Top bar hives: Mike's creative adventures #2

The BCB Top Bar Hive design receives some modifications!

Building the first 2 BCB horizontal Top Bar Hives was a real journey of discovery which I thoroughly enjoyed, since finishing those hives I have made refinements to the original design. This process of evolution partly came about during the initial construction, but was also stimulated by seeing the hives in use and talking to other bee keepers.


inspecting #1: heavy lid open

The areas I wanted to improve upon were: the roof, roof covering, feeder and the access at the base of the hive.

The roof had ended up being very heavy and needed hinging to the hive body to make it easily opened by one person, this worked well but took extra time in the building process to fit the hinges and stays, it also meant that the whole hive needed 2 people to move it even when empty. If the roof were lighter and could be completely removed then the hive could be broken down into its component parts for transporting.

observation panel

cork insulation


As well as making the sections of timber used to construct the roof lighter I also introduced a curve to increase the strength even though the timber thickness had been reduced to 8mm. The inside of the roof has a 1” thick ceiling of cork to provide effective insulation. These changes worked well and the roof can now easily be removed by one person.


On the Mk1 design we had opted to use galvanised steel covering for the roof as is commonly done with National hives. In the Mk2 I wanted to make the covering lighter and to give it a more natural appearance. This was achieved by fixing a canvas covering coated in varnish to make it weather tight and durable – a technique that had been widely used on the decks of boats.

#2 with feeder and follower boards in place



I made 2 ‘frame feeders’ for the Mark1 hives, the bees in one of the hives disappeared over the space of a few hours leaving no brood behind, when we investigated and cleaned out the hive we found that the feeder was partly filled with dead bees all soaked with sugar solution feed.

inside first feeder

completed #1 feeder


We are still unsure what happened but wanted to remove the risk of it re-occurring. The most practical solution was to use a readily available plastic entrance feeder mounted through a follower board.

'entrance' feeder in place

side view of 'entrance feeder'


We introduced this modification to all the hives and they have been working very well through 2012.

A Varroa mesh floor is commonly used as part of the integrated management and monitoring of the now endemic Varroa mite this has been an essential part of our design from the beginning. In the Mk1 a ‘letter box’ slot opening was cut into the bottom of the hive through which the monitoring board could be removed, this was fine but didn’t allow for running the hive with an open mesh floor to increase ventilation.#1 solid floor under mesh


#2 with removable bottom board

The Mk2 has a removable base that can be used as a monitoring board for mite drop count but can also be partially or completely removed. The base is held in place with oak wedges and can be left on the supports to allow partial ventilation.

I built 3 of the Mk2 hives 2 for BCB to run and one to run myself, I am very pleased that 4 out of the 5 TBH’s that I have built to date are currently occupied by healthy colonies.


What next?


This year there are several new projects in the pipe line – I have been researching and developing the design for 2 versions of a Catenary Top Bar Hive (with a curved body replicating the shape of comb in a wild colony). I hope to have 2 of these to try out this year. Recently I have been working with Elinor on the design of an indoor natural observation TBH for an education project that BCB are going to be involved in setting up this year…..more of that later.

By Mike Southern: Bungay Community Bees

Bees: education project underway!

We have embarked upon a new and exciting venture. In conjunction width Anglia Regional Co-operative Society and Featherdown Farms at College Farm, Aldeby, we will be providing  educational (and inspirational) visits for schools.

There is a purpose-built apiary in a sunny, sheltered site (see it being marked out in the picture above) on the edge of the broads. Children can view opening of the horizontal top bar hives from the safety of a shed with large windows. But best of all there will be a full size observation hive (think fish tank for bees) so the bees can be observed in their ‘natural’ environment, in any weather. Mike has designed it so we can utilise interchangeable top bars in one part and let them build comb freely in another part.

Visits will concentrate on the importance of bees in the environment and to food production, the stresses and threats to bees and other pollinators and ways in which we can all help combat this. Of course, we will also introduce the children to the wonders of honeybee life and the intricacies of the colony as well!

Honeybees are fascinating creatures and have been important in human culture for thousands of years, they make marvellous ambassadors for the serious underlying messages.

If you are interested in booking one of these school visits please contact Anglia Cooperative on 01733 225559.

School visits run from May to the end of the summer term on Thursdays. Other groups may be accommodated in August, please contact or Elinor on 01986 948154 for more information.

Edible Plants for 2013


Hasten the Spring along this Sunday March 17th and join in with a Garden Workshop, “Hot Beds and Leafy Greens”, at Bungay Library at 3pm.

A chance to prepare container grown salad leaves to take home and to learn how to make a Hot Bed. There will be a taster session too and gardening chat.  Bring along some salad/veg seeds to mix and share.

2013 is the year for Edible Plants in the central bed at Bungay Library Courtyard Garden. All ages welcome, children must be accompanied by an adult.  This is a free garden workshop with donations kindly requested.

Give and Take day Saturday 16th March

Sustainable Bungay’s next Give and Take day is coming up very soon on Saturday 16th March 10- 1pm at Bungay’s community centre on Upper Olland street.

A great opportunity to have a good spring clean,to bring along all your unwanted things and maybe pick up something fantastic all for free.We will accept anything as long as it is usable.
You don’t have to have brought something in order to take something,you can always make a donation and/or help out on the day.
New this year: We can now accept electrical items thanks to our volunteer PAT tester + Charlotte Du Cann will be hosting a pop up fashion show!
If you have any large items you need collecting please get in touch with me and i will come and collect them on Friday 15th March or otherwise arranged.
 Talk At 12pm: Jeppe Graugaard will be joining Nick Watts and Charlotte Du Cann to discuss Gift Economy.He will talk about the Common Room and Trade School. Scroll down for an article entitled A Living room for the community by Mark Watson.
We will also be showing the animation “The story of stuff” throughout the day.
Tea/coffee and cake provided by the happy mondays crew.
The give and take day involves a certain amount of work sorting stuff before ,during and after the event.
Can you help from 8am on Saturday morning setting up and unloading?
Can you help from 10am,there are 7 different areas that need people to sort and keep tidy.So a minimum of 7 volunteers needed.
Can you help from 1pm to pack things up for the charity shops etc..
Your help is invaluable and makes for a great event for everyone
Please get in touch with me if you can help.
Looking forward to another great Give and Take!
Eloise 01986788785/07842897172

Bungay Community Bees: Wildflower Meadow Update

As some will remember, we had the exciting opportunity in Sept 2011, to help sow a native wildflower meadow seed mix on one acre of Keith Parker’s land in Flixton at one of our Bungay Community Bees apiary sites.


In some ways the site was challenging because it was a sloping site over which had been spread a large amount of clay subsoil that had been dug out of the very large wildlife pond that Keith had created next to the meadow site. It is generally recommended that wildflower seed mixes be sown into poor soil – and many people actually scrape the topsoil off a site to leave a poor substrateas wildflowers flourish best in nutrient deprived soils. We hoped that in some ways the clay subsoil would mimic this method, being a lot more nutrient deprived than the fertile clay soil that was there..


However, after drilling and then hand broadcasting a broad mix of native wildflower seed and non invasive native grasses over the whole site in September 2011, we had a very surprising and very long drought here in East Anglia, which lasted right through the winter and the following spring and early summer – as a result the clay subsoil stayed pretty much as rock hard solid lumps (not ideal germinating medium!) – until the desperately needed rains finally arrived in summer 2012, along with some warmth.


creeping thistle

Creeping Thistle

As a result, we saw almost no growth at all on the meadow site until late summer – the only thing that seemed to grow were the creeping thistles, which had already been present over a large part of the meadow. Keith kept the thistles down with repeated mowings – especially in July (“Cut a thistle in July and it will surely die!” – old Suffolk saying). We felt somewhat down after our initial excitement about al the wildflowers we had hoped to see emerge in 2012.


Wildflower seeds are notorious for being sometimes very slow to germinate. Some seeds can lie dormant for many years until the right conditions spur them into growth. So it was with some relief,  when Keith and I walked the meadow carefully one windy afternoon in September 2012, that we began to realise that much more variety of plants had begun to germinate and grow over the summer months, than we had dared hope after all the disastrous weather conditions. Not all of these wildflowers came from the seeds we sowed – some must have already been in the soil’s existing seed bank or were blown in or brought by birds, but it gave us renewed hope for the potential ongoing development of this meadow.


So this is what we saw:


A lot of Birds Foot Trefoil – in great carpets – this was in our seed mix!

carpet of birdsfoot trefoil

Carpet of Birds Foot Trefoil

yarrow, clover and oxeye daisy leaves

Birds Foot Trefoil and Clover leaves


In some places the trefoil intermingled with other plants such as white lover and wild carrot…


birdsfoot trefoil and wild carrot

Birds Foot Trefoil and Wild Carrot

 white clover

White Clover

White Clover and Red Clover could be found all over the site…


red clover

Red Clover

What was very heartening and surprising was that there were also great swathes of Yellow Rattle across one side of the site. Yellow Rattle is included in most native wildflower seed mixes because it is parasitic on grasses, weakening them and thereby creating more opportunity for wildflowers to flourish. But it does not always do well on heavier soils… so I was very pleased to find how happy it seemed to be on this clayey site…


yellow rattle

Yellow Rattle

There were quite a lot of plants emerging, where we could see the basal rosettes of leaves – a promise of flowers to come in 2013 – Common Knapweed and Oxeye Daisy basal rosettes could be seen all over the field…


common knapweed basal leaves

Common Knapweed basal leaf rosette

oxeye daisy basal leaves

Oxeye Daisy basal leaf rosette

Across the whole site too were creeping patches of Black Medick, one of our native, nitrogen fixing plants (like Birds Foot Trefoil, Vetches and Clovers)… We had sowed quite a lot of Black Medick, so it was very satisfying to see it taking a hold…


black medick flowers

Black Medick Flowers

black medick seeds

Black Medick Seeds

Also across the whole site, we found a common plant for clay meadow soils at this time of year – the little yellow Autumn Hawkbit – which looks like a dainty little long-stalked hawkweed or Dandelion…



Autumn Hawkbit

Another plant that was happily colonising the whole site was Self Heal – (one of my all time favourite wildflowers!)…



Self Heal

Other plants sporadically dotted over the whole meadow were: Yarrow, Corn Mint, Scarlet Pimpernel, Speedwell, Spear Thistle, Broad Leaved Willowherb and what looked like Cut-leaved Cranesbill…..


corn mint

Corn Mint

scarlet pimpernel

Scarlet Pimpernel



spear thistle leaves

Spear Thistle

rosebay willowherb seed pods

Broad Leaved Willowherb seed pods


Cranesbill (Cut leaved?)

It will be interesting to see what comes up in the meadow this year, whether there will be other wildflower seeds that we have sown that haven’t germinated yet – and how diverse a sward develops.


We also planted up the wildlife pond in late summer with native aquatic and marginal plants, with Elinor being the most daring with her brave, slippery mud wading plantings! It was hard to judge where to plant the marginal plants such as the burr rushes, Purple Loosestrife, Marsh Marigolds, Yellow Flag, Water Forget me Nots etc… the water level in the pond was still rising, so we tried to make an educated guess…. It now looks like we were way out in our calculations because the pond water level has risen four feet over the winter – so most of our marginal plants look like they have drowned! It remains to be seen this spring, what has survived.

Some pond planting pics…

pond planting begins...


Keith and Lesley planting margins


Lesley throwing in a water lily!


Planting into the water; waterlogged wellies


It takes a lot of patience, trial and error and persistence over time when working with nature and habitats – every year is a slow learning process. Somehow I have come to really like this slow organic process of learning and development – and the unexpected surprises and rewards when one sees a gradual increasing diversity and web of wildlife develop in a habitat.


Keith Parker told me that 3 years ago the Suffolk Wildlife Trust put up a barn owl box in the trees beside the meadow. In the two years it was nested in by stock doves – and then last year a pair of barn owls moved in and reared their young who seemed to then move to a neighbouring farm once they had left the nest. In the mean time, Keith had another barn owl nest box put up in a mature hedgerow tree on the other side of the meadow – and the adults from the first box moved to this new box after rearing their young. It remains to be seen whether the original and now empty barn owl box will attract a new pair of barn owls in 2013. It’s all very exciting!

by Rose Titchiner; Bungay Community Bees