Monday, May 7, 2012

Warre` Hive or What goes up will come down

My wife was listening to a podcast and heard something about a Warre` hive. (When going to Wikipedia to research scroll down a bit to find out about this type of hive.)  She reads and researches far and wide.  Once she thinks there is something of interest, she calls me in to discuss and do more in depth research.  So it was with a Warre` hive.  If you haven't heard of these before, you are not alone. 

Langstroth Hive - It turns out the modern hive that most beekeepers use today is the Langstroth hive. 
In 1851, the Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth (1810-1895), a native of Philadelphia, noted that when his bees had less than 1 cm (3/8 inch) of space available in which to move around, they would neither build comb into that space nor cement it closed with propolis. This measurement is presently called "bee space". During the summer of 1851, Langstroth applied the concept to keeping the lid free on a top-bar hive, but in autumn of the same year, he realized that the "bee space" could be applied to a newly-designed frame which would prevent the bees from attaching honeycomb to the inside of the hive box. This attachment of comb to the hive wall was a difficulty with frameless designs, such as Dzierżon's frameless movable-comb hive (1835). US Patent 9300 was issued to Langstroth on October 25, 1852, and remained valid despite numerous attempts to challenge it based on its alleged use of prior art.
Rev. Langstroth subsequently published a book called A Practical Treatise on the Hive and Honey-Bee[2], nowadays commonly known as The Hive and the Honey Bee or, under the title with which it was recently (2004) re-issued, as Langstroth's Hive and the Honey-Bee: The Classic Beekeeper's Manual. In this book, Langstroth described the proper dimensions and use of the modern beehive as we know it today. Prior to discovery of the dimensions of "bee space", bees were mostly hived in skeps (conical straw baskets) or gums (hollowed-out logs which approximated the natural dwellings of bees), or in box hives (a thin-walled wooden box with no internal structure).

When my wife and I went through bee school, we didn't hear or at least it didn't register about different types of hives other than skeps.  We were taught that skeps were bad and illegal because you had to kill all of the bees to harvest the honey. Not very ecofriendly

Back to Warre`. 

As you can read below, Abbe` Warre` researched 350 different hive systems before coming up with his own model.

Details here, you can skip read later.
Abbé Émile Warré (1867 - 1951) lived in France and kept bees in a wide variety of hives with the aim of finding the best hive for both bees and beekeeper.

L'Abbé Eloi François Émile Warré was born on 9 March 1867 at Grébault-Mesnil in the Somme département. He was ordained a priest on 19 September 1891 -- Amiens diocese -- and became the parish priest of Mérélessart (Somme) in 1897 then of Martainneville (Somme) in 1904.

He disappeared from the records in 1916 subsequently to reappear at Saint-Symphorien (Indre-et-Loire) to devote himself exclusively to beekeeping. He died at Tours on 20 April 1951.

Abbé Warré developed The People's Hive based on his studies of 350 hives of different systems that existed at his time as well as of the natural habits of the bee.

Resume Warre` (Great reference link)

We just became Certified Naturally Grown beekeepers and wanted to have a hive that does the following:
  1.  Have the bees build out their own comb to reduce chemical contamination found in bees wax from ALL commercial wax foundation.
  2. Have the bees build foundation that is bee size.  From our research, commercial wax foundation is 5.4 millimeters but bees normally build out at 4.5 millimeters.  This creates bigger bees that can't fly as far and some theorize allows external pests to enter the bees internally.
  3. Allow for a systematic way of cycling wax and honey that is friendly to the bees. We want to cycle out our wax over a three (3) year period.  Old brood comb becomes black and is more susceptible to disease and pests.
So, we decided to try this type of hive.  Below is picture from a friend's backyard of 2 Warre` hives.

Thank you Malcolm Campbell for the nice picture and woodworking.

Here are some specs for you to ponder:
  • Each box is about 12" by 12"
  • 8 top bars per box (really light)
  • We have a viewing window in the back of each box to watch the bees build down on the top bars.
  • Bottom box has a screen bottom with a solid slide-in option.
  • Top box is a quilt box filled with saw dust.
  • When adding boxes, they are nadired instead of supered.
Nadiring versus Supering

  Supering - When beekeepers place a hive body with frames on top of the beehive, this is called supering.  Supering is derived from the word superior (thanks Michael Bush) which refers to something or someone higher in rank or above you.  Hence, when we place a box above, we are supering the hive. 

Nadiring - When we nadir boxes in a beehive, we place them below.  Think of it this way.  If something is at its zenith, it is at its top/peak.  If something is at its nadir, it is at its bottom.

How nadiring affects the operation of the beehive

In Langstroth world, we are taught that bees always move up but in Warre` world we say they go down.  Which is correct?  As usual, we need to ask the bees.  In observing them I believe both are correct.  How so?

If we look at natural honeycomb it is teardrop in shape and is built from top to bottom.

Honeycomb built on the bottom of a warre`top bar

 Honeybees seem to go to the top, (go up), but build down.  In Langstroth world we add supers believing that bees will place honey in top boxes and place brood in the bottom boxes.  In Warre` world, boxes are nadired with boxes placed on the bottom as the bees build out each box.

Harvesting Langstroth & Warre` beehives

Langstroth harvesting - The supered boxes fulled of capped honey are removed from the top of the hive.  Honey is normally removed via extraction which requires a machine to spin the frames and remove the honey via centrifugal force and gravity. The brood boxes are not touched during this operation.  So the bees live in old comb until it is replaced.

Warre` harvesting - The top box is removed and the comb is crushed and the honey strained.  Only gravity it used.  Since the hive is nadired, the comb at the top will be darker than a Langstroth hive but the brood comb will always be fresh.  Hence a natural recycling of wax in the hive just like when bees swarm and establish a new colony.

Today we visited our Warre` hive and are happy to report that are bees are building out the top bars just like Abbe` Warre` said they would.  Below are some pictures of what our current hive looks like.

Above is a view of comb being built out from viewing window in the back of the Warre` hive.

Current Warre` hive with 2 boxes and interface Langstroth nuc.
Thanks Dietlinde Zipkin for taking these great pictures

Looking down into the Warre` hive with one frame removed. See the fresh comb being built out by the bees on frame 2.
This photo is looking up at the BOTTOM of a warre` box.  Note the comb hanging down.  We believe the bees had built out 6 of the 8 bars so we nadired the hive to give them more space.  Our hope is that by the end of this season we will be able to remove the Langstroth nuc and have the hive be totally warre`

We would like to thank our friends at Center for Honeybee Research.  We purchased our nuc of bees from them this year and their quality was just fabulous.  Our bees are really building out VERY nicely.  You can see the marked queen above.  The colony seems vibrant with lots of bee activity.  Of course we are also fortunate to have a great bee yard with lots of great bee food.  If you are interested in obtaining nucs of bees, please reach out to Carl Chesick or Stuart Van Meter located in Hendersonville, NC.  When we picked up our bees, we spent the night at the Pisgah Inn and arrived the next morning to pick up our screened bees.

Here are some great Warre` links if you want to investigate more on your own:

Bee Boy out.


  1. Interesting! It amazes me that as heavy as hives can get, especially in fall. the hives don't teeter or lean on those poles. But they are great looking hives. Keep up the good work.

    1. With a Warre` hive we secure them with moving straps. With a Langstroth hive we put bricks, rocks or cement bees my wife has decorated on top. Have not had one fall over so far.

  2. 1) How long should I keep feeding our Warre` hives? We recently quit feeding our Warre` hive. They seem to have stored up lots of honey in the nuc. I was hoping the bees would start building out in the second warre` box but they seem content to use the nuc for honey and the one warre` box for either brood or honey. The bee population is terrific. From today on it will start declining as the bees get ready for winter. Keep an eye on the nuc to determine if feeding may be required. You can tell this by the weight of the nuc. Heavy means lots of honey. Light means you need to feed. We are entering the summer dearth. All the flowers will die out and we will have to wait until the fall for more flowers and nectar.

    2) How long should the NUC boxes stay on the hives? We are going to start looking into pulling one frame at a time and replacing them with Styrofoam. I am hoping this will encourage the bees to build out down below. The bad news is this is where they have stored lots of honey. No easy way to do this. Let my Queen Bee and I engineer a solution and let you know. Some warre` folks buy packages and let the bees build out in a warre` box on their own from the beginning. I believe their failure rate to be pretty high. Sounds like all of our warre` hives are doing well. Now we just need to transition them into full warre` and remove the nuc box. If we start removing nuc frames and they are honey frames, we may need to continue to feed them. We will check into the styofoam option and get back with you. Feel free to do research online and let me know if you hear of other solutions. We are pioneers hear so I anticipate there is no ready support.

    Adding one box at a time. – That is what we do. A nuc with a built out box can be quite heavy. The challenge is that the bees connect all if the frames so you have to use a hive tool to scrape the lower frames and keep them in their warre` box. You really need 2 people to do this. The other option is a good chiropractor when you hurt your back. That is still two people but the one would be 2 beekeepers and the other only 1 beekeeper. Ha!

    Please send me pictures of the each hive box by box. I want to see if they are building out. Again in our warre` hive they have build out only in the one warre` box. They do love hanging out in the bottom warre` box as well.

    Well, this all from the Bee Boy. Hope this helps.