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Spring in the warre hive

Inside bee hive

Screened hive quiltUsually, a warre hive wouldn't be opened at all in the spring, but the last time I delved inside, I noticed that I can't change the water-absorbent material in the quilt without bothering the bees because workers have gnawed through the burlap bottom.  So I opted to upgrade the quilt to include a screen bottom, which meant taking the current quilt off to swap.  (I forgot, though, that the real issue was the burlap layer beneath the quilt --- I'll have to upgrade that layer later.)

Spring hive check

Smokers are similarly verboten in warre hives, but I was less than pleased at the bees' reaction to their second nadiring last year, so I decided to go ahead and smoke lightly.  After all, I was only affecting the bees directly under the quilt since I didn't open the rest of the hive up.  With the smoker in hand, the bees were so calm I omitted gloves and could Empty combshave gotten away without any gear at all.

I did take a photo from underneath and a couple down through the bars in the top box to get an idea what's going on inside.  The bottom box (of three) is showing very little activity, but the top box looks like it's got at least some capped honey, which is a great sign for April.  The whole structure was literally buzzing with life.

Winter hive debris

Hive debris closeupMy final task at the hive was to remove the board so that the screened bottom was once again exposed.  Quite a lot of debris had built up over the winter, mostly bee legs, pollen clusters, and capping wax.  The open bottom will allow for much-needed ventilation over the summer, and will also let debris like this fall to the ground, keeping diseases away from our bees.

I'm still on the fence about how to expand our apiary this year.  If I don't make a decision soon, I'll go with the obvious (but less sweet) option of splitting this hive in May.  Stay tuned for further thoughts on the topic in later posts.

Our chicken waterer keeps chicks dry and hens happy.

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Hi Anna, I just thought I'd mention a different hive system invented by Oscar Perone. He called it the automatic hive because the beekeeper doesn't have to do anything except harvest the honey. I think the main difference between the Warre and the Perone is the size - the Perone is huge. The large size creates a super-colony, which is supposed to make the hive much stronger and resilient against diseases and pests. It was explained to me that the colony is really one super-organism, rather than lots of individual bees. I am just a beginning beekeeper, but I thought I'd throw that out there since it seesm like the perfect permaculture hive and most people haven't heard of it (not a lot of info available in English, but I do have quite a bit on my blog).

Comment by Nicole Handfield Fri Apr 12 08:52:20 2013


I have nowhere near your experience with bees, but I recently heard Sepp Holzer's take on bees and it was so interesting I thought i'd pass it along. Sepp does some stuff with natural log hives, with very thick walls. He basically claims that the thickness of the walls adds some insulation against rapid temperature changes that can affect bees so much. The log is on a light slope to allow for drainage, but ventilation is not desirable, especially during the winter. His idea is that the bees sanitize the air, and that if the material the hive is made out of is naturally breathable, and there is drainage, the bees will be happier. Also, he didn't recommend putting a blanket or some kind of insulator over the hive in the winter as it would shock the bees when you took it off, but he seemed ok with it assuming it was, again, a naturally breathable material.

The most interesting thing he talked about though, by far, was planting a mat of essential oil plants (lavender, rosemary, etc), that the bees have to go through to enter the hive. He felt that the bees would basically be washed of many varoa mites this way. He even went so far as to add a layer of cuttings of the herbs, wrapped in cheesecloth, above the brood.

Super interesting take on bees, I thought.

Comment by Mike Fri Apr 12 11:49:43 2013

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime