There are several very different beehives available for those that are interested in owning their own bee colony and producing honey and wax. Whether you are just starting out or you want to add another hive to your existing apiary, there are questions as to which hive you should get.
And that depends on what you plan to do with your bees. Some get into beekeeping because of the honey or wax, and the money they can profit from it. Others enjoy the benefits of pollination that the bees offer whether it is a small flower garden, or one with larger vegetable and fruit plants.
Still, others just enjoy getting in touch with nature and working with bees. There are three varieties that lend themselves to being the most popular. Here we will talk about one of the less popular of the three, the Warre hive and see how it compares. You might find that it is perfect for you.
Warre (pronounced as war-ray) hives are vertical top bar hives that are a perfect marriage of the popular and commercialized Langstroth hive and the all natural horizontal top bar hives. They are easy to use and maintain; however, there is no manipulation of the hive or bees.
No foundations, no chemicals, no man-made combs. It allows the bees to act as they do naturally, producing a healthy amount of both honey and wax by creating their own comb. It also allows additions to be made to the colony easily and inspections can be done with little to no interruption of the bees.
These hives are perfect for those that are just beginning their love affair with bees and honey, or for those who just enjoy natural beekeeping as a hobby.
Warre hives are designed to mimic nature. In the wild, bees often build their hives in hollowed trees, hanging their comb from the top and working their way down. They raise their brood in the lower section of their comb and keep their honey/food supply above the brood.
As winter sets in, they consume the honey from the bottom, working their way up. The Warre hive is created to allow the bees to do just that. The hives are built using 12" x 12" boxes that house top bars on which the bees hang/build their honeycomb. The comb is built downward without the manipulation of frames.
The boxes that these combs are built in are stacked on top of one another vertically so the bees can continue to build downward as they would in the wild. It is covered with a thick wooden roof that serves as a cover for the quilt.
This is a box that lined with cloth and filled with wood shavings to help insulate and regulate condensation in the hive. There is also a small opening in the roof to allow for ventilation. At the very bottom of the hive is the base with an entrance for the bees to come and go.
Legs can be made to raise it off the ground farther. New hive boxes are most commonly under-supered which means that they are added to the bottom to allow for more building space. And when honey and wax is harvested, it is taken from the top first.
This allows for a hive environment that is healthier and more likely to house the natural tendencies of the bees.
P R O S
Everything about the design of the Warre hive is built to emulate nature and how bees survive in the wild. From the smaller boxes to the top bars, right down to the entrance and the under-supering, these keep bees from having to change their ways to help the beekeeper. There is no use of harmful materials, or medicines or even unnatural insulation.
The more natural, allows the bees to do what they do without constant interference. They build their comb and raise their brood as they were meant to, and when you, as the beekeeper, add another box or get honey, there is little that requires you mess with the whole hive.
You can simply take a bar or two off or add more, or you can add another box to the bottom without opening and disturbing the other boxes or top of the hive. The bees know their limitations. The heavier roof material and quilt box allow them to winter without you having to add more insulation.
The smaller boxes also help with this, as the bees do not have to heat as large of space at once and there is not wasted space, unlike with the Langstroth and its bulkier frames.
Better For Bees
With limited interference by humans, the bees are less stressed. Many reviews on Warre hives attest that the bees that live in them are easier to get along with than those that live in hives that require more human activity, such as the Langstroth and even top bars.
C O N S
Lower Honey Yields
Because of the smaller boxes, the comb cannot get as large as in the Langstroth. This is why beekeepers who have a Warre are not into it strictly for honey production.
Adding A New Box
Adding a new box requires the lifting of the boxes above it. These, as with the Langstroth can be heavy and difficult to lift without help.
Fragility Of Comb
While the frames of the Langstroth make for more maintenance, they provide support for the comb which can come in handy, especially for those lacking a lot of experience with beekeeping.
The combs themselves are very fragile, and it is common for them to break off or get snagged on something as they are being moved. It takes caution when handling them if they are not attached to the convenient four-sided frames.
As they are less common, they are harder to find in a manufactured state. They also don't have nearly the amount of people and experts who can help you out if you are having problems or just need help to get started. Mostly, online is the only place to look for knowledge about them, unless you know someone who owns and operates one.
While the Langstroth hive may look similar from the outside, it is different on the inside. This hive was created with the beekeeper and desired production in mind. Langstroth hives are designed vertically with 20x10 boxes of differing depths that house the honeycomb and brood.
However, they have full frames and not just top bars. This allows for more ease of use and control as the beekeeper. The frames support the comb making it easy to move and harvest honey in a more commercialized fashion.
Often the frames included a foundation, which is a manmade material placed in the middle of the frame that makes the building of the comb easier for the bees, as they don't have to start from scratch. This allows the beekeeper to attain more honey in less time.
When hive boxes are added, they are usually stacked on top of the already inhabited boxes, making it quick and easy to grow your hive. However, when the honey is harvested, it is usually from the bottom first.
Lifting the boxes off of the top can be difficult work as they are often very weighted with honey and bees which can add up to about 100 lbs. This can also make it difficult for the bees as they rarely want to work in this direction.
Ease of Use
Langstroth hives are easy to use and maintain. They require little work on an average day. However, as stated before, the boxes or supers can get heavy and therefore be difficult to move when either harvesting honey or adding to the colony.
There is little to no assembly at all. These come pre-made, and all you have to do is stack them on top of one another.
These are usually constructed from quality wood that requires little care. However, since they are widely made and manufactured, there will be inferior products to be found.
Several companies that manufacture Langstroth hives offer valuable warranties for various lengths of time.
This hive goes in the complete opposite direction as the Langstroth. Not only was it designed to be more natural, like the Warre, but it is built horizontally. These might be some of the rarest hives out there. These hives look kind of like a manger; They are wide, shallow boxes that are usually around 40" long.
They house, as their name implies, top bars that allow the bees to draw out their comb naturally and don't require any heavy lifting. There are no boxes or supers to add, no frames, no foundations. They are completely different.
When you run out of room in one of these, the only option is to build another one. You can not add it or take away from it. They also require more care and therefore inspections and interruptions to the bees' natural way of life.
Because they are built horizontally, the bees are apt to attach their comb to the walls and other combs if they are not watched and helped often. These type of hives require a little more time and effort from the beekeeper for about the same amount of honey and wax as is produced in a Warre.
Ease of Use
They are easy to use on a daily basis. While they might require more inspections and such, there is no heavy lifting of boxes. To add another comb or harvest one, you simply move a top bar or two.
Assembly can require a bit of time. As they are not generally bought and instead constructed by hand, there can be a lot of work that goes into it.
The build quality on the top bars will be as good as the skills of the beekeeper as they are most often made by hand. If the beekeeper is astute to the needs of the bees, they will construct it with good quality wood materials with no harmful chemicals or paint.
The reviews of top bar hives that have been store-bought saying they are constructed well and built to last. But with all products, there are inferior ones out there to be sure.
There are usually not warranties involved with top bar hives since they are usually DIY projects.
Our Final Thoughts
The Warre hive is one of the best hives out there. There are many benefits to using it. While it may not be as popular as its sister hive, the Langstroth, we find it may the perfect way to go if you fall increasingly in love with the art of beekeeping.
It is also the best way to go for your bees. Studies show that bees do better overall in health and productivity in a Warre hive. They are less likely to get easily agitated in a hive that is most like their natural surroundings. And the fact you won't have to mess with them as much also gives them credibility.