Feature: Liquid gold – a look at Top Bar beekeeping for St. Lucia

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Feature: Liquid gold – a look at Top Bar beekeeping for St. Lucia
Top Bar with Honey Comb
Les Crowder (L) and Paul Sheppard (R)

The following is a feature article on natural beekeeping in St. Lucia. It was penned by Paul Sheppard, a certified beekeeper who has been involved in training persons in the field locally.

My name is Sheppard and I wear many hats but one of them is a beekeeping veil. I am a certified beekeeper pursuing the Master Beekeeping course in North Carolina, USA.

I have been involved in beekeeping since 1984 and started with Africanised Bee hives in Trinidad where I was born. I moved to California in the US in 2006 and kept bees there with my mentor J.R. Gitthins. I started hearing about the demise of the honey bee and all the problems (CCD) that the industry faced and decided to do something about it. I started training people how to work with bees.

I have the wonderful opportunity of living part of the year in North Carolina ,USA and part in beautiful St. Lucia. I am convinced that beekeeping is the one occupation that the country of St. Lucia was designed for.

In early 2013 I was asked by the Saint Lucia Social Development Fund (SSDF) to train 20 local farmers and beekeepers in Basic Beginners Beekeeping. To cut a long story short more than 40 people signed up for the course and it was successfully completed in June this year with participants getting bee suits and at least two hives.

Top Bar Hive 1

I am presently in North Carolina and have just spent the last three days in a seminar given by Les Crowder and hosted by the Center for Honey Bee Research and the Buncombe County Beekeepers Association of North Carolina .

Les Crowder (www.fortheloveofbees.com) is a Natural Top Bar Beekeeping expert from New Mexico. He has been working successfully with Top Bar hives for many years and runs a “treatment free” operation.

I guess I should explain to those of you who don’t know what a Top Bar hive is. The most familiar bee hive that people see, white boxes stacked on on top the other, is called the Langstroth hive while the Top Bar hive looks like half a hexagonal box 4 feet long.

Most Beekeepers in St. Lucia use the Langstroth system but this can be expensive as it costs EC$40 for one box and imported frames cost EC$4.25 each. You need 10 frames per box and in a nectar flow (when the bees are bringing in nectar) you can have 3 or 4 boxes on your hive. If you do the math this can initially cost around EC$250/hive or more just to get started.( 1USD=2.70ECD)

Top Bar hives are just one long box and can be made from scrap material. Les Crowder is even constructing these hives from burlap, bamboo and clay in Jamaica. There are no expensive frames or wires and the bees build comb on the one and a half inch by twenty inch length of wood at the top of the box.

As the season progresses the bees build comb along the top bars eventually filling the box with brood (young larvae) and honey. These boxes can be constructed for less than EC$40. No additional boxes (supers) are required per each hive.

Top Bar with Honey Comb 2

Langstroth hives typically produce more honey while Top Bar hives are reported to produce more wax. This has to be substantiated and there is scope for research into this.

However, here is the important fact that when added to the equation makes it all that more interesting. Wax obtained from US beehives is generally high in pesticide content and are considered unsafe for use in the cosmetic industry.

The pesticides with the highest levels in the wax are the ones being used by beekeepers to control the Varroa mites, a parasitic mite that is feeding off of adult bees and larvae and impacting negatively on the industry.

There is a growing market for untainted bees wax and St. Lucia has potential to sell to this market using Top Bar hives and “treatment free” management.

Top Bar Hive:

Needs no imported parts

Can be cheaply constructed using local materials

Honey is extracted by crushing comb and draining into a container (bucket)

Wax removed in honey processing can be rendered and used to make candles, salves, creams and balms.

There is no expensive equipment needed for extraction such as stainless steel extractors.

The process of removing combs of wax with the honey is also a system of culling or removing older comb. This is being highly recommended by scientists and renowned beekeepers alike.

Reduces heavy lifting of boxes when doing hive inspections. Remember that one gallon of honey weighs 12 pounds. A box of honey on a Langstroth hive with 8 gallons of honey can weigh 96 pounds.

Boxes do not have to be stored or protected from wax moth in the off season.

Top Bar with Honey Comb

Les Crowder is presently working in Jamaica with beekeepers there who, because of the economy, have seen the top bar hives as the solution to reducing capital costs. In fact Jamaica has banned the import of bees wax foundation(used to encourage bees to build their wax cells) from the US.

I think this is a bold and decisive move and is moving the Jamaican in the direction of sustainable and treatment free honey and wax production.

While at the seminar we spoke about the challenges facing the Caribbean Beekeepers and we have agreed to work together to to help beekeeping in the islands. I look forward to working with him in the near future and hope that he will visit St. Lucia someday soon.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. This article was very well-written and it's difficult to see how someone could completely miss the point(s), yet clearly one has.

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  2. Top Bar Hives - TBH - have to be the least sustainable of all beekeeping methods. Why would you have bees spend an entire season building comb that you are going to destroy in order to harvest the honey. Langstroth, Dadant and Root spent their entire lives developing a hive system that not only most closely duplicates what bees build in nature but also was sustainable. By embracing TBHs you are actually going backwards to the days when gum logs and skeps were still being used, just one step beyond the cave drawings which show pre-historic man hanging off a cliff from a vine cutting comb out of a crack in the rock.

    Steven Lechner
    Busy Bee Farm
    Larkspur, CO

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  3. The Saint Lucian Beekeeper needs to start looking at these alternative methods of producing honey since some of us would like to refer to our product as organically produced. the opportunities to develop and use these new methods and practices offers a new direction for our long standing Beekeepers to adopt and be apart of.A new mind set has to be adopted, bees must be seen first as pollinators and secondly, as honey makers. Don't act as a Beehaver, truly become a Beekeeper.

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  4. This is among the better stories that I have read. The article also tells what can be. Beekeeping is not extremely expensive to start, so it might be worthwhile exploring that industry to help employ the multitudes of young people doing nothing. I wish someone would give the idea deep thought.

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  5. This is the best article I have read on this site. The world cannot survive without bees. Lucians can help nature, feed itself and make money if you love them!

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  6. Very informative I must say and an excellent opportunity for young entrepreneurs to be self employed in a safe and sustainable industry. Also have huge revenue generating potential.

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