!!
The wax will melt and the bees will die or move out.
Noooooooo!! U can't use metal. You're bees eill cook in the simmer. Sll the beeswax will melt and if they don't die they will go and live somewhere else.

This is awesome! Great instructable guys. VERY COOL!

mdeblasi13 years ago
Did I miss how one gets the honey out of the barrel?
Does it just come out of the bung hole in the bottom?
Isn't it bound up in discrete capsules of wax.

I would love to keep some urban bees here in Columbus, this may be the idea for me.
velacreations (author)  mdeblasi13 years ago
The bees make honey comb on the top bars throughout the barrel.

To harvest, you pull out each bar at a time, cut off the comb into a bucket. At that point, you can chop and press the comb to get the honey.

To get started with bees, please check out the information, videos, and kits at . You'll learn a lot about how these hives are maintained and what is going on inside. The kits they have are really good for beginners, because they come with equipment and everything you need to get going.
first question - is with the top bar hive - that comb would have bees all over it - how do you get them off to cut off the comb? Smoke, brush, water spray bottle??
And I have seen people use plywood with a top bar cut to size placed in between or behind the last top bar. Wouldnt something like that keep the queen away from the honey comb? Or would that keep everyone away from everything??
When you cut off the comb, I assume leaving some at the top would give the bees something to rebuild on. ?

Nice instructable! This looks like a great design for a hive, but you seem to have no method of excluding the queen from the honeycombs you are harvesting.

Bee keepers rely on a queen excluder (usually a wire mesh) to stop the large queen accessing some of honeycombs so that only the worker bees can access them and fill them with honey. Without a queen excluder - as with this design - the queen will lay her larve in most or all of the cells, preventing you from harvesting usable honey.

Please don't get me wrong, I think what you've done here is great, and I'd like to try it myself, but how do you overcome this issue?
velacreations (author)  jam9063 years ago
We don't use queen excluders, and we never have an issue. the Queen tends to lay in the front of the barrel, and that is the brood area.

Most commercial setups use a queen excluder because their hives are quite smaller than this. The queen is restricted to a smaller brood area than she would naturally have.

Allowing the hive plenty of room to make their brood area large, but manageable, allows for the queen to keep the brood concentrated, not throughout the whole hive.
Ah I see, after some research into natural beekeeping it makes allot of sense. We have 2 of the commercial hives you described, but I we'll definitely be giving the natural approach a try.
velacreations (author)  jam9063 years ago
that's a good idea, try a different approach and let us know your results. It is good to have 2 different types to compare.
Queen excluders aren't entirely necessary
mjohnson842 years ago
have the honey bees - need the hive. I have bees every year and also think who is enjoying the honey these guys are making from my borage! ;/
ljfresh2 years ago
Question: Where do you get the wax that you rub on the wooden slats? Ive been scouring the web looking for bee wax for raising bees.
wingedfish2 years ago
This is very cool. I would like to try it. We live where the winter temp are friquently -20 or below. How would I keep the hive from freezing?
It gets to be -20 where I live and we have no trouble overwintering our bees in our top bar hives.
what is a top bar hive
umm, the thing the instructable is about. That is a top bar bee hive.
ari2lj3 years ago
It seems that the inside of the barrel has the potential to get to hot in climates such as where I live. Any ideas on whether that would be a concern?
hsteinbe ari2lj2 years ago
Place it under the shade of a tree and it will do just fine. You can also cut a long 3" slot along the entire bottom of the hive for ventilation in hot climates. We screen the slot and also add a hinged board that we then close in the winter.
mpilting ari2lj2 years ago
If the barrel was made of metal it might get too hot, but since this one is plastic it should be fine. I've read stories about metal hives - not a good idea, since they heat up in the sun and the wax melts.
SIRJAMES093 years ago
that was awesome!!!
wish I lived out in the country & had my own place but instead I live in a city apartment. 8=(

I always wanted to raise bees, but just never had the money for it, or I never had the opportunity. I know that getting started is not cheap...getting all the tools, the hives, etc can be expensive.

TY for sharing Sir. it was a great read! 8-D
You can set up hive on the roof. Share the honey with the super to gain access. Bees in the city make more honey then bees in the country.
I bet you could raise bees, even in your apartment! I know, it sounds crazy. But what if you built a shelf that you could set a couple supers on your window sill out side your window? As long as you keep that window shut, the bees won't bother you any, and you really only have to open it once or twice a year. When you open it, just leave it open until night, when all the bees go back into the box. I bet if you read all the contracts and rules for your apartment, they probably left bees out because they didn't think it would come up. If this doesn't work out, you can ALWAYS ask the local arborists if you can leave boxes in their orchard. Any farmer would be crazy to say no to an apiculturist wanting to leave a hive near their crops, even if they already have one. because the bees will be pollinating their crops, it benefits them. Just don't let them charge you; farmers pay migratory beekeepers $200 a box per season to let their bees pollinate their trees. In fact, there are people who are constantly moving their hives north and south along the west coast to keep up with all the apple, almond, and cherry pollination that needs to be done annually.
ldestevens3 years ago
How do I make sure I don't end up with Killer Bees?
Don't believe what they show you in the movies.

Killer bees do not exist.

If you do something really silly and upset any colony then it is possible they could attack you en masse which, if you did not have any protection, could be fatal.

There are some bees that are very aggressive, so called africanised bees, we don't have them in the UK and they are not in all parts of the world. Not sure how bad they are, if they are really bad, I guess you could re-queen or kill the lot of them.
We have them in TEXAS. VERY AGGRESSIVE. Not all the wild bees are africanized.
Killer bees do exist; that's the colloquial name for Africanized Honey Bees. They may not be as bad as depicted in movies, but they do exist and they are excessively aggressive. And they may not be in the UK, but they are here in the southern United States.

Re-queening is one idea. Praying to my impotent god (who thankfully did not end the world today) might also be a good idea. :p
When you work bees, it is like Tai Chi, you move slowly and deliberately. If you move fast, the bees pick up on it and think 'attacker!'. If you move slow, you're just a moving branch, nothing to look at, move along...

Don't wear leather or wool around bees; they don't like either one. Don't wear perfume, aftershave or use hair/body products with a lot of scent. Wear wellies you've duct-tapped to your pants; in a pinch, a Tyvek painter's overall and veil ought to keep you going until you get a good suit.

Find a beekeeper to mentor you so you can see what is going on and how to do things. S/he should tell you what tools you should get, how to spot disease or problems, and you can ask lots of questions then.

Queens usually determine the gentleness/aggressiveness of a colony; you can get queens with different temperament by choosing by variety.

Buying a starter is the easiest way to be sure. Capturing a swarm in the Northern states that are killer bee free is the next best bet. Though, from the looks of it, they aren't that common


DeeRilee2 years ago
I know I'm reading this a year later.....but I've got to say, that the 'debate' between barrem01 and velacreations (the author) quickly made me lose interest. And beekeeping is something that I've always wanted to, maybe not.

As someone who knows very little about beekeeping, barrem01's arguments were very distracting.
this probably won't fly in the city, huh. Too bad, cuz i LOVE honey!
velacreations (author)  captain Jack3 years ago
I don't see why not. Check your local ordinances, but most cities allow beekeeping!
To be more precise, with the recent advent of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) many states are repealing any previous restrictions they had on bee keeping. Indeed, in New York, they're even encouraging hobbyists to keep bees on the top of their apartments! Honey is the one food product that is completely unregulated by the FDA, and the other bonuses (Propolis, Pollen, Wax, etc) you get from the bees make them a well worth-while hobby! Plus, they're absolutely fascinating. For instance, the little "bee dance" they do to communicate the location of resources to other bees we now fully understand and can translate. They're truly one of the most interesting insects in the insect world. I'm getting my first queen in two weeks! EXCITED!
z7eightball3 years ago
I see alot beehives painted white but inTasmania in Australia it 's cold most of the time could you paint it black.
Molinos3 years ago
In this picture I see some strings hanging down. What are these for?
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