Experimental hybrid top bar hive

2013 Annual Report for FNE13-787

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,998.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Anaiis Salles
Green Sanctuary Earth Institute of Pennsylvania

Experimental hybrid top bar hive


Project Premise

Project attempts to answer these questions: Is the Kenyan Top Bar hive, and specifically, my experimental top bar hive the Melissa Hive, a preferable beehive for women and older adults performing beekeeping tasks. Does the design offer any new solutions in terms of winter survival of colonies and increased crop yield due to enhanced pollination by honey bees.

For this project, hives were set up at Awbury Arboretum organic farm, Heritage Farm, High Point Farm, Growing for Good Philly, Dragonwood Farm have Melissa Hives on site. At this time (February 2014), the farms are idle for the winter as are the honey bees. Spring 2014 will be the first opportunity we have to observe how the bees will interact with the honey cartridge. This year, with surviving colonies coming into their second year, we will be able to measure for any notable increase in strawberries and raspberry crops.

Objectives/Performance Targets

As compared to last year, we’re adding another small farm to the project in Spring of 2014. One suburban test site was added in 2013; this is relevant because of a strong and growing population of urban growers/beekeepers who are growing vegetables/fruit for household use.  Awbury Arboretum has added an orchard to their organic farm tract: cherry, apple, and pear trees were planted in the fall of 2013.


The design of the hybrid top bar hive went from concept to finished hives in place with bees living in them. Bees for the test hybrid hives were supplied from a variety of sources. Bees from my own breeding stock were used as well as Northern Hygiene bees from Western Pennsylvania, and bee colonies from Tennessee (all southern bees colonies failed but one colony living in the Melissa Hive); and bee colonies from Georgia.

I noted any potential design flaws, and will make changes in the next iteration of test hives. This winter, Philadelphia and surrounding area has had record cold and snowfall in the month of January. November and December were fairly mild. 90% of the end of season honey was left for the bees rather than harvested. Finding live colonies after a month of unseasoably  cold weather validates this decision.

However, we were not able to measure by pounds the amount of honey made by the bees and left in the hive. We will weigh honey for the 2014 honey flow and strawberry and raspberry harvests for 2014 growing season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The project is in a stable place; the hives and bees are on site; in April we plan to site more experimental hives; this will be a function of available hygienic bee stock from my root colonies. We will divide strong colonies as soon as conditions are right.

One unexpected outcome, thus far, has been the instability of purchased bee colonies from southern suppliers, primary issues being inadequate/failing queens in circumstance when my local bee stocks were thriving with strong colony build up.

We have project funds in reserve for stipends for additional collaborators and for construction of one more test hives.

With regard to outreach, a proposal is being submitted to present on the project in its entirety at the 2014 Eastern Apiculture Conference in Kentucky.

In 2013, I gave presentations about the grant project/hive design for the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild and the Chester County Beekeepers Association.


Heather Zimmerman

Education Director/TA
Awbury Arboretum
Francis Cope House
1 Awbury Road
Philadelphia, PA 19138
Office Phone: 2158492855
Website: http://www.awbury.org/fall2012