English Warré Beekeeping Web Portal
Sustainable Beekeeping with Warré Hives
David Heaf's Warré Project
Abbé Émile Warré (1867-1951) experimented with over 350 hives of various types over a period of 50 years. During that time he developed a bee-friendly fixed-comb hive designed for minimal intervention, easy harvesting and enlargement as well as for producing honey at minimal cost of labour and capital. He called his hive la Ruche Populaire, which could be translated as 'the People's Hive'. He describes the origins and development of this hive, how to construct it and how to manage it through the beekeeping year in his book L'Apiculture por Tous. We have translated this book as Beekeeping For All and it is available in print and for free download.
Pros and Cons
A criticism of hives with moveable frames is that the conditions in the colony are far from natural, even if the hive is not repeatedly opened and the frames moved around. A wild colony building in a cavity, or a managed colony building in a skep, attaches comb not only to the top of the cavity, but also to the sides. This creates vertical cul-de-sacs between adjacent combs that retain the heat and the scents (including pheromones and possibly other volatile substances necessary for full colony health) produced by the colony (German: Nestduftwärmebindung). With framed hives, beekeepers strive to keep the sides and tops of the frames away from the hive body walls and from whatever is above, thus allowing heat and scents to escape from the nest. As fast as the bees try to build in gaps round frames, as diligently does the beekeeper try to keep ahead of the bees by scraping away so-called 'brace comb'. The main point of the Warré hive is to make it bee-appropriate or bee-friendly by eliminating the gaps so as to conserve nest heat and scent. The Warré hive is a vertical (tiered, storified) top-bar hive..
Another artifact introduced by modern beekeeping is queen excluders. They are not used in Warré hives. The queen has access, at least in principle, to the whole comb chamber. Having no excluder is made workable by allowing the bees, to extend the combs downwards by nadiring fresh boxes, i.e. adding boxes underneath. The brood nest gradually moves downwards as brood at the top hatches leaving honey-filled comb above. This overcomes another artifact, namely that of forcing the bees to build comb for honey storage above the brood nest, i.e. in supers. As plenty of space is always kept available in the Warré hive below the nest for further building, two 'risk factors' of swarming, i.e. no work for the wax makers and overcrowding, are minimised.
The bees are allowed to build comb freestyle, subject only to the positioning of top-bars and beads or starter strips of wax. There is no need for foundation. Thus the bees determine their own cell size, the proportion of drone to worker cells and where to put them.
Feeding sugar is frowned on by followers of natural beekeeping and, in any case, if sugar is introduced into the Warré hive, some would almost certainly end up in the harvested honey. Thus, if feeding is necessary, diluted honey is used either with an Ashforth feeder or from a jar on the top bars. Sugar should be used only in exceptional circumstances.
Some criticisms that have been made of the Warré hive include (together with our response):
Some advantages of the Warré hive include:
Construction of my first Warré hives
Principles of Warré hive use
Starting with only two chambers (hive-body boxes), both fitted with top bars in identical alignments, a swarm (2 kg minimum) is introduced in the usual manner, either by running it in up a board or by tipping it into an eke temporarily inserted (until the following morning) between the boxes. A colony may be transferred from a framed brood box by placing it over a Warré box with a suitable adapter board and leaving it until the colony has established in the Warré (see, for instance http://ruche-warre.levillage.org/Christophe Certoux.htm).
Guided by the starter beads in the top bars, the swarm or transferred colony draws comb 'cold-way'. (New comb in a Warré hive-body box) Progress of the colony is viewed through the window in the rear. Eventually the comb reaches down to the upper surfaces of the top bars of the box below and building is resumed below these, again guided by starter beads. When the colony is observed through the window to have developed somewhat in the bottom box, a third is added underneath it. This may present a lifting problem for a single operator, but this can be overcome with a suitable lifting device. (Floor change with lift)
As brood hatches at the top of the nest, the cells vacated are gradually filled with honey. The brood nest moves steadily downwards and eventually comes to occupy only the bottom two boxes. Depending on the nectar flow, further boxes may be added in succession at the bottom. Warré reached a maximum of seven in total. When the flow is over and the brood nest well clear of the upper box(es) the honey boxes are removed one by one after smoking the bees down leaving two boxes -- the upper mostly honey and the lower mostly comb and diminishing brood -- and a minimum of 12 kg honey. The top-bars are scraped clean. The cloth and quilt insulation are renewed and a mouse guard fitted. This is the only hive opening in the strict sense in basic Warré management as it is the only time when the hive atmosphere is let out by the beekeeper.
The comb is cut out and the honey harvested. The box is cleaned and prepared for re-use. Re-use (below the brood nest) can be immediate if in a good season an early harvest is taken and insufficient spare boxes are available. The wax is extracted from the combs in a solar extractor.
The Hive of Abbé Christ (1739-1813)
We mentioned above the principle of the retention of nest scent and heat (German: Nestduftwärmebindung). This concept is taken from a book by the Austrian beekeeper Johann Thür published in 1946. In it he presents the hive of Abbé Christ which is almost identical in concept to Warré's 'People's Hive'. A translation of Thür is available for free download.
Diary of the author's experiment
2007 -- the first season
Warré beekeeping links
Beekeeping For All
Details of and how to order the printed edition of the book Beekeeping
For All by Abbé Émile Warré from Northern Bee Books:
Direct link to Northern Bee Books online sales page for Beekeeping
For All by Abbé Émile Warré:
Download for free the e-book (PDF) Beekeeping For All
by Abbé Warré.
http://www.users.callnetuk.com/~heaf/beekeeping_for_all.pdf -- File size: 9 Mb - latest edition (6th - 15/02/2010).
(This e-book is in PDF format and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.)
English Warré beekeeping web portal:
Warré beekeeping e-group:
To join, visit https://groups.google.com/g/warrebeekeeping .
David Heaf's Warré beekeeping technical notes and reports: http://www.bee-friendly.co.uk/beeindex.htm
Download an English translation of Thür's chapters on retention of nest scent and heat in relation to Christ's hive:
The author would be interested in corresponding with anyone about the principles, design, populating and management of Warré hives. Please contact David Heaf at:
david (at) dheaf (dot) plus (dot) com [please reconstruct this antispam e-address].