This page covers methods which are either not described in Emile Warré's
book Beekeeping for All or would benefit
from giving more detail, where necessary with photographs. This page is no substitute for reading, learning and inwardly digesting Beekeeping for All. Page numbers mentioned
below refer to pages in Beekeeping for All.
Technical drawings for constructing Emile
Warré's hive available here.
Warré hive construction help for
complete beginners at woodwork:
Warré's hive had no windows. They add complications to what is
supposed to be 'The People's Hive. But many who try Warré hives like to hve windows, at
least to begin with. And some commercial suppliers provide their Warré hives with
windows. This modification was introduced by Frèrès &
Guillaume. Katherine White provides an illustrated guide to how she makes her Warré hive windows.
Quilt function and filling
Warré recommends making the quilt box 5 mm smaller than the
hive body boxes in order to 'facilitate working'. If the hessian/burlap that is used to
retain the quilt filling is brought up round the sides of the quilt box and fixed there,
then most of that 5 mm is taken up yet still leaves the 10 mm clearance necessary to ease
putting on and taking off the roof. Larry Garrett (Mid-west USA) suggests that bringing
the hessian/burlap out at the sides of the quilt box performs an important ventilation
function, and comments: 'The weft and warp of the hessian sacking (burlap) weave provide a
capillary wick from any area of the cloth to each of the hives four exterior
As a filling for the quilt, Warré suggests chopped oat straw [chaff], sawdust, etc.
Frèrès & Guillaume (book)
suggest using straw or dry leaves. Some use wood shavings or electric planer shavings. A
beekeeper in Kentucky observed that eastern red cedar shavings rather than pine shavings
deterred ants. This is corroborated another beekeeper. A useful overview of the quilt and
ventilation of the Warré hive has been written by Alexander Templeton and is available in
message number 10786 of the Warré Yahoo e-Group.
Warré describes how to put comb guides on top-bars on pages
77-80. One method is depositing wax starter strips.
Another is by making the strips to fit on top-bars (video). Both are done with melted
wax. The wax can be delivered very conveniently from a squeeze bottle stood in a bain
marie when not in use. On page 79 Warré illustrates the alternative kinds of comb guides
known to top-bar beekeeping, i.e., the 'T'-bar and the 'V'-bar. Neither of these need
waxing. Because of the extra depth of wood, their use may incur some slight loss of brood
comb area. See, for example, the illustrations on Larry Garrett's page.
When it comes to separating boxes at harvest, it can help to have coated the planed upper
surfaces of the top-bars with two coats of raw linseed oil, which should not be allowed to
run down the sides or come in contact with the rough lower side of the bar.
The top-bar cloth
This rests on the top-bars under the quilt. A separate cloth
retains the quilt contents. Warré suggests using sacking (hessian/burlap, a rough cloth
of jute) and treating it with a flour paste to
prevent the bees from fraying it. This cloth can be obtained from pet shops or coffee
shops that still receive whole beans in sacks. Instead, a number of Warré beekeepers have
successfully used coarse cotton canvas (e.g. sailcloth) without applying any paste. This
has the slight disadvantage that there are no small holes in it that the bees can
propolise or unpropolise to control ventilation.
Fixing top-bars in boxes
Warré advises nailing the top bars at 36 mm centres. However, in states where
moveable comb is mandatory this could create difficulties. One partial solution is to use
20 x 1 mm Japanned pins of the kind used by UK beekeepers for fixing frames. Hammer them
in 15 mm deep and snip the head off before completing hammering in. The bars are then
removable with finger pressure or with the help of a hive tool.
A more elegant solution is to have pegs, pins or nails located in slots cut in the top-bar
Another method is to drill 3mm holes in the rebates and place bits of matchstick in them,
one either side of each bar locus. Matchsticks will hold the bars in place unless you
apply excessive force. When removing the combs, the matchsticks can be broken easily to
set the bars loose. If necessary redrill the holes when reusing the box. Advantages:
simple; does the job very well; all wood, no metal. A single matchstick could be used for
each bar end if a slot is sawn in the end of the bar. But, if there is no objection to
using metal, thin pins/brads could be used instead, to save drilling.
Yet another method is to make the bars a reasonably tight fit, then melt wax over the ends
of them. When pushed into place the wax is malleable enough to let them fit but firm
enough to keep them in place.
Finally there is the option to use castellated
spacers which are now available for the Warré hive, at least in the UK. These are
commonly used by 'Warré-istes' in France who follow the methods in Frèrès & Guillaume's book.
Preparing hessian/burlap top-bar cloths: http://www.dheaf.plus.com/warrebeekeeping/preparing_hessian.htm
Warré discusses legs for his hive on pages 46-48. Note that
they are for fixing to the floor and have feet that extend beyond the footprint of the
floor, thus increasing stability and preventing sinking into the ground. Some
manufacturers provide legs to their own designs that are totally inadequate for
stabilising the hive, especially on soft ground or in windy locations. Toppled hives have
resulted. If you live in regions that have extremely high winds it may be prudent to use
hive straps and a stand with posts sunk into the ground. Here is Larry Garrett's stand and
method of strapping: photo 1; photo 2.
Warré advised populating his hive with a swarm of 2 kg. or more (p.
70). However, many Warrés have been successfully populated with 2-pound commercial
packages. Suggested sources of bees:
1) Join your local beekeeping association and make it known that you are looking for a
swarm or artificial swarm. Advantages: you could get locally adapted bees and pay much
less than full commercial rates.
2) Tell your local department that deals with swarms, e.g. pest control department, that
you will take swarms. Beekeeping for All contains instructions for
taking swarms. Here is a page on taking swarms. Here is a short
video of one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePiYUIaOyuQ.
Bill Wood is the beekeeper.
3) Set up bait hives (swarm lures). 2-box Warrés can be set up as bait hives. A
light-weight bait hive can be made the size of a 2-box Warré hive so that the top-bars
can be transferred complete with swarm and any comb to a Warré hive (click
here). (Photos of swarm arriving at bait hive)
4) Buy commercial package bees (artificial swarm). Example: Larry Garrett's Russian package.
5) Transfer the bees and queen from a frame hive or nucleus or other type of hive by
driving (pages 83-86). Photos. Video.
6) Transfer 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.
Populating a Warré hive
Read pages 82ff. on populating and 96ff. on natural swarms in Beekeeping
Further tips of hiving swarms, package bees and transferring bees from existing combs of
either a feral colony or a frame hive are described here. To get
a vivid impression of how a swarm builds its nest in the top box of a Warré hive you may
like to view the following time-lapse video of colony development in a horizontal top-bar
Hives are best populated at the beginning of a main nectar flow
in spring. As this is not always possible, feeding is an option. Warré recommends using
two parts honey to one part water by weight. To avoid importing disease it is advisable to
use honey from one's own apiary or from a known disease-free apiary. If no honey is
available then syrup of refined (white) sugar in the same ratio is an option. Warré
describes two feeders (pages 60 and 62). These work well, but a simple feeder can be made
by placing a container on the hive floor in an empty bottom box, loosely filling with
straw as a scaffolding for the bees to climb down on and pouring in the syrup. Photos of feeders.
Whether to feed in autumn is a matter of personal choice as feeding could keep alive
strains that are not thrifty and provident. However, a summer season could have given such
poor foraging that no colony would have been able fully to provide for its winter needs.
If sugar syrup is fed there is a risk of some ending up in the next season's honey
harvest. If feeding has been left until it is too cold for syrup to be assimilated and
stored properly, an alternative way of feeding is to put fondant or candy on the top-bars of the top box. The weight of stores
in the hive is felt by hefting or, more accurately assessed if required, with some kind of
weighing device. For how much to feed see
If the bees run out of space there is a risk of swarming (page
89-90). Boxes can be added underneath well ahead of need, if necessary with checking how
far comb growth has progressed in the bottom box. If the boxes have windows, as in the Frèrès-Guillaume
modification, checking is easy. David Croteau's modification has in each box a closable hole through
which comb can be monitored. Without some method of viewing through the side, then the
safest way it to lift the hive off the floor as a unit and look underneath while keeping
it upright. With more than one box this usually requires a helper or a Gatineau lift. If neither are
available it is possible to lift a 2-box Warré as a unit and hold it over a mirror.
Monitoring the colony without opening the hive
After a glazed box has filled with comb, only a limited amount of information can be
obtained through its window (Frèrès-Guillaume modification). But much can be learnt from
observing entrance phenomena, if possible comparing it with other hives in the vicinity. A
helpful book on this is Heinrich Storch's At the Hive Entrance -- Observation Handbook: How to Know
what happens inside the hive by observation of the outside (Transl. by F. Cells from Am
Flugloch. European Apicultural Editions, Brussels, 1985). The cluster can be located
by listening with the ear pressed against the back of a box when ambient noise conditions
are sufficiently quiet. If while listening, the hive is knocked lightly (though not in
sub-zero winter conditions), a sudden light buzz/hiss that fades instantly usually means
the hive is queen right. If necessary, a listening tube with stethoscope ear pieces is
inserted in the entrance. The weight of stores in the hive is felt by hefting or, more
accurately assessed if required, with a weighing
device. See also Katherine and Ruth White's slide show Hive Diagnostics
Monitoring the colony with opening the hive
A Warré colony can be inspected in much the same way as is done
for skeps, i.e. by putting the box on its side and looking between combs, if necessary
with the use of a little smoke. This level of intrusion would only be done if there was a
real need to know, for instance, whether there is any brood. The box is tilted keeping the
combs in the vertical plane (see photo).
Non-intervention is the hallmark of Warré beekeeping. However,
there are rare occasions when combs may have to be removed for examination, for example by
a bee disease inspector. Warré hive combs are not as easy to remove as horizontal top-bar
hive combs because of the easier access and sloping sides in the latter. Where comb
removal is mandatory Delon
frames or Denis
semi-frames could be considered. Even with top-bars prepared with wax starter strips,
Warré combs are not always parallel. However, where they are parallel, they can be
carefully lifted out once cut free from the sides. Bill Wood's Warré comb knife is designed for this. The removed comb, having no
support but the top bar, could be extremely fragile and should be hung vertically from the
top bar throughout the examination. This operation is not without risk of comb failure and
should only be undertaken if absolutely necessary.
Taking natural swarms
Bee colonies reproduce naturally by issuing swarms. It is
prudent to have one or more bait hives
(swarm lures) set up in the locality to minimise loss of swarms and potential nuisance to
neighbours. However, most beekeepers sooner or later will find themselves taking a swarm
that is clustered somewhere out in the open. Our page entitled Taking
Swarms gives some examples of how to do it.
Making splits or artificial swarms
Beekeepers wanting to increase their number of hives without
having to wait for natural swarming, which can sometimes be a chancy way of 'making
increase', can split Warré hives simply by working with whole boxes. They can of course
be split as groups of combs, but this requires a degree of skill with top-bar comb removal
and manipulation, and assumes that the combs are all built parallel to one another. To
make splits from whole boxes, click here.
Harvesting boxes and clearing bees from them
Warré describes how to harvest honey on pages 109 to 112. The golden rule is
leave two boxes of drawn comb and enough stores for winter, which for his area of northern
France was 12 kg. Severer climates will require more. Deciding whether to harvest at all
can be done without opening the hive, as a fairly accurate assessment of hive stores can
be made by hefting or with a weighing device.
When separating the box to be harvested from the one below, if combs have bridges or
bracing points to the tops of the bars of the box below, a slight clockwise and
anti-clockwise twisting motion will free them. Adhesion at such points is minimized if the
tops of the bars are treated with linseed oil as described above.
If adhesion is severe, with caution a cheese or other wire (or nylon monofilament) can be
used as with the Warré-like
hive in Japan. The following guidance on the use of wire is offered by Andrew Janiak:
The thinner the wire better. It is like a knife; the purpose is to cut, so a thinner one
cuts quicker and easier. It should be sufficiently strong so that you cannot break
it when pulling with both hands using an average force. If you follow the right
technique, the force is not great. Even if it should break, there is no great
damage, just have a spare one at hand. The wire normally used for wiring Langstroth frames
is suitable. You need a hive tool and two wedges. The procedure is as follows:
a. If the combs are alligned cold way, i.e. at right angles to the front, start from the
front. First lift one corner of the box with a hive tool placed 25-50 mm from the corner,
so that you can get the wire under the corner. Do the same with the other corner.
b. Place a wedge at each corner behind the wire so that the wedges carry the weight of the
box. Now you have the wire under both corners and the corners resting on wedges.
c. Now gently and slowly pull the wire. Ideally have a helper on the other side, but you
can do it yourself, one side first, then the other, then the first side and so on. Always
cut along the combs, never across!
d. When you come reasonably close to the other side of the box -- beware. While cutting
along the comb, cutting bees is unlikely, they are not stupid, they can and will go out of
the way. The danger is to cut against the inner edge of the other end of the box - a
scissor/guillotine effect there! Move one wedge closer to the other end on one side
and exit the wire not parallel to the other edge (scissor/guillotine effect), but at 45
degrees towards one corner to give bees maximum chance to get out of the way. There is no
need to cut right to the back of the box. One can stop, say, 40-50 mm before the back
edge. This will prevent guillotining any bees and whatever is left uncut can be broken
with greatest ease if starting lifting from the front edge first.
e. Exit the wire via one corner only, you may shift the wedge to take the box weight off
this corner. Here again a thinner wire works easier. A little practice will help. The
method is most gentle on bees and most gentle on combs.
Clearing: Warré cleared the bees from his boxes
to be harvested by using smoke. Clearing can also be done with one of the several designs
of clearer-board either on or off the hive (see here). Clearing
will not work if the queen or brood is in the box(es) to be cleared.
See page 115. Photos of
extracting by crushing or cutting and draining. More honey can be recovered with a
suitable press which may be a honey press, a fruit press a sausage stuffer (a closed
press) or an improvised press. For illustrations and descriptions of the various presses,
please see the page on pressing.The resulting wax cake can be
broken up and washed free of honey in water before allowing the wax to dry and rendering
it in a solar extractor.
Warré developed his hive long before the Varroa mite reached
France, so Beekeeping for All obviously offers no explicit Varroa control. His
'pioneering method' of artificial swarming (page 84) greatly reduces the Varroa population
and could be supplemented with a Varroa treatment while the swarm is still broodless. But
any treatment of a colony against Varroa merely hinders the long-term co-adaptation of bee
and mite. However, not treating could result in colony loss through Varroaosis and the
virus diseases which the mite spreads. For a beekeeper with one or two colonies this loss
could be intolerable. To treat or not to treat is thus a matter of personal choice. At the
time of writing this, most Warré beekeepers are not treating.
If treatment is given two of the more organic kinds used by Warré beekeepers in France
are thymol (e.g. ApiLifeVar) or flash formic acid. There is an extensive literature on
Varroa treatment on the Internet. A useful all round book on Varroa and treatment,
available in PDF, is Control
of Varroa -- A Guide for New Zealand Beekeepers by Goodwin & Eaton (MAF, NZ,
Diseases and pests
Penn State University A
Field Guide to Honeybees and Their Maladies . See also the UK National Bee Unit
website for documents on recognising diseases and pests.
Warré entrance piece or mouse
guard (page 54).
Adding accented characters to documents on
Last edited March 2011. This page will be added to as useful new
material becomes available. Suggestions for improvements are welcome.