The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

No honey to rob

Partially drawn comb

Warre hiveIt seems like there's never as much honey in my Warre hives as I think there is.  I went out to rob the mother hive's top box on a sunny afternoon this week...and found that there was nothing to steal.  The fourth box was empty, the box below contained a good bit of honey but also some capped brood (meaning it had to be left alone), I didn't dig into the third box (but I hope it's also full of honey and brood), and the bottom box consists of partially drawn comb (photo above).  So, instead of stealing honey, I took away the empty top box, and will probably remove the bottom box later as well.

Of course, you don't really expect to harvest honey if you split a hive, so just having enough bees and stores to get the mother hive through the winter is good.  Luckily, two boxes full of brood and honey are supposed to be enough for a Warre hive, according to the experts, unless you live in the far north.  Since a Warre hive box is only the size of a shallow super, that seems counterintuitive to those of  us who started with Langstroth hives, but I'm willing to bow to wiser beekeepers, who report that the superior insulating ability of the Warre hive allows the bees to thrive with fewer stores.


Unfortunately, the daughter hive is also not doing as well as I'd hoped, and they may actually be in trouble.  I removed the third box (empty) and finally got a look in the second Empty combbox, which turns out to be full of drawn comb but absolutely empty of life (photo to the left).  That means I need to feed fast to get the bees through the winter.

More troublesome was the presence of wax moth larvae under the quilt when I peeled back the final piece of burlap.  Wax moths are usually a sign of a hive in decline, since they mean the colony isn't strong enough to patrol their entire territory.  I hope that feeding the bees will be enough to let them bulk up and defeat the moths, but realize that there's a good chance the daughter hive might perish over the winter.

While I'm thrilled that my hives seem to be bypassing varroa mites without chemicals, I'm still not sold on Warre hives being the way to go --- I'd like to harvest some honey sooner rather than later.  Unfortunately, my past experience has been Langstroth hives with conventional bees that produced honey but perished without chemicals or Warre hives with chemical-free bees that don't produce honey but do survive in a natural setting.  Time to shake things up next year, maybe trying out chemical-free bees in a Langstroth hive on foundationless frames to see if those would give us a harvest in a natural setting.  I'd love to hear from other beekeepers who have figured the puzzle out, in case you want to save me a few more years of trial and error!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Does your area have any type of Beekeeper association? We have one here in Washington Co., TN: Maybe you can contact them for info.
Comment by Nayan Sat Sep 20 08:54:36 2014

Hi Anna,

Tales of your beekeeping are my favorite part of Walden Effect. My husband and I just uncorked a bottle of meade; our valediction to summer. After almost two years, it is pleasant. This bee season was again challenging in new and various ways. I'll send you an email with details.

Comment by Eva Sat Sep 20 18:05:38 2014

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