I started beekeeping over 7 years ago and have both Top Bar and Langstroth hives. I like Top Bar beekeeping as its fundamentally for the bees, not the beekeeper.
Horticulture has and will be a significant part of my life and career in the forestry and horticulture industries. I live and breathe plants and flowers. Bees play such an important role in our environment, in fact the whole insect world is a much overlooked due to its diminutive nature.
Top Bar hives are based on a horizontal hive housed in a long crib like box. Its origins are believed to be quite early with records of ancient civilizations housing bees in trough like boxes or hollow logs. Todays Top bar hive has standard internal dimensions and is often referred to as Kenyan or a Tanzanian hive. These were based on sub Saharan and north African trough or box builds. Top Bar hives differ in many ways from the more standard or commercial Langstroth hive.
The Langstroth hive was first built in 1810. A clergy man Lorenzo Langstroth had studied the husbandry and housing of Bees and came up with one significant conclusion that bees need bee space. Bee space is the distance bees require to navigate between there combs in a hive. The galleries and hallways inside a natural hive dictate bee traffic through a hive. This observation was critical in the design of the Langstroth hive as we know it today. Reverend Langstroth and a cabinet maker friend made and sold the first commercial hives in America back in 1810. This was a system that optimised a bee hives productivity, making hive management and bee husbandry standardised into what is now understood to be modern commercial beekeeping.
Bees in Top Bar hives make their own wax comb, and it's a slow natural process that young nurse bees undertake as their first duties in a hive. Nurse bees secrete wax scales from parts of their body and then those flakes are melded together into the intricate pattern of natural hexagonal comb that builds a hive.
I believe that foundation-less honeycomb made by bees in a Top Bar hive is a more accurate representation of natural beekeeping. Hive development is slower and bees can freely choose the cell size required by the colony. As a natural response the hive can develop either worker/drone or even queen cell size to accommodate the appropriate cast of bees appropriate for the season. The bees are also able to respond naturally to the availability of pollen and nectar from the surrounding environment. In good times bees will store excess honey and pollen in storage cells. In foundation less hives, bee colonies growth, vigour and productivity are all determined by the bees not the beekeeper.
As a top bar beekeeper, I tend not to focus on honey as the ultimate yield of a hive. I believe that raising bees naturally gives many other benefits to both the colony and the environment.
The commercial Langstroth hive can quickly produce bees and honey simply because wax foundation in frames is used to start the honey bee comb. The foundation sheets of wax are imprinted with a hexagonal comb shape forcing only worker bees and honey storage in all the frames throughout the hive. The frames in the brood box mass produce tens of thousands of bees over a matter of months. In providing the frames of foundation the beekeeper optimises honey production by accelerating the population of bees. The Langstroth hive exploits this response in bees and the hive growth is rapid in a honey flow. Perfect for commercial beekeepers needing to supply large volumes of honey.