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Warre hive

Warre hive diagramThe Warre hive (sometimes called the "vertical top bar hive") is named after a French abbot who developed a simple hive that could easily be constructed by the common Joe.  On the surface, the hive looks a lot like the Langstroth hives that are so common in the U.S., but the boxes are smaller, the wood is thicker, and there's an insulated "quilt' and roof area.  In addition, beekeepers usually use top bars instead of framed foundation.

Even though the Warre hive resembles the Langstroth hive, it is managed in a completely different manner.  Warre beekeepers believe that protection of the natural heat and scent within the hive is of utmost importance, and that every type of manipulation by the beekeeper requires the bees to work harder to maintain the Nestduftwarmebindung.  So beekeepers refrain from rearranging combs (for example, to open up the brood box) since that moves scents around, and they strive not to take the top off the hive more than once a year.

Despite what that last sentence sounds like, Warre beekeepers don't ignore their bees all year and then expect to harvest lots of honey.  They understand that the larger a hive is, the harder the bees have to work to keep out wax moths and diseases, so they add extra boxes at intervals throughout the spring and summer just like a Langstroth beekeeper would.  The difference is that they put the boxes on the bottom --- nadiring --- which is achieved by hefting the whole hive upward using a pulley-based hive lift.  The bees barely notice the intrusion, and the Nestduftwarmebindung stays in place within the hive.

Inside a Warre hiveThroughout the year, Warre beekeepers also spend a lot of time observing the hive to ensure that all's well within.  They listen to the hive, watch and smell at the entrance, and even put their hand on the quilt that covers the top box to estimate its warmth.  Many beekeepers weigh their hives to check on honey stores, and some Warre boxes have observation windows (fitted within insulated shutters when not in use) to allow non-intrusive viewing.

In the fall, the beekeeper opens up the hive more fully for the first time.  In the past months, the bees have filled up box after box, naturally moving their brood area into new boxes below and replacing brood above with honey.  The beekeeper is able to remove whole boxes of honey off the top to crush and strain, which is the most intrusion the hive ever sees.

Here's the catch --- Warre hives don't produce as much honey as Langstroth hives.  In The Bee-friendly Beekeeper, David Heaf notes that you should expect only half as much honey from a Warre hive as from a Langstroth hive, and Heaf insinuates that forcing bees to make so much honey is one of the factors that leads to decline of modern apiaries.

Hive lift, nadiring a Warre hiveOn the other hand, Heaf also argues that Warre hives don't need as much honey to get them through the winter due to the better thermal performance of the hive.  He leaves only 26 pounds of honey for his hives in the UK and says that, in general, Warre hives need about 67% as much honey to overwinter as Dadant hives do.  (Dadant hives are related to Langstroth hives, but have fallen out of favor.)

I'm very torn about the idea of adding a Warre hive to our homestead, but not because of the lower honey yields.  On the one hand, the Nestduftwarmebindung principle makes intuitive sense to me, especially once I read that a hive can sometimes take three days to regain its temperature after being opened and that cool temperatures in the hive can encourage pests and diseases.  On the other hand, I'm a nervous nellie, and can't quite imagine not going through the brood nest at intervals to make sure everything's okay.  I'm also envisioning setting up a hive lift wrong and ending up with bees spilled all over the ground, and losing lots of swarms to the world since you can't manage reproduction very well in the Warre hive.  (More on that in a later post.)

On the third hand, it's new, different, and intriguing.  How could I resist?



This post is part of our Warre Hive lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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I had one hive I started 4 years ago, I lost it in its second winter. So, last year I bought 2 bee/queen packages of bees and set up 2 hives. Then a spring bear came along and destroyed them.

So this year I am setting up 2 hives with larger nukes that come with 5 frames that are fulle of larvea/honey and a queen. I am moving my hives down to a fenced in area.

I can not afford an electric fence so I will be hanging empty plastic milk cartens with and opening on the side and pine sol inside around the fence line.

I was told that bears noses are very sensative to oders and they do not hang around an area with strong chemical odors.

We will see how it goes. My bees come in April/May.

Comment by Mona Tue Mar 20 14:26:17 2012

Mona --- I'm glad we don't have to deal with bears (so far)! I think Lucy keeps the perimeters smelly enough that wild animals (other than deer) steer clear.

I have read that some people deal with bears by hoisting hives up into trees! I think it might work best with top bar hives, and you have to be sure to get it level or they'll build comb crooked. An idea if you get desperate....

Comment by anna Tue Mar 20 14:33:43 2012
You've got to love the German language for the strung-together words! It is a bit of a weird combination, though. nest-smell-warmth-binding?
Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Mar 20 15:10:32 2012
Roland --- I was thinking of you as I repeated the phrase from the author's book. What's funny is, it's not really any shorter than explaining the phrase in English, but since it's all one word to my eye, it seems easier....
Comment by anna Tue Mar 20 15:26:12 2012
Anna - I agree that just typing "nestduftwarmebindung" is a better plan than trying to explain it in English. Even though I don't know German, I felt like I knew exactly the concept that the author was trying to get across as soon as I saw that word: that which makes the bees' home, their home! :)
Comment by Ikwig Tue Mar 20 21:40:32 2012
Ikwig --- Aren't words wonderful that way? So powerful when you have the right one.
Comment by anna Wed Mar 21 08:47:12 2012