The Beekeeper’s Calendar: Maintain A Productive Warré Hive

Reader Contribution by Lisa Gustavson
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A beekeeper’s timetable only becomes a regular annual cycle after the first year because creating a new apiary involves several one-time steps (see previous post: “The New Beekeeper’s Calendar: Getting Started”). This post contains a summary of a Warré Beekeeper’s regular seasonal activities to give you both: a general idea of what this method entails in the long term if you are considering adopting this method; and, to provide you with a calendar that you can use as a guide once you have gotten started.

After the first year when you have established your apiary, you will take on the role of steward and thief: helping the bees through difficulties (drought, pests, disease, etc.) and stealing their spare honey and other hive products.  Your main tasks will change with the seasons and you can explore various complimentary projects using the yield of your harvest: candle making, soap making, etc.

Beekeeping in Fall

Make at least one major visit to the hive(s).

  • Learn about what is happening in the hive and what you see at the entrance.
  • Monitor varroa mites.
  • Make a thorough health inspection of the hive(s) before winter sets in. Check on pests, and verify that the bees have enough honey reserved for the winter. In cold regions, you may want to reorient the direction of the comb to help the bees retain warmth.
  • Reduce the size of the hive entrance for winter.
  • Get on a waiting list for: a new queen (if you have chosen to re-queen in the spring); or, more bees (if you want to start another hive without catching a swarm).

Beekeeping in Winter

Take care of old equipment and prepare additional equipment for harvesting hive products or capturing swarms, etc.

  • Know what is happening in the hive(s) and what you’ll see at the entrance.
  • Prepare more boxes for the hive(s) if necessary.
  • Inspect, repair, clean equipment.
  • Choose a harvest method and assemble the necessary gear.
  • Assemble jars and other containers.
  • Prepare tools to capture swarms.
  • Consider feeding in late winter.

Beekeeping in Spring

(Spring is the busiest time of year.) Make at least one major visit to the hive(s). Possibly: start new hive(s), catch bee swarms, re-queen an existing hive, etc.

  • Know what is happening in the hive(s) and what you’ll see at the entrance.
  • Feed, if necessary.
  • Add space to the hive(s) for honey storage.
  • Inspect the hive(s) while open.
  • Treat for varroa mites.
  • Capture swarms and start new hives.
  • Re-queen.
  • Learn how to store and use honey, wax, and other hive products.

Late Spring / Early Summer/ Late Summer/ Early Fall

Make one visit to the hive(s) to reap the rewards of your work by stealing a bit of honey (the timing depends on the peak honey flow period in your location).  

  • Know what is happening in the hive(s) and what you’ll see at the entrance.
  • Harvest according to your regional flowering periods (and inspect the hive(s) while open).
  • Extract and store the honey.
  • Clean and store the emptied hive boxes.
  • Explore recipes and crafts using hive products.

Beekeeping in Summer

Continue to observe and monitor the hive(s) and respond to any issues that arise.

As I said in my summary of the “Beekeeper’s First Year Calendar,” initially setting up a Warré apiary requires quite a bit of thoughtful planning and preparation but, once well established, the following years don’t demand much time on a daily or weekly basis. On the other hand, this should not be mistaken for a laissez-faire method in which the keeper just drops in whenever convenient to steal some honey, modify the hive or perform treatments arbitrarily, otherwise leaving the bees to their own defenses.

The Warré philosophy of apiculture is bee-centric in that the beekeeper takes cues from the bees and must be observant and attentive to their rhythms and needs in order to steward them through any challenges that may arise.  At the same time, the beekeeper must trust the bees and refrain from opening the hive and interfering unnecessarily, because intrusions are stressful and often counterproductive for the colony.  The goal is to create a symbiotic relationship which is mutually beneficial to the bees and their keeper.

Three major annual hive visits are absolutely indispensable: once in the spring to create more space for honey storage; again when honey is ready to be harvested; and finally in the fall to treat for varroa mites and prepare the hive for the winter.

Throughout the rest of the year, the keeper makes regular, periodic visits to observe and monitor the activity at the hive entrance without opening the hive. Pests, disease, and various other problems may necessitate additional intervention, and the keeper should not shy away from opening the hive in such cases.  In keeping with Warré’s philosophy, natural selection is respected but not to the point of irresponsibly allowing bees to suffer when helpful organic or natural solutions exist.

In short, the Warré method affords quite a bit of flexibility to the beekeeper.  For example, this style of beekeeping is well suited to situations in which making frequent visits to hives would be challenging, such as: hives placed in secluded areas far from where the beekeeper lives, beekeepers who need (or want) to travel; and, beekeepers with busy lifestyles. Yet, it is only really suitable for people who are deeply committed to using a holistic approach to maintain an organic apiary.

In my next post, “Beekeeping the Warré Way,” I will provide a more elaborate explanation of the Warré beekeeping philosophy.

Photo by Lisa Gustavson