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Beekeeping for All:

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Warré Beekeeping
Populating a Warré hive

Recommended reading: pages 82ff. on populating and 96ff. on natural swarms in Beekeeping for All.

Please note that all hiving methods work best if there is or is about to be a good nectar flow.

I. With natural swarms

1. A natural swarm can be shaken or brushed directly into a 2-box Warré hive with the upper box inverted to act as a funnel. It is then set the right way up, the top-bar cloth applied followed by the quilt and roof.

2. Alternatively, if the swarm has been taken in another container, such as a cardboard box, all the bees can be tipped/shaken onto a sheet on which is already placed two battens or sticks about ten inches (250 mm) apart and a Warré box with a light-proof cover (e.g. top-bar cloth and quilt) immediately placed on the sticks. The bees will climb up into the darkness of the box. Any bees that took to the air in this operation will settle, attracted by the fanning and scenting of their swarm mates from their Nasonov gland at the tip of the abdomen.

3. Swarms and package bees (artificial swarms) can be run up a board into the hive that is already fully set up. The disadvantage of this is that it can sometimes take half an hour or so for the bees to run in. There might even be a slightly increased risk of the colony immediately absconding.

hiving_package_croteau.jpg (34410 bytes) Hiving a package by running in up a board.

(More photos of running a swarm into a Warré)

II. With package bees

hiving_package_bees.jpg (33368 bytes) A typical packaged artificial swarm

Traditional bee packages (e.g. from the USA or Australia) comprise a ventilated box containing an artificial swarm, a queen in a cage and a can of syrup to feed the colony in transit, The cage and can are suspended from the package roof. The queen, almost always not from the same colony as the artificial swarm, is kept separate until her odours have mingled with the bees. Otherwise they could kill her. The difference in hiving a natural swarm compared with a package mainly centres on what is done with the queen in her cage.

Packages supplied from New Zealand may be in tubes, but the principles are the same.

hiving_tube_package_issue_edmonton_beekeepers.jpg (29257 bytes) Issue of tube packages at Edmonton Beekeepers' Co-operative, Canada

Warré recommends using a 2 kg swarm to populate The People's Hive. However, many in the USA have successfully achieved this with packages as light as 2 pounds (about 0.9 kg) of bees.


1. Direct release of the queen: a commercial package (artificial swarm) can be hived by direct release of the queen, if she has been with the bees for at least two days.

Tools for hiving: a small spray bottle with thin syrup, and a 3" nail.

Spray the bees gently with thin tepid syrup every half hour for a few hours before they are hived. Do not soak them. If
you just tilt the cage a bit and just try to coat the screen/mesh, that is enough. Just allow them to take in the syrup and clean each other off. You'll see thousands of little tongues licking the screen clean.

Don't feed too much or too often until a few hours before hiving. Feeding too much too soon can result in a lot of wax build-up around the feed can, making it more difficult to remove.

Before hiving them They should be kept in a room with dim light or dark at about normal room temperature or a little below , especially if the outside temp when you hive them is below 55F. This helps raise the bees' core temperature ready for the cold conditions in which they may be being hived. When you hive them, they will be active enough to cluster up high, even if the outside temp is very cold.

When you hive a package in very warm weather, keep the package in a cool dark room for a few hours to calm them. No spraying is needed until just before hiving them. 

Whether hiving in warm or cold weather, light spraying is recommended. This is not to mask the scent of bees or queen from different colonies. This is simply to divert their attention from the trauma that is happening to something more to their liking.


1a. Hiving when Warré top-bars are not fixed/nailed: put two empty Warré boxes (i.e. with no top-bars) on the bottom board (floor).  Jolt the package to knock the bees to the bottom of the cage. Use the nail to pry up the rim of the feeder can so as to be able to get a hold on it to remove it. After the can is removed, spray the bees lightly with syrup. Remove the queen cage and carefully pry out the cork. Put your thumb over the hole. (There is seldom if ever a candy plug. One usually only finds candy plugs in so-called 3-hole queen cages in which queens are shipped individually with some worker attendants.)

Place the queen cage, screen up, on the floor of the hive. After taking the thumb off the hole, immediately dump the bees from the package on top of her. Use a quick rocking motion to get 99% of the bees in. Then tap the package box in such a way as to 'roll' the remaining bees into a ball in one corner. This ball can be easily rolled out of the hole and into the hive. Spray the bees again, then put the top bars of the top box in place, and close up the hive.

Closing up the hive could include putting a top feeder and lid in place, especially if weather conditions or lack of available forage call for it. If hiving in cold weather, the source of feed must be within reach of the cluster hanging from the top bars, or you could have starved bees in a few days. A floor feeder in these conditions is not acceptable.

The next day or so, gently lift the top box with its cover onto a stand. Install the top bars in the lower box. The cover (top-bar cloth, quilt and roof) never need come off the hive again until harvest, unless it is discovered in the ensuing week or so that the queen was not accepted.


1b. Hiving when Warré top-bars are fixed/nailed: the procedure is slightly different. You still dump the bees into two empty boxes (i.e. with no top-bars), but once in, you simply set a third box on top with top-bars fitted. Then when you go back in a day or so, you replace the bottom two empty boxes with one box with top-bars. The extra distance the bees would have to crawl up to cluster would in no way be a problem if they are warm to begin with.

hiving_tube_package_jm_2009.jpg (47705 bytes) Populating a Warré with a tube package from New Zealand, Spring 2009


2. Letting the bees release the queen

2a.  Matt Reed's method

This requires three boxes for the hiving, the top one of which initially has the top-bars removed. The queen cage is placed on the top-bars of the middle box after piercing the candy plug with a small nail to encourage the bees to enlarge the hole. The bees are shaken into the hive, the top box acting as a funnel. The package is placed in contact with the entrance so residual bees in it can crawl 'home'. The top-bars are fitted to the top box and correctly spaced. A top-bar cloth is added, with a feed flap if required. If a feed is given straight away, a fourth box is added to house the feeder. The quilt and roof are fitted. After a couple of days a check is made that the queen is released and if not she is released manually.


2b. Larry Garrett's method

Place on the hive floor (bottom board) a couple of small sticks about a bee space thick then put one box without top-bars on the floor. Remove the feed can and queen cage from the package and pour most of the bees into the hive box. Place the package with its remaining bees on end on the sticks, taking care not to crush bees. Place two boxes with top-bars on the bottom box. Remove the plug over the candy/fondant in the exit hole of the queen cage (or, if there is no candy, substitute a soft candy or fondant plug for the cage plug taking care that the queen does not escape) and attach it to the bars of the top box so that the mesh is not covered. Close up the hive. On the following day, when the cluster has formed round the queen in the top box, remove the bottom box, package and sticks. If pollen is not coming in after a couple of days, it is as well to check that the bees have released the queen.


III. With bees already on combs


a. Driving bees: transfer the bees and queen from a frame hive or nucleus ('nuc') or other type of hive by drumming with sticks (pages 83-86, Beekeeping for All). Photos. Video.


b. 'Chop and crop': (contributed by Kai Serschmarn)

Editorial tip: The reader is invited to read all of this contribution before even thinking of attempting this method.

These days a nucleus is often easier to obtain than a swarm. However, Warré beekeepers then have a struggle adapting the framed combs to the Warré hive. Apart from adapters, which do not seem to work well, the only way is to chop the frame and crop the comb to a suitable size. This is the 'chop and crop' method.

Be prepared! Chop and crop is a severe intervention, but if it's well planned and the equipment is ready it is less intrusive than would seem at first sight. Before starting, go through all the steps in your mind and set out all the tools you will need!

1) Puff some smoke into the nuc. Search for the queen and put her inside a cage. (A clip type combined catcher and cage is particularly convenient.)  
2) Move the nuc aside, and replace it with a Warré hive (floor with entrance reducer, 1 Warré box, top-bar cloth and quilt). The advantage is that the field/foraging bees can immediately find the new hive and will not fly around all the time.
3) Work on the nuc some metres away from the Warré hive, which is now collecting the field bees. Take the frames from the nuc, one at a time, spray both sides with a little water and shake the bees off into a swarm box. If there is a lot of uncapped brood, be careful when shaking the bees off the combs as the larvae could fall off. If necessary, brush the bees off the combs. Store every bee-free comb in a box some metres away from the swarm box. Close the swarm box, open its vents and put it in the shade near the Warré hive.
4) Take the box with the frames and go to a previously prepared place to chop and crop. Work on a surface which you can replace or easily clean afterwards! It is helpful to have a jig to show you where to chop the frame. (Such a jig must of course be constructed in advance.) Now saw through the frame and then cut the comb between the wires with a knife, cutting upwards to the topbar. Finally use scissors to cut the wires. Put the cut comb in another Warré box and cover it to keep it warm.

hiving_chopncrop_1.jpg (61038 bytes) hiving_chopncrop_2.jpg (59553 bytes)

5) If you wish, you may recycle the fragments of leftover comb. Prepare in advance a special frame to support the comb fragments. If possible, pay attention that the comb cells are not orientated sideways.

hiving_chopncrop_3.jpg (87750 bytes)

6) Put the Warré box filled with combs on top of the first box on the original site of the nuc. Remove two or three top bars at a edge of the box to facilitate pouring the bees from the swarm box back into the hive. Replace the topbars. Release the caged queen into the hive and cover the hive as normal. If necessary add a feeder.
7) Important: Clean the surface where the comb was cut.

If possible, ask another beekeeper to help you. It's definetly easier if someone holds the frame while sawing! Good luck!

Editorial tips:

1. instead of a saw, some beekeepers use tree loppers to cut the frame's top-bar. If the top-bars of the nuc frames are thicker than 10 mm, to make up the difference add thin strips of wood round the top rim of the Warré box.

2. This method of transfer is arguably the most stressful for the bees and the beekeeper, especially the novice, and may prove easier and quicker with a helper who knows in advance what the plan is.


c. Cutting out combs: Transfer the combs and bees of a frame hive colony, or a feral/wild colony in a building or other site where its presence is not wanted (see here).


d. Shook swarm: Shook swarm a frame hive colony directly into a Warré using a funnel, then destroy the frame hive's brood. Warré calls this his 'pioneering method' (page 94, Beekeeping for All). It is also a Varroa control measure.


e. 'Growing' another type of hive down into a Warré

i. Colony Transfer from Skep, or Box Hive to Warré Hive (contributed by John Haverson)

This procedure is adapted from a method described in The Practical Bee Guide by J. G. Digges (1947 edition). It describes the transfer of bees from a skep to a Warré hive; stocks of bees in different hive boxes may be transferred in the same way. This method is less stressful for the bees and beekeeper and less risky than cutting out combs (method IIIb above) from a skep and fixing them into frames, or tying them to top-bars.

1. Stimulate the stock, with syrup, with the object of having the skep crowded with bees in April or early May (in southern UK that would be close to swarming and in the middle of the spring flow).

2. Prepare the Warré hive-box to receive a swarm; scorch the inside and melt wax on the walls; apply propolis and lemon balm. Fit the hive box with top-bars with combs, substantial starter strips or 4 or 5 frames of wired foundation. Over the bars place a stiffened cloth of hessian, with a 6 inch diameter (150mm) hole cut in the centre. Sit the box on a hive floor. After the transfer is complete a 6" patch, quilt and roof will be needed.

3. Position the Warré hive-box on the site of the skep and set the skep on the top-cloth over the bars. Put a box around the skep (to weather proof) and pack warmly so that bees can only exit through the new hive entrance. An adapter board may be needed between the skep and the Warré box. Put a roof over the assembly.

4. The bees will leave the skep through the Warré box and pass up and down the combs or foundation. As they increase in number, they will occupy combs and build new comb. After 10 days good weather, lift the hive assembly and examine the combs in the Warré box. When brood is found in two combs, make sure the queen is in the Warré box and place a queen excluder on the frames returning the cloth, skep and wraps. If the queen is not found below, drive all the bees from the skep and hive them at the entrance.

5. The brood in the skep will hatch. Every week raise the skep, for a few moments, to allow drones to escape; check the queen excluder has not become choked with drones and clear it as necessary. After 21 days all the worker brood will have hatched. The skep may be left in place to be filled with honey, or it may be removed and the bees driven from it into the Warré entrance. If the skep is removed, give the colony extra space with a nadir and feed the bees the honey from the skep.

Photos below: A -- two skeps growing down into Warré boxes with windows;
b -- closeup with window shutter removed (Photos: Heidi Herrmann)

hiving_skeps_growing_down_into_warres.jpg (240299 bytes)


ii. Colony Transfer from a nucleus

Make a nucleus transfer box to fit the nucleus frames supplied and your Warré boxes. The width of the box depends on the number of frames in the nucleus. Here is an example of a Langstroth to Warré transfer box (Photo: Larry Garrett).

transfer_box_garrett.jpg (79735 bytes)

'Growing' a nucleus down can be done in the way described above for a skep (Section IIIei above).

The following link is to Bill Anderson's video example of installing a 5-frame National nuc on a Warré in the UK:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAzL_VPGgNs .

Here we describe a quicker process that allows the nucleus box to be removed in three weeks. It is safest to do it in warm weather. It is done quite quickly to avoid chilling brood.

Shook swarm the nucleus colony into the prepared Warré hive (two boxes with top-bars) using a funnel sitting on a Warré box with no top-bars. The funnel can be made of cardboard covered with plastic to make it slippy. (Here is an example of one made of aluminium: http://www.dheaf.plus.com/warrebeekeeping/warre_funnel.htm .) As the framed combs are cleared of bees they are set aside in the transfer box. When all combs are cleared, bees are brushed/shaken off the funnel into the hive. The box without top-bars is also brushed free of bees and then removed.

It helps to take off the bottom bars of the frames so the bees can extend the combs downwards and thus closer to your Warré top-bars. This can reduce the delay in the bees building comb down in the Warré.

Put a queen excluder on the top of the Warré hive and put the transfer box of combs on this. The queen excluder may need to be cut to fit the Warré or the transfer box designed so that a standard queen excluder can fit between it and the Warré. Close up and protect the hive from rain. The nurse bees will come up and repopulate the brood. In three weeks the transfer box can be removed and the honey harvested or fed to the bees, for example in a Warré large feeder.

A big nucleus, say six frames or more, could simply be shook swarmed into the Warré and the brood destroyed. This has the advantage of leaving behind most of the Varroa mites and any brood disease that may be present. This is similar to what Warré calls the 'pioneering method' of transferring bees (Page 94 Beekeeping for All). 

An variant of the 'grow down' method is described by Shawn Caza (Ontario). A Warré-size frame is added to the nuc box. Once this frame has comb built in it, it is moved down into the top Warré box to bait or seed the Warré. The process is illustrated at: http://www.beekeeping.isgood.ca/equipment/making-a-nuc-box-to-transition-from-a-langstroth-to-a-warre-hive/ .

Below: Shawn Caza's Langstroth to Warré transition frame with the Warré frame full of brood ready to insert in a Warré hive.

hiving_caza_warre_in_lang_frame.jpg (132872 bytes)