Warré hive

At my introductory beekeeping courses, I always recommend using a British National hive, or its cousin the WBC, as they are readily available, and provide beginners with large boxes and robust, well-proportioned frames with which to handle the bees. Just because they are used commercially doesn’t mean one has to manage one’s bees in that way, but it does mean that if certain manipulations are necessary, or there needs to be some intervention, the hive is very easy to use. They are also the hive most likely to be in books or on You Tube, so again, I feel that when one is getting used to beekeeping, this is the best hive to go for.

The Warré hive was developed as a less invasive alternative to the traditional frame hives, and management of the bees is done by the box rather than by the frame. The hive boxes are all one size, and smaller in capacity to a National brood box – probably about 2/3rds of the volume – and they have top bars as opposed to full frames. Expansion of the hive is done by nadiring rather than supering, so boxes are placed underneath and the bees build down, which is the natural way for them to increase the size of their combs. Bees preferentially store their honey above the nest, so as they build down, the nest moves with it, and the honey gets stored in the top box. This can then be removed once it is full of capped honey and the combs cut out and strained.

Checking for health and timely nadiring is done by tilting up the box and checking the combs from underneath. Brood pattern can be established, and boxes can be added below as the combs reach the bottom. Checking of individual frames isn’t necessary (not that it is essential in any hive…) and there is a constant cycling of the comb and provision of more space.

I decided to get myself a Warré as I have heard people at beekeeping meetings be quite disparaging about them, yet it is a completely different system and I have seen beekeepers such as Malfroy’s Gold produce honey commercially in Warrés and run them sustainably. I am intrigued to see how it works in practise. I have done quite a bit of reading so far, from sites such as The Warré Store and Bee Built and I am looking forward to getting some bees in my new hive.

I bought the hive from Thorne’s and painted it with Sadolin Superdec Satin, a water-based wood protectant. It is cedar so probably didn’t need painting but the roof planks were cut in such a way that I could see they would soon buckle and become distorted, so paint it was.

The top bars have no seam or notch or anything, and I really wanted to put some sort of guide for the bees to use. Cross comb doesn’t really matter in a Warré as the honey box is removed and the combs cut out, and as previously mentioned, the health of the colony is checked by looking at the frames from underneath – however, I decided to rout a groove in the underside and insert a strip of foundation in the bars for the initial box:

I then tapped them in using gimp pins at 3.7cm apart from the centre of each bar. This was not desperately accurate! – but the bees will make it work (see above note about not having to remove individual frames).

This box has an observation window. I’ve always wondered how helpful these are for the bees – after all, we are suddenly allowing a lot of light to stream in to part of the hive that should and would be completely dark. The proprietor of thewarrestore.com is not a fan of windows at all for exactly that reason, and when we’ve removed the cover on the Warré at the Marsh apiary, the bees have all streamed to the window. It also encourages an air of us having to physically see what’s going on rather than learning to read bee behaviour.

It’s a tricky one: I have this issue with this on my bee courses in that probably half the people who enquire ask if we can go and see the bees, and I explain that firstly, it’s much easier to learn about how a bee colony works without the distraction of the bees themselves, and secondly, the bees simply don’t need to be opened up so we can “have a look” as any disturbance is hugely disruptive. Invariably, when we go and look at the hives following the course, people are enchanted at the behaviour they can see, and imagining the living breathing organism inside the walls of the hive is not a difficult thing to envisage. So, any more Warrés I get will not have the observation window!

I have set the hive up outside my house, and here is the stand, floor, and first box going in to position:

There isn’t a crownboard on a Warré; instead there is a canvas cover called a quilt which sits on top of the frames. It’s coated with a floor and water paste to deter the bees from chewing it, and this sits directly on top of the bars. Over this goes a deep quilt, which is a hessian-based box filled with wood shavings. This is to help insulate the hive by allowing the warm, moist air to diffuse slowly out of the hive rather than condensing. The roof sits on top of this, concealing the quilt box:

So, there we have it! I now need to wait for a swarm…

12 Replies to “Warré hive”

  1. That was a very interesting blog on Warre hives. In France most of the beekeepers use Dadant hives which are similar to the British National, but just a few centimeters different. So that is what I use. However, we have toyed with the idea of Warre as specially for the ladies (I think of my wife who is petite) Warre is much lighter to manipulate.
    I have talked to beekeepers here who keep only Warre and have asked how, for example, they treat the bees against Varroa. The answer was that they do not treat at all. That scared me. Also the idea of collecting honey from a frame that previously contained brood seemed odd to me. Separating each box also appeared to be a problem as they used a wire to cut across each
    These prejudices are solely because “we don’t do things like that”. I would like to re-study the use of Warre once again and for that reason I would be very keen to read about your experience ,
    Best wishes

    1. They are viewed with suspicion and called “Worry” beehives here 😉 but as with everything, I think it is a question of getting your mind around the principles and understanding how it works as a system, as it is very different from standard frame hives. I think varroa treatment is a moot point anyway as I don’t treat – that said I do everything I can to deter the mites (natural comb, brood break due to swarming etc) so it is not a problem. I will be giving an honest appraisal of how I get on though! – so watch this space 🙂

  2. Very interesting. One thing I didn’t understand – What was the purpose of tapping the frames in with the gimp pins, rather than using lugs or spacers to hold the frames the correct distance apart? Did you do that because the top bar frames are more delicate? Thanks.

    1. Hi Emily – thank you. I think you can get castellated spacers with some Warrés, and indeed there are Modified Warrés which have Hoffman top bars and sides, but this wasn’t an option with the one I got from Thornes. I think that in any case, however, that the important mindset is to think ‘box’ rather than ‘frame’ if that makes sense, so the fixedness and spacing the bars isn’t an issue as they are to provide an anchor for the bees’ combs rather than them being removable, so more like a Perone Hive. You can see down through the combs, and up under them, so that is how you check the health of the bees.

      1. You’re welcome – this is all theory at the moment so I will be interested to see how it works in practise 🙂

  3. What a wonderful post about such a unique style of hive. I really appreciate the pictures and think you chose a lovely color too! Having recently made my own Warre style hive, my design was definitely influenced from reading this post. I decided to NOT include an observation window. Not only is it extra work to install, and I was not looking forward to that, but I completely agree that it’s not necessary or even very bee friendly. Can’t wait till you catch a swarm for it! Thanks again, Jonathan

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Jonathan 🙂 I’m really pleased you found it helpful. The observation window is one of those things: we are always so reliant on seeing what’s going on whereas we need to learn to look for other signs…

  4. My ‘happy’ hives don’t give a hoot what I’m doing with or around them, I’ve got TopBar. I can pull out the full brood frames in the open air on these girls without a suit, split them, if I dare. Others get pissed as soon as I raise the roof. I love that colonies can be as individuated as human cultures can. 🙂

  5. Great post. I have a quick question, how is your hive going 2yrs later. Also what is the height of your bottom stand/landing board with the feet? I’m thinking of getting the same hive from Thorne myself

    1. Hi there! This is a new colony from May this year – I tend to put small/cast swarms in there, and this one has quite a varroa problem sop not sure how it will get on overwinter. It’s about 6″ from the ground with the stand – and I’m following the progress with this one on my Patreon if you’re interested in real-time updates 🙂

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