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Warre vs. top bar hive

Warre hiveLess well known than the top bar hive is another alternative beekeeping box --- the Warre hive, sometimes called a "vertical top bar hive."  I have to admit that I haven't read Abbe Warre's Beekeeping for All yet (although you can download it for free by following the link.)  The information below is drawn from The Barefoot Beekeeper, and is clearly biased toward the author's method.

Although Warre used smaller boxes, his technique is very similar to the modified Langstroth method I've used in the past (although less intrusive.)  Warre stacked small boxes (12 inches square and a bit over 8 inches deep) just like in a Langstroth hive, with the major difference being that his frames were merely top bars with wax strips.  When the first box was full of bees and honey, Warre slipped an empty box underneath (similar to my swarm prevention in years past, but without the extra checkerboarding.)

Warre hive diagramWhere Warre's method differs most from mine is that he didn't believe in delving into the hive at intervals to page through the frames.  In fact, he actually fixed his frames in place with nails and didn't mess with the bees at all.  When they had moved down into the lower box, he would slip another empty box underneath and then take away the top box, harvesting all of the honey out of it at once.

Warre's hive also differs from Langstroth hives by containing a special, insulated roof.  Chandler argues that one of the problems with the Langstroth hive is that the thin walls and roof cause condensation within the hive in the winter, which makes the bees sick.  Both the Warre hive and the top bar hive deal with this problem by using thicker wood and adding a sawdust layer to the inner lid.

PJ Chandler presented a chart of pros and cons of the Warre hive versus his top bar hive, which you have to take with a grain of salt since he clearly prefers the latter.  Some disadvantages he saw to the Warre method were:

  • You have to store some boxes when not in use.  The top bar hive is all one piece, so you block off empty areas but don't have to find space in the barn to store anything.
  • More physical strength is required for the Warre hive.  Each time you add a new box underneath, you have to hoist up the heavy box of bees and honey.

On the other hand, the Warre hive did win in one respect:

  • Very low maintence.  The top bar hive requires much more regular maintenance, with the beekeeper often checking in and adding another frame twice a week during heavy nectar flows.  On the other hand, when you do work with the Warre hive, you need to allot more time and physical strength to the project.


I have to admit that I think I'd drive myself nuts not being allowed to look into the hive using Warre's method.  On the other hand, there's always the potential of creating viewing windows in the sides of the boxes, and if the Warre method was better for the bees, I'd be tempted to try it.

Has anyone had experience with Warre and/or top bar hives?  Do you know of other reasons to choose one over the other?



This post is part of our The Barefoot Beekeeper lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Anna,

I do not have any experience using the Warre hive.

I do agree with the insulation layer for the winter though. I use an all season inner cover (got mine from Honey Run Apiaries). This allows for two inches of rigid foam insulation.

With regards to condensation, I tip the hive forward with the goal that any drops will not land on the bees.

With regard to the honey harvesting in a Warre hive, I suppose you would be doing comb honey or crush and strain? Should work and would encourage clean wax because the bees would build it new every year.

Comment by RDG Fri Jan 6 16:47:45 2012

I had read about people rigging up insulation under the cover for Langstroth hives, but had been unsure whether it would really help. Same to adding insulation to the walls. I'm still not entirely sure whether insulation vs. ventilation is the solution. (In chicken coops, the latter seems to be better for cutting down on winter damp.)

Crushing and straining does seem to be the method of choice for harvesting honey from both top bar and Warre hives.

Comment by anna Fri Jan 6 17:49:05 2012

Hi Anna - Are you familiar with Milkwood Permaculture? They're located down under, in Australia, and are a wonderful read for a cold winter day, especially since they're enjoying their summer right now. They started a Warre hive a while back, and have finally started peeking in - here's their latest entry: http://milkwood.net/2012/01/06/on-the-topography-of-honeycomb/

I hadn't heard of top bar hives before, so thanks for the explanation and comparison to the Warre method. Looking forward to reading more of your bee posts!

Comment by Rena Fri Jan 6 20:51:28 2012
They're the ones I heard about Warre hives from. But no top bar comparison! Drat! :-)
Comment by anna Sat Jan 7 08:21:58 2012
The last two years we have been trying out both type of hives. The first year we had a Warre, The bee supply store had no advice for us so we learned from the internet, I am a new-bee so had no idea what I was doing. The Warre was easy to maintain and my husband added observation windows to all the boxes. As the summer progressed and I added more boxes it got over 5+ feet tall with the stand it was on. It got quite heavy to lift as I am only 5'2 and under 110lbs. But I am a farm girl so I could do it until the top box got to be over 40 pounds and that was just one box there was still 5 more underneath! My hubby ended up finding plans for a lift on the net. We harvested 20lbs of honey that year and plenty left for the bees. Last year I decided to try the top bar hive. I like it alot better because the bars are easy to inspect and much lighter. We built it so I just lift the roof off and do my inspection. We also have a observation window for the kids to look. The problem was we did not get much honey. We did have a very short summer this year so that could explain it. I enjoy both hives but I really enjoy the top bar hive the best because of the convenience and the fact that the Warre is difficult to lift. We will be keeping both hives for now.
Comment by Veronica Tue Jan 10 21:59:18 2012
Great to hear from someone who's really experimented with both! Not having to manhandle so much weight is a major pro of top bar hives, but I hadn't realized until you pointed it out how the warre hive could be even tougher than a langstroth if you did it right and lifted all the boxes up together.
Comment by anna Wed Jan 11 11:46:36 2012

what kind of maintenance is done in the TBH that isn't done in the warre? im slightly new to beekeeping, don't have my own hive yet but am wondering which one to get the low maintenance of the warre sounds great, and the weight isn't a problem for me, but eventually my grandparents will probably be taking care of the hive if i decide to put one in this year, and less weight is just as important as low maintainence, though NOT more so so is there an article that deals with TBH maintainence on this blog or elsewhere that someone has a link to?

Comment by Devon Thu Mar 8 23:56:48 2012

Devon --- I'm reading a book on Warre hives now, so I'll probably have a whole lunchtime series to share about them at some point. I think Warre hives are more like Langstroth hives --- more time all at once with lots of empty space in between. Top bar hives require a couple of minutes of maintenance as often as two or three times a week in the nectar flow. I suspect in the long run it all evens out to the same amount of time.

I'd recommend checking out The Barefoot Beekeeper for solid information on top bar hive maintenance. We haven't tried them yet, so can't give you real information yet.

Comment by anna Fri Mar 9 16:41:54 2012