David Heaf's Warré hive experiment

Diary for 2008

11 February 2008

Despite a good ivy flow in October, Warré 2 was judged on 10 November 2007 to be still too low on stores to winter successfully, especially as, measured by foraging activity, it had recovered its strength since its supersedure. The decision was taken to feed it sugar candy, as all reserves of honey were exhausted and it was anyway too late to give a liquid feed. 4 kg sugar as candy was placed in an eke (two inches deep) immediately over the topmost top bars. Unseasonably warm weather on 11 February 2008 meant that all six Warré hive colonies were flying. Pollen was coming into all six too. The amount of activity was roughly proportional to the size of comb developed, i.e. Warrés 3 and 5 were the weakest.

The following photo is an 'exploded' view of a Warré hive showing (from the bottom): the floor; two hive-body boxes with top bars; the top-bar cover of stiffened hessian; the quilt containing planer shavings and the roof. (A Warré apiary -- formerly in the garden shown on this web site)

'Exploded' view of a Warré hive


10 May 2008

All six colonies continued to develop steadily from February onwards, though apparently not as fast as some of the National hive colonies beside them in the apiary. However, two out of 11 National colonies had failed by February and a third nearly did not make it through March because of shortage of stores. Mouse guards were taken off on 22 March. Shredding of the lower parts of combs in W1 and W2 occurred during cold weather in April so the guards were replaced for a while, just in case. (However, this phenomenon was noted again in hives in 2009 and was attributed to bees remodelling unused, dry, brittle comb from the previous season (Remodelling comb in a Warré).)

Open mesh floors with Varroa sampling trays smeared with an oil/wax paste were placed under W1, W2, W4 & W6, the strongest hives, on March 30 and removed for counting Varroa on 9 April when they were replaced with clean Warré floors. The total number of mites dropped in the 9-day period in each was: W1, 2; W2, 2; W4, 114, W6, 40. The mite drops of W1 and W2 were in complete contrast to those of W4 and W6. It is interesting to note that the first pair of colonies were from natural swarms of existing National colonies under a good mite control regime (thymol in September, oxalic acid on 1 January) whereas the other pair were from incoming natural swarms of unknown origin. Paradoxically though, thirty-five very young drones with deformed wings were found dead in front of W1 on 10 May. Workers with deformed wings were occasionally seen walking away from W4 and W6 although these hives continued to develop strongly despite their high mite drops.

Several of the hives had up to five large slugs in the lower boxes after the winter. They were removed at floor change and in one case one had to be removed by inserting a wire hook from below between the combs of the second box up. No slugs have ever been seen in the National hives in the same apiary. The reason for the difference in slug attractiveness is not clear. The Nationals all have open mesh floors and their entrances are only about 10 mm high compared with 15 mm for the Warrés. Slug invasion did not seem to be correlated with the weakness of the colony.

Significant comb building was not seen until the warm spell in early May towards the end of the dandelion flow. For example, by 10 May W4 had completed its second box of comb and W1 had repaired the shredded comb in the second box and a fist-sized cluster of bees was hanging under the newest comb in the third box. In the top box, back-filling with honey of cells eaten empty over the winter was not noticed until 10 May. One additional box was given to W4 on 26 April and to each of W1, 2, and 5 on 9 May. W3 and W5 were not well enough developed to justify another box at that time. With the heavier hives the boxes were inserted using the lift. During box or floor replacement or de-slugging the bees remained remarkably calm compared with those during minor operations to National brood chambers, which, of course, always require the top to be removed. Smoke was not used for these 'nadirings', although Warré recommends puffing a bit in the entrance each time the hive is disturbed

As both W3 and W5 were continuing to be weak, though showing a steady development, the possibility of uniting them either with each other or with other colonies was considered. However, instead it was decided to let them run for longer, especially as it is not uncommon for colonies to build up from a few hundred bees in early spring to being good producers. Another reason not to unite was that both had comb in only three quarters of one box. This would make normal uniting difficult as there would be two brood nest nuclei.

Although the normal time to replace the quilt contents is at harvest, it was of interest to see if any mould was present after the winter. The contents, electric-planer shavings, were probed with the hive tool but they looked as fresh as they were when they were installed in 2007.

September 2008

W1, W5 and W6 swarmed in May/June. W3 apparently superseded its queen. The new queen was seen at the back window and heard tooting. Of the swarms, W5 was the most surprising. The colony was small in autumn 2007 and started spring in a very weak condition but gradually it built up to swarming strength. With these and other swarms, either caught in bait hives or artificial swarms from National (frame) hives, the number of Warré colonies was increased to 11 by the end of autumn 2008, three sited in the garden illustrated on this web site.

Many UK beekeepers, some with over 30 years of experience, reported 2008 as the worst foraging season on record. This was reflected in the poor build up of winter stores in the five newly established Warrés. Indeed, there was insufficient honey to justify taking a harvest from any of the hives. This was the second season in succession where there was no crop from the Warré hives as 2007 had been a poor season too.

However, it is worth noting that despite no treatment against Varroa, all six Warré colonies started in spring 2007 went into winter 2008/9.

December 2008

We reluctantly decided that all three colonies sited in the garden featured on this web site had to be moved to another apiary because of complaints from a neighbour 80 metres away about orange spots on her washing. This brought to an end five seasons of beekeeping in this beautiful garden.

Interest in Warré hives spreads in anglophone countries

The translation of Warré's Beekeeping for All in 2007 and its posting on the Internet paved the way for anglophone beekeepers to start taking an interest in his hive and methods. In November 2007 Phil Chandler -- The Barefoot Beekeeper -- kindly created a Warré thread in his sustainable beekeeping forum at biobees.com and drew forum members attention to the Warré hive. Futhermore, in January 2008 he offered space in a subdomain on his web site to store the Warré material and provide an introduction to the hive. This 'English Warré web portal' is at http://warre.biobees.com/.

At the end of December 2008 a Warré beekeeping Yahoo group was created, which by autumn 2009 had risen to over 340 members. No longer was the Warré hive confined to francophone regions. Soon prospective Warré beekeepers introduced themselves to the e-group from the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Latvia, Spain, Germany, Uruguay, Spain, Italy, Japan, Chile, Brazil, Russia and Romania . This group has proved a valuable place to share experience with the hive, discuss construction methods and modifications and help beginners get going.

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