Topbar Beekeeping

I'm an urban topbar beekeeper in Albuquerque, NM. I manage hives in backyards and small organic farms within city limits. These hives are probably pollinating your veggie patches right now. Visit my website at:


Top Bar Hives- Economically Sustainable Beekeeping in Jamaica

Jessie Inspecting a Langstroth Hive
I've been back Stateside for a few days after spending 2 weeks traveling through Jamaica teaching Top Bar Hive Beekeeping, Treatment Free Beekeeping, Queen Rearing and Beeswax Products through the Partners of the America's Farmer to Farmer Program.

In a nutshell, I taught 152 beekeepers on Top Bar Hives and Sustainable Beekeeping from one end of Jamaica to the other, in Kingston, Westmoreland, Barton's, St. Thomas, St. Mary and Portland.

Jamaica has banned the importation of beeswax to the country so they can't make enough beeswax to support the foundation needed for Langstroth hives. Each apiary is suggested to have 10% Top Bar hives, solely for wax production, but nobody knows how to use this style of hive yet! I was there continuing the education of previous trainers, NM's own Les Crowder and Megan Mahoney! Tom Hebert from Honduras has also participated in the program.

Jessie's Top 9 Teaching List 

1. Top Bar Beekeeping is Awesome- By the time I had given my 45 minute demo about how awesome Top Bar Beekeeping is, people were pulling out their measuring tapes to find out dimensions and make their own hives. The benefits of these hives are huge to this country:

  • Cheap, hives can even be made out of woven bamboo, burlap coffee bags or bundled straw to cut costs even further
  • More beeswax production to make Langstroth foundation or start producing beeswax products. 
  • No hidden places for Hive Beetles to make a home
  • No equipment storage 
  • No extra parts, no extractors, or frames, or foundation or boxes, or queen excluders 
  • Lightweight, anybody can lift a 10 pound comb
Woven Top Bar Hive
2. Queen Rearing- The idea of rearing queens that are resistant to disease and pathogens is rocking their world! Every queen rearing talk would lead to people telling me about their new treatment for mites. I just kept telling them, "Why put a bandaid on the problem, when you can make it so they don't get sick to begin with, through genetics."
Grafting Queens, Portland Bee Farmer's Assoc. 

Portland Bee Farmer's Assoc, Queen Yard

3. Happy Birthday! There were 8 queen bees born on my birthday, April 14th at the Yerba Buena Model Top Bar Apiary. We just kept caging virgin queen after queen. Shameless plug: if you are reading this and want to be a top bar beekeeping intern at an unbelievable farm, check out my gracious hosts at Yerba Buena Farm.
Catch that virgin queen!
My host, Agape Adams with a queen
4. Instructions on how to transfer a Langstroth to Top Bar Hive
  • You can do this by making comb savers and cutting 4 fully capped brood frames from a strong and healthy Langstroth hive during a nectar flow. Put the frames and any bees remaining into the Langstroth for them to draw it out with new beeswax. 
  • You add the queen to the Top Bar Hive and shake in 4-6 frames of bees
  • Then put the Top Bar hive in place of the original Langstroth so it can gain all the worker bees and move the Langstroth hive to a new location. 
  • The Langstroth hive will raise a new queen with all of their hefty resources. 
Rachel cuts a Lang Frame to fit a Top Bar comb saver
5. Candle making- I taught Candle Making/Wax Products classes to groups that had already had a top bar hive donated and transferred from a Langstroth so that they have a way to make money with the wax they would begin harvesting. There is no local wick manufacturer so I pressed the idea of wick experimentation. Try using hemp rope, strips of wood, wicker harvested from the jungle. 
Jessie teaching candles and mold making
6. Recipe Building. As Jamaican's start producing more beeswax, I gave them a basic lip balm recipe and taught them how to build on it to produce different products. People pay more money for beeswax that has not been treated with miticides. Here is the gist:
  • Lipbalm= 1 part any oil (for moisturizing) + 1 part beeswax (for hardening)
  • Thick Lotion= oil + beeswax + thick oil, like cocoa butter (for body)
  • Mosquito Balm= oil + beeswax + lemongrass oil
  • Healing salve= oil + beeswax + healing oils like calendula, lavender, etc.
  • Petroleum Jelly= baby oil + beeswax

7. No winter. Did you know there is no winter in Jamaica? I had to keep wrapping my brain about the idea of Nectar flow and Dearth instead of Winter and summer. In the height of summer, around July-August it is so hot that trees aren't producing nectar. You have to view this as our winter and build up your hives to have at least 12 combs to survive these tough months.
Top Bar Model Apiary at Yerba Buena Farm

8. Top Bar Hive Management. Pests, disease? No worries, try different management techniques that I use all the time with Top Bar. 
  • Wax Moths- harvest some of your comb, the bees have too much to protect.
  • Foulbrood- if you hold your comb up to the sun and can't see through it, time to harvest it out of the hive and let the bees draw new comb. That black comb harbors disease, feces, cocoon buildup. As Agape Adams calls it, a sewer! 
  • Chalkbrood- Requeen and make sure they aren't getting exposed to fungicides
  • Mites- Requeen for hygienic behavior, aka. bees clean the mites off each other
Standing room only, Westmoreland Bee Assoc.
9. Jamaicans laugh at all my jokes. No seriously, Jamaicans get New Mexico dry humor and I went to great lengths to help beekeepers enjoy learning Top Bar Hives. I love this country and would love to return!
St. Mary's Bee Club

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