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Beekeeping for All:

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Warré Beekeeping

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This page covers methods which are either not described in Emile Warré's book Beekeeping for All or would benefit from giving more detail, where necessary with photographs. This page is no substitute for reading, learning and inwardly digesting Beekeeping for All. Page numbers mentioned below refer to pages in Beekeeping for All.

Technical drawings for constructing Emile Warré's hive available here.

Warré hive construction help for complete beginners at woodwork:

Warré's hive had no windows. They add complications to what is supposed to be 'The People's Hive. But many who try Warré hives like to hve windows, at least to begin with. And some commercial suppliers provide their Warré hives with windows. This modification was introduced by Frèrès & Guillaume. Katherine White provides an illustrated guide to how she makes her Warré hive windows.

Quilt function and filling
Warré recommends making the quilt box 5 mm smaller than the hive body boxes in order to 'facilitate working'. If the hessian/burlap that is used to retain the quilt filling is brought up round the sides of the quilt box and fixed there, then most of that 5 mm is taken up yet still leaves the 10 mm clearance necessary to ease putting on and taking off the roof. Larry Garrett (Mid-west USA) suggests that bringing the hessian/burlap out at the sides of the quilt box performs an important ventilation function, and comments: 'The weft and warp of the hessian sacking (burlap) weave provide a capillary wick from any area of the cloth to each of the hive’s four exterior perimeters'. 
As a filling for the quilt, Warré suggests chopped oat straw [chaff], sawdust, etc. Frèrès & Guillaume (book) suggest using straw or dry leaves. Some use wood shavings or electric planer shavings. A beekeeper in Kentucky observed that eastern red cedar shavings rather than pine shavings deterred ants. This is corroborated another beekeeper. A useful overview of the quilt and ventilation of the Warré hive has been written by Alexander Templeton and is available in message number 10786 of the Warré Yahoo e-Group.

Preparing top-bars
Warré describes how to put comb guides on top-bars on pages 77-80. One method is depositing wax starter strips. Another is by making the strips to fit on top-bars (video). Both are done with melted wax. The wax can be delivered very conveniently from a squeeze bottle stood in a bain marie when not in use. On page 79 Warré illustrates the alternative kinds of comb guides known to top-bar beekeeping, i.e., the 'T'-bar and the 'V'-bar. Neither of these need waxing. Because of the extra depth of wood, their use may incur some slight loss of brood comb area. See, for example, the illustrations on Larry Garrett's page.
When it comes to separating boxes at harvest, it can help to have coated the planed upper surfaces of the top-bars with two coats of raw linseed oil, which should not be allowed to run down the sides or come in contact with the rough lower side of the bar.

The top-bar cloth
This rests on the top-bars under the quilt. A separate cloth retains the quilt contents. Warré suggests using sacking (hessian/burlap, a rough cloth of jute) and treating it with a flour paste to prevent the bees from fraying it. This cloth can be obtained from pet shops or coffee shops that still receive whole beans in sacks. Instead, a number of Warré beekeepers have successfully used coarse cotton canvas (e.g. sailcloth) without applying any paste. This has the slight disadvantage that there are no small holes in it that the bees can propolise or unpropolise to control ventilation.

Fixing top-bars in boxes
Warré advises nailing the top bars at 36 mm centres. However, in states where moveable comb is mandatory this could create difficulties. One partial solution is to use 20 x 1 mm Japanned pins of the kind used by UK beekeepers for fixing frames. Hammer them in 15 mm deep and snip the head off before completing hammering in. The bars are then removable with finger pressure or with the help of a hive tool.
A more elegant solution is to have pegs, pins or nails located in slots cut in the top-bar ends (photo).
Another method is to drill 3mm holes in the rebates and place bits of matchstick in them, one either side of each bar locus. Matchsticks will hold the bars in place unless you apply excessive force. When removing the combs, the matchsticks can be broken easily to set the bars loose. If necessary redrill the holes when reusing the box. Advantages: simple; does the job very well; all wood, no metal. A single matchstick could be used for each bar end if a slot is sawn in the end of the bar. But, if there is no objection to using metal, thin pins/brads could be used instead, to save drilling.
Yet another method is to make the bars a reasonably tight fit, then melt wax over the ends of them. When pushed into place the wax is malleable enough to let them fit but firm enough to keep them in place.
Finally there is the option to use castellated spacers which are now available for the Warré hive, at least in the UK. These are commonly used by 'Warré-istes' in France who follow the methods in Frèrès & Guillaume's book.

Preparing hessian/burlap top-bar cloths: http://www.dheaf.plus.com/warrebeekeeping/preparing_hessian.htm

Hive stands
Warré discusses legs for his hive on pages 46-48. Note that they are for fixing to the floor and have feet that extend beyond the footprint of the floor, thus increasing stability and preventing sinking into the ground. Some manufacturers provide legs to their own designs that are totally inadequate for stabilising the hive, especially on soft ground or in windy locations. Toppled hives have resulted. If you live in regions that have extremely high winds it may be prudent to use hive straps and a stand with posts sunk into the ground. Here is Larry Garrett's stand and method of strapping: photo 1; photo 2.    

Getting bees
Warré advised populating his hive with a swarm of 2 kg. or more (p. 70). However, many Warrés have been successfully populated with 2-pound commercial packages. Suggested sources of bees:
1) Join your local beekeeping association and make it known that you are looking for a swarm or artificial swarm. Advantages: you could get locally adapted bees and pay much less than full commercial rates.
2) Tell your local department that deals with swarms, e.g. pest control department, that you will take swarms. Beekeeping for All contains instructions for taking swarms. Here is a page on taking swarms. Here is a short video of one example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePiYUIaOyuQ. Bill Wood is the beekeeper. Here is a useful swarm catcher.
3) Set up bait hives (swarm lures). 2-box Warrés can be set up as bait hives. A light-weight bait hive can be made the size of a 2-box Warré hive so that the top-bars can be transferred complete with swarm and any comb to a Warré hive (click here). (Photos of swarm arriving at bait hive)
4) Buy commercial package bees (artificial swarm). Example: Larry Garrett's Russian package.
5) Transfer the bees and queen from a frame hive or nucleus or other type of hive by driving (pages 83-86). Photos. Video.
6) Transfer combs and bees of a frame hive colony, or a feral/wild colony in a building or other site where its presence is not wanted.

Populating a Warré hive
Read pages 82ff. on populating and 96ff. on natural swarms in Beekeeping for All.
Further tips of hiving swarms, package bees and transferring bees from existing combs of either a feral colony or a frame hive are described here. To get a vivid impression of how a swarm builds its nest in the top box of a Warré hive you may like to view the following time-lapse video of colony development in a horizontal top-bar hive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=821uVRAcZ1I .

Hives are best populated at the beginning of a main nectar flow in spring. As this is not always possible, feeding is an option. Warré recommends using two parts honey to one part water by weight. To avoid importing disease it is advisable to use honey from one's own apiary or from a known disease-free apiary. If no honey is available then syrup of refined (white) sugar in the same ratio is an option. Warré describes two feeders (pages 60 and 62). These work well, but a simple feeder can be made by placing a container on the hive floor in an empty bottom box, loosely filling with straw as a scaffolding for the bees to climb down on and pouring in the syrup. Photos of feeders.
Whether to feed in autumn is a matter of personal choice as feeding could keep alive strains that are not thrifty and provident. However, a summer season could have given such poor foraging that no colony would have been able fully to provide for its winter needs. If sugar syrup is fed there is a risk of some ending up in the next season's honey harvest. If feeding has been left until it is too cold for syrup to be assimilated and stored properly, an alternative way of feeding is to put fondant or candy on the top-bars of the top box. The weight of stores in the hive is felt by hefting or, more accurately assessed if required, with some kind of weighing device. For how much to feed see 'Harvesting' below.   

Nadiring (adding extra boxes underneath)
If the bees run out of space there is a risk of swarming (page 89-90). Boxes can be added underneath well ahead of need, if necessary with checking how far comb growth has progressed in the bottom box. If the boxes have windows, as in the Frèrès-Guillaume modification, checking is easy. David Croteau's modification has in each box a closable hole through which comb can be monitored. Without some method of viewing through the side, then the safest way it to lift the hive off the floor as a unit and look underneath while keeping it upright. With more than one box this usually requires a helper or a Gatineau lift. If neither are available it is possible to lift a 2-box Warré as a unit and hold it over a mirror.

Supering (adding extra boxes on top)
In normal use according to Warré's recommended method, the hive is extended by adding boxes at the bottom. However, in regions where forage circumstances are very different from those that Warré was used to, judicious use of supering has been found to greatly improve the function of the hive both for bees and beekeeper. For more discussion of supering the Warré hive, click here.

Monitoring the colony without opening the hive
After a glazed box has filled with comb, only a limited amount of information can be obtained through its window (Frèrès-Guillaume modification). But much can be learnt from observing entrance phenomena, if possible comparing it with other hives in the vicinity. A helpful book on this is Heinrich Storch's At the Hive Entrance -- Observation Handbook: How to Know what happens inside the hive by observation of the outside (Transl. by F. Cells from Am Flugloch. European Apicultural Editions, Brussels, 1985). The cluster can be located by listening with the ear pressed against the back of a box when ambient noise conditions are sufficiently quiet. If while listening, the hive is knocked lightly (though not in sub-zero winter conditions), a sudden light buzz/hiss that fades instantly usually means the hive is queen right. If necessary, a listening tube with stethoscope ear pieces is inserted in the entrance. The weight of stores in the hive is felt by hefting or, more accurately assessed if required, with a weighing device. See also Katherine and Ruth White's slide show Hive Diagnostics (16 Mb).    

Monitoring the colony with opening the hive
A Warré colony can be inspected in much the same way as is done for skeps, i.e. by putting the box on its side and looking between combs, if necessary with the use of a little smoke. This level of intrusion would only be done if there was a real need to know, for instance, whether there is any brood. The box is tilted keeping the combs in the vertical plane (see photo).

Removing combs
Non-intervention is the hallmark of Warré beekeeping. However, there are rare occasions when combs may have to be removed for examination, for example by a bee disease inspector. Warré hive combs are not as easy to remove as horizontal top-bar hive combs because of the easier access and sloping sides in the latter. Where comb removal is mandatory Delon frames or Denis semi-frames could be considered. Even with top-bars prepared with wax starter strips, Warré combs are not always parallel. However, where they are parallel, they can be carefully lifted out once cut free from the sides. Bill Wood's Warré comb knife is designed for this. The removed comb, having no support but the top bar, could be extremely fragile and should be hung vertically from the top bar throughout the examination using a comb holder. This operation is not without risk of comb failure and should only be undertaken if absolutely necessary. Photos of Warré combs.

Taking natural swarms
Bee colonies reproduce naturally by issuing swarms. It is prudent to have one or more bait hives (swarm lures) set up in the locality to minimise loss of swarms and potential nuisance to neighbours. However, most beekeepers sooner or later will find themselves taking a swarm that is clustered somewhere out in the open. Our page entitled Taking Swarms gives some examples of how to do it.

Making splits or artificial swarms
Beekeepers wanting to increase their number of hives without having to wait for natural swarming, which can sometimes be a chancy way of 'making increase', can split Warré hives simply by working with whole boxes. They can of course be split as groups of combs, but this requires a degree of skill with top-bar comb removal and manipulation, and assumes that the combs are all built parallel to one another. To make splits from whole boxes, click here.

Harvesting boxes and clearing bees from them
Warré describes how to harvest honey on pages 109 to 112. The golden rule is leave two boxes of drawn comb and enough stores for winter, which for his area of northern France was 12 kg. Severer climates will require more. Deciding whether to harvest at all can be done without opening the hive, as a fairly accurate assessment of hive stores can be made by hefting or with a weighing device.
When separating the box to be harvested from the one below, if combs have bridges or bracing points to the tops of the bars of the box below, a slight clockwise and anti-clockwise twisting motion will usually free them. Adhesion at such points is minimized if the tops of the bars have been treated with linseed oil when preparing the hive, as described above.
Sometimes the adhesion between boxes is too strong for freeing them by twisting. In such cases, a cheese or other wire (or nylon monofilament such as fishing line) can be used to cut the comb connections between the boxes, as is traditional practice with the Warré-like hive in Japan.
Andrew Janiak offers the following suggestions: the thinner the wire better. It is like a knife; the purpose is to cut, so a thinner one cuts quicker and easier.  It should be sufficiently strong so that you cannot break it when pulling with both hands using an average force.  If you follow the right technique, the force is not great.  Even if it should break, there is no great damage, just have a spare one at hand. The wire normally used for wiring hive frames is suitable. Some use piano wire or guitar strings. The advantage of using fishing line is that it is not prone to kinking. You need a hive tool and two wedges. Many fix handles at both ends of the wire, but Andrew now prefers having one end without a handle for reasons that will become clear in the following cutting procedure. He wraps the loose end round a finger.
a. If the combs are aligned cold-way, i.e. at right angles to the front, start from the front. Otherwise start at one side. First lift one corner of the box with a hive tool placed 25-50 mm from the corner, so that you can get the wire under the corner. Do the same with the other corner.
b. Place a wedge at each corner behind the wire so that the wedges carry the weight of the box.  Now you have the wire under both corners and the corners resting on wedges.
c. Now gently and slowly pull the wire, one side first, then the other, then the first side and so on. Always cut along the combs, never across them!
d. When the wire is about three quarters of the way across the cutting is sufficient allow the box to be lifted at the edge where the wire went in. However, if you wish to cut further be sure to stop about 20 mm from the opposite side so as to avoid guillotining bees against the box edge.
e. Unwrap the loose end of the wire from the finger and pull it out with the handle end. If you have handles at both ends, remove the wire after lifting the box.
Clearing: Warré cleared the bees from his boxes to be harvested by using smoke. Clearing can also be done with one of the several designs of clearer-board either on or off the hive (see here). Clearing will not work if the queen or some brood is in the box(es) to be cleared.

Extracting honey
See page 115. Photos of extracting by crushing or cutting and draining. More honey can be recovered with a suitable press which may be a honey press, a fruit press a sausage stuffer (a closed press) or an improvised press. For illustrations and descriptions of the various presses, please see the page on pressing.The resulting wax cake can be broken up and washed free of honey in water before allowing the wax to dry and rendering it in a solar extractor.

Managing Varroa
Warré developed his hive long before the Varroa mite reached France, so Beekeeping for All obviously offers no explicit Varroa control. His 'pioneering method' of artificial swarming (page 84) greatly reduces the Varroa population and could be supplemented with a Varroa treatment while the swarm is still broodless. But any treatment of a colony against Varroa merely hinders the long-term co-adaptation of bee and mite. However, not treating could result in colony loss through Varroaosis and the virus diseases which the mite spreads. For a beekeeper with one or two colonies this loss could be intolerable. To treat or not to treat is thus a matter of personal choice. At the time of writing this, most Warré beekeepers are not treating.
If treatment is given two of the more organic kinds used by Warré beekeepers in France are thymol (e.g. ApiLifeVar) or flash formic acid. There is an extensive literature on Varroa treatment on the Internet. A useful all round book on Varroa and treatment, available in PDF, is Control of Varroa -- A Guide for New Zealand Beekeepers by Goodwin & Eaton (MAF, NZ, 2001).

Diseases and pests
Penn State University A Field Guide to Honeybees and Their Maladies . See also the UK National Bee Unit website for documents on recognising diseases and pests.

Warré entrance piece or mouse guard (page 54).

Moving hives
Moving hives to a site within the foraging range of the original location risks losing bees. For an example of how such a move was done can be found here.

Adding accented characters to documents on Warré beekeeping

Last edited March 2011. This page will be added to as useful new material becomes available. Suggestions for improvements are welcome.

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