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"Exploring Natural Beekeeping: A Guide to Success with the Warre Hive"

Updated: Feb 15


Handcrafted Warre Hive made of cedar timber

When following Natural beekeeping practices we prioritize the bees well being and to accomplish this the beekeeper has the responsibility to provide a stress-free environment for the bee colony. This involves the right type of hive suitable for your local climate as well as your management skills with the bees. The Warre Hive is suitable for any climatic conditions, including very cold regions. The thickness of the walls is an important factor. If you live in a warmer location 20mm walls will suffice but the colder your region the thicker the walls must be. In cool temperate regions, generally 25mm thick walls are a good choice with 28-30mm better if you live at a higher altitude and get colder temperatures. The thicker the walls the heavier the hive to manage, so unless you need a thicker wall we recommend between 25mm and 30mm.



 

INTERESTING FACT


There are stories of Warre hive bee colonies in 25mm thick walls being the only survivors among all other types of hives after some unusual extremely cold and long winters in North America. In some extreme cold climates in Europe Warre Hives with 50mm thick walls kept bees alive when many others didn't make it. Warre hives have a very high survival rate compared to other hives.

 

FIRSTS STEPS TO START YOUR JOURNEY WITH NATURAL BEEKEEPING

Before considering how you are going to acquire bees you must have the hive and equipment ready. At the same time, gather as much information as possible about natural beekeeping so when the time comes everything will go smoothly.


Books to read


Beekeeping for All by Abbe Warre is a must if you plan to use Warre Hives, his book will teach you every step needed to look after the bees in a Warre hive, click here to download a free copy of his book. Recommended authors to start with are David Heaf and Tom Seeley.


More information about natural beekeeping


David Heaf's website https://www.warre.biobees.com/ has vast information about Warre hives and natural beekeeping and we highly recommend it. He also wrote books on natural beekeeping and a manual on using the Warre hive the natural way.


UNDERSTANDING THE WARRE HIVE DESIGN



The reason for the Warre hive's success in keeping the bees healthy is not only the thicker walls but the entire design of the Warre hive. Abbe Warre, after 30 years comparing all types of possible hives, designed what he called back then "The People's hive", today known as the Warre hive.


The boxes


Warre created a hive that was an ideal home for the bees because the internal dimensions encapsulate the bee cluster perfectly, which for the bees, makes it easier to control the temperature. His original design has a square box, mainly for the simplicity of building it but we also offer a Warre hive using octagonal boxes which is thermally more efficient.



The floor


The Warre hive's original design uses a solid floor with a small entrance which makes it easier for bees to protect the hive and also to keep a more stable temperature and humidity inside. Bees need heat and high moisture inside their nest.






The quilt box



The 100mm deep quilt box full of wood shavings at the top of the hive serves as insulation and moisture control, keeping the hive cooler in summer and warmer in winter.





Top bars


The use of top bars, instead of frames, allows bees to create a healthy environment inside the hive that suits their needs, retains heat and hive scent, and protects them against diseases. If you want to know more about the advantages of using top bars read this post.








The roof

The roof has a special design that protects the hive more effectively against rain, snow and the hot sun.



EQUIPMENT


To ensure your safety when handling bees, it is essential to wear a bee suit, bee jacket or at least a veil to protect your head. Wearing gloves is also recommended, and it's a good idea to keep a pair in your pocket just in case. Additionally, you will need a hive tool, smoker, and bee brush (a large feather works best for a bee brush). Lastly, having a feeder is also important equipment to ensure the proper nourishment of your bees in times of emergency.



LOCATION


The next step is choosing the location of your hive. All Warre Hive kits that we offer come with information on how to choose the perfect location. Some important details to remember when choosing the hive-site: the bee's worst enemy is the midday sun in summer and the cold wind in winter. The most ideal place would be under a deciduous tree like an apple tree that will provide shade in summer but sunlight in winter. Hives must be kept off the ground. You can use bricks, or concrete blocks or build a hive stand. We wrote a post teaching how to build a simple and easy hive stand for the Warre hive, click here to read it.



DEALING WITH THE BEES


The last important step is to consider if you are confident enough to work with the bees if you haven't done so. Taking a beekeeping course is a good option, especially if it's a natural beekeeping course. Unfortunately majority of courses are focused on conventional practices but it could be a good way to gain confidence in opening a hive with thousands of bees.


Joining your local beekeeping association can be a good way to get started, probably it will have a more conventional approach but you can participate in practical workshops to gain confidence and meet local beekeepers that might help you catch your first swarm.


There is a great quantity of videos posted online that can be a great resource of knowledge, from catching swarms to hive management, etc.


At the start, you may feel apprehensive and quite nervous when dealing with the bees but the most important thing to remember when starting beekeeping is to be as gentle as possible with the bees, use full protection and make use of a smoker, preferably with some organic dry plant material like sugar cane straw.



OBTAINING BEES


Now, if you are all set up but no bees yet, don't worry they will come! There are a few ways to get bees. Depending on your location you can buy package bees and put them straight into the Warre hive. There are lots of videos online covering how to install them. You can put the word out that you are looking for a swarm of bees, posting on social media, Gumtree ads, etc. If you don't have experience catching swarms, check out this post to learn how to catch a swarm using a Warre box.



USING A BAIT HIVE

Bait hive designed for Warre hives, installing the bait hive on a tree to catch swarms of honeybees

Another great and easy way to catch swarms is to use a bait hive up a tree or on top of a structure, as the bees like homes that are higher up. We designed a special bait hive in which the top box is a removable Warre box, so once a swarm moves in you only need to add this box to your existing hive. You can find out more about this bait hive by clicking here.


Your own Warre hive is already a bait hive itself, especially if you rub the inside of the boxes with propolis and put a bit of beeswax on the top bars. The familiar smell will attract scout bees and an amazing swam might move in. We heard stories of swarms moving in only two days after the hive was set up.




IN SUMMARY


If you provide the bees with a Warre hive, locate it in a good spot and there are good bee forage around, your chances are that your bee colony will thrive.

Using top bars instead of frames and keeping inspections to a minimum, opening the hive only once a year at harvest time or feeding time in bad seasons, will ensure a stress-free environment for the bees.


Be gentle with them, every single bee is very important in a bee colony, and the bees will be gentle in return.


Learning to observe the entrance of the hive and hearing their sounds inside the hive will tell you most of what you need to know about their well-being. Natural beekeeping with the Warre hive is easy, low maintenance and a very rewarding activity.


If you would like to know more, please read this post:




Good luck and all the best.


If you would like further information please contact us.








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