I want to adopt a low-maintenance bee hive management style, primarily for the health of the bees, rather than laziness. My sense from reading about Warre Hives, is that you can pretty much get away with just removing honey once a year, in Spring, and making sure the bees have enough room to keep building via adding boxes to the top and bottom.
I do not want to use chemical treatments for varroa and other pests, nor do I want to feed sugar to the bees. Reading an excerpt from your book led me to believe that swarming was also beneficial to hive health.
To what extent do you find it necessary to actively "manage" your hives, versus leaving them alone to fend for themselves?
Oh boy, Emily, that's a loaded question. I am very hands-off with my hives and prefer to support them doing what they want to do (lyes, I do let them swarm, I believe it makes them healthier). My guiding question is something like, "Are the bees okay with what I'm about to do? Does what I'm doing jibe with what they're doing?" In other words, am I making life harder for them in any way?
As an example of that last question, when you open a hive box, they have to go seal up the edges again (with propolis), so I try not to break that hive seal very often. If it's a warmish day, it will probably seal back up pretty easily, but if it's a cool/cold day, the bees will have to come out and fix what I did, making more work for them and taking them away from their own tasks.
For that reason I'm not a fan of the idea that beekeepers ought to be in and out of the hive every week or so. I go in when I have a reason. Like this coming week I have two hives that I have questions about and I'll take some action when the weather is right. One is a top bar and I have a feeling they are running low on food so I will prep a dish of honeycomb and have a quick peek on a very WARM day to see what they've got left. If they're low, I'll put the dish at the back of the hive's comb, far from the front door, and let them clean it out.
The other hive (a warre) I think may have some moisture that blew in, or they had some recent robbing. Not sure what but the activity at the front door is less than the other hives on either side of them. I don't think they are out of food but something's off. On the next warm day I'm going to have a look and be ready to either remove or replace a box if it's empty and give them one with comb, or if they've got moisture issues (which I doubt since thye've been well covered all winter), I might take out whichever combs are damaged and give them fresh comb (which I saw for just this purpose).
So in general, I'm plenty hands off. In specifics, I do pay attention and will "disturb" a hive if I think I have a good reason to go in there -- and also that I have a good solution. Both of those.