Top bars are cool, that's appropriate technology worldwide. I wouldn't make a warre hive without a table saw and a nail gun, that's appropriate to me and most people doing it as a living. So a warre hive has limitations as a technology in your permie tool belt, but for the amount of positive interactions the philosophy brings I'd still do it the hard way.
I hope you do choose to read it for yourself.
no frames. for frames to serve the purpose of easy harvest and removal, there must be a space between the outside of the frame and the wall of the hive. that involves creating a dead space that is useless to the bees. if we accept that bees must expend resources to maintain the atmosphere of their hive, then it follows that dead space leads to expenditure of resources without a corresponding gain for the bees. that space at the edge of the hive also provides a hidey-hole for organisms detrimental to the heath of the colony. these include pests such as wax moths and microorganisms such as mold.
further, to prevent the bees from fixing the frames to the hive walls and other frames by use of bridging comb, the hive must be opened regularly to remove that comb. opening a hive dramatically disturbs the atmosphere of the hive, and it can take from two to four days for that atmosphere to return to homeostasis. in the mean time, the pheromones used by the bees for communication inside the hive have been confused by the disturbance. alarm pheromones are secreted, which act in a similar fashion to the human sympathetic nervous system, which is to say that they are alert for danger and generally stressed out (metaphorically speaking). such alarm pheromones are also attractive to small hive beetles, and possibly other honey bee pests.
the purpose of frames being to ease manipulation of combs, such manipulation is made more likely by the use of frames. such manipulation includes checkerboarding, destruction of drone brood, swarm suppression by destroying queen cells, et cetera. these interventions interrupt and disturb the bees' expected life cycle, weakening the colony and making it more dependent on further intervention in a positive feedback loop.
nadir instead of super. supering is the practice of adding empty hive bodies to the top of a hive. as far as I can tell, supering is the primary practice that leads to larger honey harvests from Langstroth hives compared to less intervention-oriented hives. when a colony moves into a cavity, they generally begin building comb from the top down and fill that comb first with brood, and later with honey and pollen as the brood nest is expanded downward. for there to be empty space, or empty comb, at the top of a nest cavity is not a situation that honey bees are likely to encounter in a wild or feral hive, and they respond to it with panic. that panic takes the form of a desperate race to fill an empty space or empty comb above with honey. production is increased, but not without consequences for the health of the colony.
in regions with very intense nectar flows, I believe that supering is appropriate to prevent honey-binding. otherwise, I believe that it has a lot in common with the use of hormones to increase milk production in dairy animals.
and a couple of reasons I prefer The People's Hive to horizontal top bar hives:
my objections to horizontal top bar hives have largely to do with personal preference and regional conditions rather than the philosophical disapproval I have for most frame hives. for the folks who have success with horizontal top bar hives and enjoy using them, I'm all for their continued use.
ease of use. horizontal top bar hives (hTBHs) frequently require a fair amount of manipulation for them to thrive. one example is the prevention of honey-binding. when flows are strong, honey combs must be harvested frequently to make room for more nectar. otherwise, nectar will displace brood and the colony's population will plummet.
another manipulation that is frequently required is ensuring that the winter cluster begins the winter at one end of the hive or the other. if the cluster begins the winter in the middle of the hive and moves to one end as stores are consumed, they will starve even though there may be plenty of honey at the other end.
it should be noted that hive manipulations in hTBHs are much less disturbing to the colony than in frame hives because the top bars largely prevent disruption of the hive atmosphere, even when the roof is off the hive. disruption is limited to the combs that are moved, while the rest of the atmosphere largely remains intact. so my objection to these interventions is because I don't want to have to fuss with the hive, not because they are particularly detrimental to the bees.
climate. it seems to me that most of the success stories I hear about hTBHs are from regions with milder and drier winters than where I live and keep bees. my own experiences with hTBHs have always ended with the failure of the colony. others relatively nearby have had success with this style, so my experience could be a fluke, or I could have been doing something wrong. the winter cluster issue I mentioned above wouldn't be a problem in warmer regions because less honey is required by the colony to overwinter. it's more important here, because winters are sometimes short and mild, and sometimes long and less mild. springs are also sometimes wet enough that bees are unable to forage extensively until May or June, so stores are very important.
modular design. Warré hives are easy to expand and contract with the size of the colony, while the size of hTBHs is pretty much fixed. a follower board may be used to reduce the size of the hive, but not to expand it. if a colony is really thriving, I can add more boxes to the bottom of the hive to accommodate them. when the population declines over the winter, boxes can be removed to reduce the volume the colony has to heat in cold weather.
ease of harvest. I harvest whole boxes at once instead of individual combs. after a box is removed, I can leave it until I have time to press the comb. I don't have to process any combs immediately, and I don't have to build a storage device to keep the combs upright or intact. I just have to protect them from robbing and wax moths.
cross comb. because I harvest whole boxes, cross comb and burr comb aren't a problem. if the bees want to build their combs in spirals, I have no objections. when it comes time to harvest, I will be removing the combs and pressing them. the combs will be destroyed anyway, and I won't be removing them individually, so their shape is immaterial. in a hTBH, a comb that isn't straight can cause the beekeeper some serious headaches, and may well cause problems for the colony if combs need to be moved. I recently helped a friend do a postmortem on a hTBH, and the combs were badly crossed. the shapes were beautiful, but it would have been impossible to harvest or move a comb without seriously compromising the integrity of the hive.
I've gone on too long. for me, those are the main ideas. I do have further objections to many standard frame hive practices, but those are practices and aren't inherent in the design, so I won't subject you all to them just now.
in the end, your choice of hives will be informed by your own values. if somebody tells you the hive or hives you choose are bad, it might be time to change the subject or find somebody else to talk to.
and David Heaf's book, The Bee-friendly Beekeeper: A sustainable approach, is good. David's writing is accessible, and I really like his attention to the energy and other resources involved in beekeeping choices.
I keep bees in Langstroth, Top Bar and Warre hives. When I give presentations and talk about the different styles and methods, I do have people ask similar questions as you. I don't try to convert or convince anyone to any style of hive. I will ask what they as keepers expect from their bees, what kind of relationship do they want with their bees. Depending on what they want from or for their bees I will recommend one style or another. I have actually told potential keepers based on their desires that the Warre is not the hive you want. It is not impossible to do nearly the same thing in any of the 3 styles of hives, but is incredibly difficult sometimes attempting to do things they were not designed to do. An example would be running a migratory pollination business with Top Bar Hives. So that being said, 3 very basic responses from potential keepers that lead me to recommend a particular style are;
“I want the maximum amount of the production of all bee products, honey, pollen, propolis, wax, etc.”
Get a Langstroth and follow the directions.
“I would like a hive where the bees live as closely to the way they do in nature and require minimum management from me.”
Get a Warre hive, but understand one thing- “Keeping bees is not easy, it’s just easier in a Warre”
“I like to “fuss” with the bees, but without major intrusion and manipulation into the hive.”
Also without a lot of heavy lifting.
The Top Bar is the hive for you.
Nicholas, study the different styles and the only person that can convince you of the “right” way for you- is you.
Keep on keeping bees
Normally an average Warre is about 1/3 the size of an average Langstroth. So the basic purpose of a Warre isn't production, that's what a Langstroth is designed for. I would say normally it is a 3 to 1 ratio- it would take 3 Warres to equal 1 Lang. Much like the Top Bar hive the focus of the Warre is the health of the colony with some honey production. That being said, the largest harvest I have ever witnessed from a Warre was about 60 pounds of honey, about a 5 gallon pail. I am usually comfortable harvesting about 12 pounds, about a gallon from a good strong Warre colony.
There are exceptions to nearly everything in beekeeping, so I talk in “usuallys” or “normallys”. It is possible for a good strong Warre hive to out produce a weak Langstroth.
Have any of you successfully taken bees from a langstroth hive and moved them into Warre (or even top bar hives) without any problems?
Noel Baker wrote:Have any of you successfully taken bees from a langstroth hive and moved them into Warre (or even top bar hives) without any problems?
not likely to go off without a hitch unless you get some coöperation from your bee suppliers. your dad or instructor could do a shook swarm into your Warré. that's not an entirely benign intervention, but likely to be much less stressful for you. whether or not the bees like it should be pretty clear when it's done (hint: they won't), but they'll be in better shape after a few brood cycles. ask your dad and/or instructor if they will prepare a nuc with your Warré boxes. if you provide the box, they might be more amenable to the idea. that would probably be your best bet if they agree.
your other obvious option is the dreaded chop and crop. plenty of folks have made it work, but it's not for the faint of heart. if the source hive doesn't have plastic foundation, it should be fairly straightforward, but there isn't really any getting around cutting up some brood. practically, it's a pretty simple process, but it can be intense in the moment, particularly the first time.
fewer folks have had success growing Lang colonies downward into Warré boxes. they just don't seem to like moving down into a smaller space. from what I've heard, it's slightly more likely to work using a nuc box than a full Lang hive body.
if you're feeling adventurous and patient, you could build a Perone hive and hang Lang frames from the top bars. folks have even put whole Lang bodies inside Perone brood chambers, though I can't imagine that's a great idea. that hive is unproven in your climate, but it could end up being extremely productive for you.
My question is, am I ok sticking with this nonstandard Warréesque hive, or should I switch to standard boxes as I nadir new ones over the coming years?
I live in Dallas, TX where we might have a couple days of snow/ice every two or three years. Most winters bees are active even in January, and nerve daisies and Blackfoot daisies bloom right through the winter unless there's an ice storm. In a colder climate I might worry about the bees having to warm the extra volume, but not here. Also, the queen in this new colony is descended from a wild queen captured with her swarm locally well over a decade ago, so well adapted to local conditions. Are there any another reasons for me to be concerned about my goofy Warré?
Also, I'm new to this forum, but y'all seem like really nice people. Thanks for any suggestions or advice.
tel jetson wrote:your other obvious option is the dreaded chop and crop. plenty of folks have made it work, but it's not for the faint of heart.
I'm in the process of trying out a modification to the chop and crop method. After taking up beekeeping in May and purchasing a nuc and installing it in a Langstroth, I also harvested a feral hive hanging under a friend's porch and installed it into two Warre boxes. I only then discovered that one of the region's largest queen producers is two miles from my home and, after striking up a conversation with him, convinced him to create a nuc from his bees for me, something he normally does not do.
The nuc was ready in July. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have attempted a new hive so late in the season. Had I intended it merely install it in a Langstroth and feed feed feed, it might not have been a problem. I wanted them in a Warre, however, so I used a Nuc-to-Warre transition box and put an empty Warre underneath.
By November 1st, the hive had built up seven substantial combs underneath in the Warre box but the brood remained in the nuc. I didn't want the hive to winter with the nuc on top (missing out on the advantages of the Warre quilt and roof system) so I opened the nuc, found the queen, put her into the Warre comb, placed a queen excluder on top, then put the Nuc box back on top. On November 30th (I'm in central Florida so the mid days were still quite sunny and warm) I removed the nuc, now full of nothing but honey and pollen, and took it inside my home (to avoid the bees that would be attracted to the smell of spilled honey) to do the chop and crop at a leisurely pace over an hour or so on my kitchen table. This way I was able to fashion all five of the honey-laden Langstroth frames into something that resembled eight Warre top bars and put them in a new Warre box back on the brood.
Had this been any other place but central Florida, I would have not risked so much intrusion and change so late in the season. As it is, I may have yet done too much. Time will tell. In these last two weeks, all seems normal with this hive on the outside.
If I ever wanted to try this again, I would;
-buy the nuc as early as possible
-install it in an eight frame Langstroth
-build an eight frame Langstroth to Warre transition box
-once the eight frame Langstroth was full, put it in the transition box
-then build a Warre-type quilt and roof for the eight frame Lang and let them take all the time in the world to transition, removing and harvesting the Langstroth as honey eighteen months later.
As I'm very new to beekeeping, I'd appreciate any thoughts about all this.
Also, in reference to the original question above, I think Ernie Schmidt's summary says it best.
harvest what you deem appropriate at the end of the season, and start all over again in the spring. if, when it's time to add boxes again in the spring, there's enough honey left to make lifting the whole works an issue, you've got a couple of choices. you could harvest some of that honey to lighten things up, or you could break the hive down into pieces that you can manage. having extra boxes around to rest the parts on makes that option a bit easier, as does having someone to help.
a third option is to build or buy a lift. the protruding handles of this hive makes using a lift more practical than most other designs. it's also probably the gentlest way to do your hive manipulations. not at all necessary, but handy all the same, particularly if you've got quite a few hives.
In consideration of my very cold winters, does it make sense to build the boxes out of 1.5" lumber instead of 3/4". If I fudge the dimensions a little bit to take advantage of standard lumber dimensions, do you think it would be better to use 2X8, or 2X10?
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:So I've been looking at photos of warré hives. Some of those stands seem pretty wobbly. Do they have a tendency to be top-heavy and to tip over? Are those standard type legs really sufficient? Or should the feet have a wider base?
if you build a stand, you'll want to make sure the foot print is wider in all directions than the hive. I've seen plenty of very stable hive stands, and plenty of really terrible stands. another option is to firmly anchor a stand to the ground, and then firmly anchor the hive to the stand. ratchet straps work well in a pinch, but there are plenty of other options that look nicer and are probably a better use of resources.
the only hive I've ever had tip over was one that was temporarily setting on a deck chair on rather soft dirt. gusts to 60 mph a couple of weeks ago tipped it over. it was three boxes tall, and remained intact due only to propolis.
Joseph wrote:In consideration of my very cold winters, does it make sense to build the boxes out of 1.5" lumber instead of 3/4". If I fudge the dimensions a little bit to take advantage of standard lumber dimensions, do you think it would be better to use 2X8, or 2X10?
I've built hives using a fairly wide variety of thicknesses. 1.5" lumber certainly insulates better, though it's still a far cry from a typical tree cavity. thicker boxes are also much sturdier and should have a rather longer service life. if fairly light-weight wood is used, the boxes are still manageable, but consider that you'll be more than doubling the weight of an empty box by doubling the thickness of the lumber. with helpers or a lift (or if you're a brute), that is unlikely to be a problem. otherwise, it's certainly worth thinking about the extra weight compared to the advantages that extra material will provide you and the bees.
you could certainly fudge the internal dimensions to fit standard lumber sizes, but I would be cautious. I've been led to believe (though I've never observed it myself), that brood nests are typically spherical and don't extend past interruptions. what that means in this instance is that the size of the brood nest (and therefore the population of the colony) is restricted by the smallest dimension of a hive body, which will typically be the height. some folks (and most traditional beekeepers in Japan) have gotten around this by forgoing top bars in some or all of the boxes. then the smallest dimension would be the width and depth. that certainly introduces other issues, but it is an option.