Preface and Contents of

Natural Beekeeping with the Warré Hive -- A Manual

nbwtwh_cover.jpg (78495 bytes)This book is for people who need no convincing that natural beekeeping is for them, and would like to try it out with the Warré hive, either as a first hive or after having used another. It contains all you need for getting started in beekeeping with the Warré hive and covers managing it in later seasons once your bees are established. The book contains very little on the philosophy, ethics and science behind natural beekeeping. I cover those aspects in detail in my book The Bee-friendly Beekeeper .1 Furthermore, I assume that the reader will familiarise themselves with basic bee biology and behaviour by reading the excellent and colourfully illustrated books on the subject, a suggested list for which I provide in §1.6. The story of how and why the Warré hive, called by the inventor, 'The People's Hive', came into existence is told in detail in Abbé Émile Warré's Beekeeping for All,2 the last original French edition of which was published in 1948. Whilst the present book is essentially a complete guide including much practical detail that is in neither of the aforementioned books, I thoroughly recommend Warré beekeepers to read Warré's original book, which was ahead of its time in approaches to sustainable, natural beekeeping.
Since the translation of Warré's book into English in 2007 the People's Hive has spread to nearly every continent, and the hive is now used in rural and urban settings from the tropics to the taïga. I therefore try to accommodate in this book the increased diversity of surroundings in which the hive is used, drawing on reports from Warré beekeepers worldwide. There are a few procedures described which I have not needed to use myself, but which I feel should be included for the sake of completeness.

It is worth keeping in mind that honey bees are amazingly adaptable, settling in cavities of all sorts of shapes and sizes, and sometimes in the open. I myself have relocated nuisance colonies from cavities ranging from water company valve chambers in the ground, to chimney pots on three-storey buildings. This means that bees are not very choosy about the type of hive available as long as it has sufficient volume to form a viable brood nest. Among the more natural types of hive, we can list: skeps, logs, horizontal (Kenyan/Tanzanian) top-bar hives, the sun hive (a two-piece skep with rounded frames), and vertical top-bar hives of which the Warré hive is one. Its relative naturalness derives mainly from the fact that the combs are foundationless and, unlike those in frames, are fixed to the roof and walls of the hive, as happens in honey bee nests in natural cavities. Also, the nest is allowed to grow downwards, as happens in a hollow tree trunk. Much of the rest of the naturalness of the Warré hive is derived from the way it is managed. Therefore, it must be conceded that even a Langstrothian type of hive could be managed relatively naturally, for example by using foundationless, i.e. near-natural comb.3 However, were a natural beekeeper to require the use of frames, for example to comply with state regulations, Warré developed a frame version of his hive which I briefly touch on in this book. Other more natural frame hives include the golden hive (Einraumbeute, one-box hive), a trough hive with very deep frames that avoid horizontal interruptions in the brood nest, or the somewhat more challenging sun hive (Weißenseifen Hanging-basket hive) already mentioned.

Readers may have noticed that the term 'natural beekeeping' is an oxymoron: once you put bees in a container you have taken the first step away from naturalness. But using the term 'relatively natural beekeeping' would be cumbersome. Maybe 'apicentric beekeeping' or 'bee-centric beekeeping' are more appropriate terms, but the term 'natural beekeeping' seems to have been accepted by the Zeitgeist. Indeed, in the UK there is a 'Natural Beekeeping Trust'4 and the term appears in the title of beekeeping books and web pages. Therefore what is meant by 'natural beekeeping' is now adequately established, so we will stick with the term, despite its contradictions. If Langstrothian beekeeping is considered modern, then natural beekeeping is post-modern.

Just as beekeepers in general have fundamental attitudes which cover a spectrum from the more anthropocentric to the more apicentric, so too among natural beekeepers there is a range of attitudes. Although I confine myself to one type of hive in this book, I discuss some interventions which might make more radical natural beekeepers raise an eyebrow. Yet Warré too included some more anthropocentric manipulations - for example, swarm control by splitting the hive. Even so, he did not explicitly claim to be presenting natural beekeeping. At the other extreme, especially if you live in a rural area, you may leave your hive entirely alone, treating it as if it is a hollow tree, and visiting it only to marvel at the life of the bee. Subject only to beekeeping legislation, the choice is yours to do what works for you.

Natural beekeepers may like to claim that their bees are healthier than those kept by more artificial methods. There is much in the apiological literature that could be adduced to support this view, and I have covered some of it in The Bee-friendly Beekeeper. However, until long-term controlled experiments are carried out in different climatic regions involving a comparison of the different hives and methods of management, it is not possible fully to substantiate that broad a claim. Here is an opportunity for apicultural researchers worldwide!

1. Northern Bee Books, 2010
2. Northern Bee Books, 2007/2013; translation by David and Pat Heaf of L'Apiculture pour Tous, Émile Warré, 1948.
3. Fully natural comb allows the bees to determine cell size and comb spacing.


1 Introduction
1.1 Natural beekeeping
1.1.1 Hive and site
1.1.2 Management
1.2 Why Warré?
1.3 Mentoring and other sources of practical advice
1.4 The law and bees
1.5 Beekeeper health, safety and insurance
1.6 Recommended reading

2 Getting your Warré hive
2.1 Materials
2.2 Construction
2.2.1 The hive
2.2.2 The hive-body boxes and top-bars
2.2.3 Waxing, positioning and fixing top-bars
2.2.4 The top-bar cover cloth and its sizing
2.2.5 The quilt
2.2.6 The roof
2.2.7 The floor (bottom board)
2.2.8 The legs
2.2.9 Box with window and shutter
2.3 Ekes, modified floors, sumps and feeders
2.4 Mouse guards and robber guards
2.5 Stands and stability
2.6 Frames and semi-frames

3 Siting your hive

4 Personal protection and tools
4.1 Protection
4.2 Small tools
4.3 Tool kit checklists
4.4 Lifts
4.4.1 Gatineau lift for the Warré hive
4.4.2 Mini-lift

5 Getting bees
5.1 Swarms
5.2 The nucleus (nuc)
5.2.1 Warré nucs
5.2.2 Nucs on frames
5.3 Bait hives

6 Hiving
6.1 Swarms
6.1.1 Running-in a swarm
6.1.2 Shaking/pouring in a swarm
6.1.3 Absconding
6.2 Packages
6.2.1 Direct release of the queen not fixed/nailed Top-bars fixed/nailed
6.2.2 Letting the bees release the queen (indirect release method)
6.3 Nucs
6.3.1 Nucs in Warré boxes
6.3.2 Nucs on frames Growing a nuc down Nuc transfer by chop 'n crop - a method of last resort

7 General management and monitoring progress
7.1 Occasional phenomena in front of the hive
7.2 Brood nest inspection
7.2.1 Inspecting boxes
7.2.2 Inspecting combs
7.3 Ventilation
7.4 Stores
7.5 Slow growth
7.6 Honey binding
7.7 Defective queen
7.8 Weak colonies - uniting
7.9 Swarming

8 Nadiring - adding boxes underneath
8.1 Removing boxes
8.2 The stepwise method of nadiring
8.3 Mechanical lifting

9 Harvesting
9.1 How much surplus honey?
9.2 How much can I take?
9.3 Hefting
9.4 Harvesting individual honey combs
9.5 Harvesting whole boxes

10 Extracting honey
10.1 Cut and drain
10.2 Crush and strain
10.3 Bottling
10.4 What to do with the comb

11 Feeding
11.1 Feeders
11.1.1 Top contact feeders
11.1.2 Other top feeders
11.1.3 Bottom feeders
11.1.4 Other feeders
11.2 What to feed
11.2.1 Syrup
11.2.2 Honeycomb
11.2.3 Candy
11.2.4 Dry sugar
11.2.5 Pollen
11.3 When to feed

12 Wintering

13 The spring visit and beyond
13.1 Forced comb change

14 Colony reproduction
14.1 Natural swarming
14.2 Simple split
14.3 Artificial swarm
14.3.1 Smoking method
14.3.2 Brushing method
14.3.3 Conclusion of both methods

15 Pests and diseases
15.1 Hygiene
15.2 Insects
15.3 Slugs
15.4 Varroa
15.5 Diseases involving micro-organisms
15.6 Nosema
15.7 Brood diseases
15.7.1 European foulbrood
15.7.2 American foulbrood
15.7.3 Chalk and sac broods
15.8 Pesticides

Appendix 1 Websites and forums on Warré and natural beekeeping

Appendix 2 Warré hive suppliers worldwide




About the author


Northern Bee Books (Publisher) sales pages

Publisher's Amazon (UK) page for this book

David Heaf's beekeeping index