3 minute read

Successful harvesting from top-bar hives

by Rose Shaushi and Steven Liseki, Nijiro Wildlife Research Centre, Tanzania

Njiro Wildlife Research Centre carried out experiments to determine how best to harvest honeycombs from top-bar hives.

Honey is often contaminated by the beekeeper during the process of harvesting. This reduces its value as food product. Careless harvesting also results in disturbance of the honeybee colony such that many bees die or the colony absconds.

Many traditional harvesting methods are good, for example using selection of herbs to produce smoke, and employing skilful techniques when lowering hives to the ground. Careful methods improve the standard of bee products harvested

The best time of day to harvest

After many trials we learnt that the best time of the day to harvest is in the evening before dusk; during this time all the bees are back in their hive and calm.

Harvesting top-bar hive

In top-bar hive bees place honey at the back of the hive, far from the entrance, so you must first smoke the bees at the entrance (Figure 1*). The bees will begin eating honey and after two minutes you can open up the top cover and smoke the bees from the other end. The bees will now move towards the entrance, and you can comfortably start harvesting from the back of the hive.

It is important to smoke bees on their combs to move them away, rather than shaking the combs. Shaking causes comb to break off from the top-bar. The small number of bees remaining on the combs after smoking can be brushed away using special bee brush, or bunch of clean leaves or feathers. [t is much better that you brush the bees so that they fall inside the hive rather than falling on the ground. 

Selection of combs to be harvested The combs which are suitable to be harvested are those which contain sealed honey over more than half of the comb. The combs should not contain brood and should have little or no pollen. Any other combs are not good for harvesting and should not be disturbed (Figure 2*).

After the bees have been brushed away from the comb, move little distance away from the hive to bucket covered with clean white piece of cloth. Remove the cloth and cut the comb so that it drops into the bucket (Figure 3*). Large, sealed combs should be cut in three steps as shown in Figure 4*. Replace the cloth quickly

The person who cuts the combs must have clean clothing. A bucket of clean water should be nearby for washing gloves, brushes and knives every now and then during the harvesting operation. It is very important to wash the equipment after harvesting one hive and starting work on different one.

If many bees start flying around the bucket, it is better to move and harvest another apiary good distance away. The remaining hives in the first apiary a can be harvested another day. 


If these harvesting procedures are followed well, the best honey can be obtained, and very few bees will be killed during the process. The honey will contain no bee venom. It can be used for all food preparations. This honey will be first class, and it can fetch a good price.


Brood comb is that part of the bees’ nest containing the developing bees: eggs, larvae and pupae.

Njiro Wildlife Research Centre and Bees for Development are co-operating on the project “Sustainable Beekeeping for Africa” funded by the United Kingdom 

*Where reference to images or figures is made, please see the original journal article