Kenya Top Bar Hives

Kenya top bar hives (KTBH's) are used for beekeeping. They get their name from the African country , because they were popularized in Kenya in the 1970s, by organizations seeking to develop the economy of African countries.

Top bar hives with sloping sides have come to be known as Kenya top bar hives. However, their history goes back much longer: some claim that the ancient Greek already used this type of hive.


The construction of a KTBH is rather simple. Combs are supported by bars of wood which lay across the narrow width of the trough-like hive-body. The width of each top-bar is equivalent to the natural width of a comb plus a bee-space (35 mm or 1 3/8 inches). This is important, because honey bees like to build their combs this distance apart.

The walls of a top bar hive are sloped inward towards the bottom so the bees will build less comb attachment to the walls. The comb in top bar hives is more fragile than in standard hives, because it doesn't have wooden frames surrounding the comb. The entrance is best built on the end of the hive. Bees tend to build their brood nest near the entrance, so an entrance at the end allows a beekeeper to harvest honey from the opposite end.


KTBH's much cheaper to build than langstroth types, however the latter are often thought to produce a higher yield (apparently there is no systematic research into this). A KTBH costs about half the price of a Langstroth frame-hive. Operating a Kenya top bar hive is more labour intensive, but labour is cheap in developing countries.

Constructing a KTBH be done with little to no building materials and a minimum of carpentry skills. A person can build a hive with scrap or rough lumber, from cane or reeds. One can even form it from adobe or cement blocks, or use empty oil drums for the hive bodies.

A beekeeper can extract honey from a top bar hive by cutting the comb off the top-bar, leaving about 1/2 inch of comb so that the bees will be able to rebuild correctly.

Which hive to choose

In general it can be said that the KTBH are more appropriate for beekeepers with a lot of time or cheap labour at their disposal. The Langstroth system are advisable for beekeepers who can invest a greater amount of capital. Beginners are also advised to start with regular framed hives.

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