Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I’ll be honest, the first thing about a Warre hive that caught my attention was the absolutely charming appearance. Any beehive, whether it’s thrown together with spare materials, a beautifully crafted cedar hive or a simple white Langstroth is wonderful to my eyes. Long before I began keeping bees I was tempted to pull over on the side of the road at the sight of a beehive to stop and stare. That being said, there really is a unique beauty to a Warre hive and it’s not all superficial. After some experience keeping bees in our own Warre hives I have gained quite a lot of respect and appreciation for not only the trials and errors of Emile Warre but his ultimate design.
A Warre hive is sometimes described as a vertical top bar hive but it’s not quite as simple as that name would imply. It has several unique features including a quilt box at the top lined with sturdy cloth and filled with wood shavings or straw to help control climate and moisture. Also, the roof is vented which helps to promote favorable conditions inside the hive. The bars that go across the top of the hive boxes for the bees to build their wax from have no sides or bottoms and use no wax foundation. Some beekeepers use wax foundation strips but we just melted some beeswax and painted some onto each bar which worked great. Because the bees obviously need to move up and down through the boxes, the top bars do not rest end to end as they do in a horizontal top bar hive but with space in between them more like a Langstroth. New boxes are added to the bottom.
While our Warre hives have observation windows which I love, I find that I know less about their week to week or even month to month activities. Warre hives are to be opened once a year for harvest after the main flow and really no more than that unless there’s a good reason or you’re adding a new box. Let me share with you a few things I have noticed about our Warre hives though:
As I see steep population booms and drops throughout the season in my Langstroth and some of my top bar hives I’ve noticed a slow and steady rise of the population in the Warre’s.
During the hottest months when I see significant bearding (bees hanging out on the front of the hive) I see very little of it on our Warre hives.
They seem to have a greater population going into fall and slightly larger stores (possibly because of the moderate population during hot months).
A couple of weeks ago at the end of November, I saw many drones still coming and going from a particularly active Warre. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve seen a single drone in any other hive. They must have plenty to share!
Regular hive inspections aren’t part of the deal as this architecture is supposed to promote ideal conditions for bees to thrive with minimal intervention from the beekeeper. This makes Warre hives ideal for gardeners or farmers who are interested in pollination, people who want to keep bees but have little time to commit to regular maintenance, or people who just want to help the honey bee by keeping a beautiful hive or two in their yard and enjoy watching the comings and goings of these amazing insects (as if some fresh, sweet backyard honey on your toast every morning isn’t enough reason).
There are plenty of websites that sell Warre hives but if you’re on a budget you can find even more websites that have free plans to build one yourself. Also, if you’re interested in the philosophy of Emile Warre you can find his entire book “Beekeeping for All” published many places online. It’s not only a fascinating read for anyone interested in bees but serves as a sort of manual for keeping bees in a Warre hive.
The brief overview I’ve provided here is just the tip of the iceberg so if you’re intrigued, I urge you to explore further by taking advantage of all the free information out there. Even if we all just learned a little more about bees it might drastically improve the future outcome for this amazing little insect that (whether or not we know it) we all rely so heavily upon.
Lindsay Williamson is a stay at home Mom to two beautiful boys and keeper of several hundred thousand (bee) girls. She also enjoys gardening, cooking, baking, sprouting, and brewing at her home in North Carolina that she shares with her partner Vance and their children.
Photo by Vance Lin and Lindsay Williamson