Warre Bee hives offer bees a safe, healthy place to live and create honey like they would do in nature. They also help beekeepers effectively extract honey with minimal disturbance to the bees.
Warre hives allow bees to draw their own comb which is all part of being a bee and an important part of maintaining hive cleanliness. It allows bees to choose the size of the cell that best suites the needs of the season, the type of bees needed in the colony (workers or drones) and specific use of the cell. Warre hives allow the queen and her workers and drones to freely move about the hive and store honey, nectar, pollen and brood where they see fit. In contrast to conventional commercial beekeeping, the Warre Hive allows the bees to continuously draw their comb downward, which is their natural tendency.
The Warre Hive was developed in France by Emile Warre. His goal was to find a hive system that was simple, economical and most importantly, bee-friendly. After experimenting with over 350 hives of various designs and types, he finally developed “The People’s Hive” (Ruche Populaire) or the Warre Hive as it’s known today. Interestingly, Warre was not alone in his discovery with German bee-keeper, Johann Ludwig Christ, and other bee-keepers in Japan coming up with similar designs. Great minds think alike!
The design of the Warre hive consists of wooden boxes stacked on top of each other, approximately 30cm square. They look similar to a Langstroth hive but function in a fundamentally different way. Each box contains eight top-bars which are placed inside the box in a narrow groove called a rebate. The top-bars are placed inside the box with a beeswax strip, which encourages the bees to happily draw out honeycomb. The spacing of the top-bars in a hive is also very important. The Warre hive includes top-bars that are 24mm wide, with a ‘bee space’ in between each bar of 12mm. If the space is any smaller, the bees will build comb between the bars, which then causes more disruption to the bees when the beekeeper checks the hives and is forced to remove the comb the bees worked so hard to make. If the space is any wider than 12mm, the hive will have issues with heat retention in the colder months when insulation is crucial.
On the top of the hive sits a quilt box that has a piece of canvas fabric attached underneath it, which allows for airflow. The quilt box is filled with straw, hay, wood chips, or a combination of these materials to help insulate the hive as well as absorb moisture. Another piece of canvas sits between the quilt box and the box under it. This canvas also allows for airflow and allows the beekeepers to check the bees with minimal disturbance to them. For instance, it helps keep half the box dark while checking frames in the other half of the box and also prevents the bees from drawing comb above the frames.
Management of Hives
There are various ways to check bees in Warre hives. A practice called ‘Nadiring’ is used more commonly than the conventional ‘supering’. Nadiring is the practice of adding an empty box (called a super) to the bottom of the hive, under the boxes that are already full of honey, pollen, nectar and brood. This allows the bees to move downward as they would naturally. ‘Supering’ is the opposite of this, and is adding a box to the top of the hive.
When using natural beekeeping principles along with the Warre hive, it is important to check your bees as minimally as possible. Internal hive temperature is very important for the health of a colony and it takes a lot of effort for bees to raise the temperature back to an optimal 35 degrees Celsius after a check. A beekeeper can choose Warre hives with observation windows so the bees can be observed for health and activity check with no impact to the internal temperature or operations of the bees within.
Working with the bees using the Warre hive is a win-win for everyone and everything involved in the exchange. Warre Hives have better resistance to disease and pests, which means fewer chemicals need to be used to keep pests away, resulting in fewer chemicals ending up in the honey we consume and enjoy. The honeybees are less disturbed therefore happier and free to go about their business. The beekeeper benefits from the pollination process and the excesses of this golden liquid which is healing as well as delicious. There is a certain satisfaction from becoming so respectfully and intimately connected with these thousands of fascinating little bees.
References and information sharing:
Gavin Smith - Beekeeper and conservationist