Disclaimer: There is no wrong way to keep Honeybees.
By most standards I am a complete novice at beekeeping, which is the beauty of the Warre hive design. It is not necessary to intervene in the process of the bees. The Warre hive design implicitly trusts the bees and their instincts. When I initially began my search for a hive design I quickly became immersed, and admittedly confused by the variations on all the framed equipment. Supers, nucs, small frame, large frame, excluders, brood chambers, Upper & lower deeps, skeps…It made my brain hurt! Is it possible we are in danger of over-thinking a fairly simple process? Having witnessed hives in the wild, and where the bees decided to set up residence, I think we care far more than the bees do about how their house should look.
My initial design of the Warre hives was simple and straightforward, just the way Warre designed them: 34cm x 30cm x 21cm, butt joints, and rebates to hold the 24mm x 10mm slats spaced 12mm apart. I used ¾” oak plywood, screwed and glued the butt joints and coated the outside in Mineral oil to provide some innocuous weatherproofing.
I placed the hives on the second floor of an abandoned farm house (sound familiar?). This was my way of bear-proofing my hives. Right from the start I discovered that despite all the benefits of the Warre design, and the inherent purist philosophies of letting the bees “do what they do best”, there were still some design improvements to be made.
I have since worked with the following functional upgrades to the Warre design without sacrificing its philosophical integrity, or, as some might say “Gilding the Lily’.
Challenge/Upgrade #1 Observation windows
What’s going on in there???
Short of placing my ear to the side of the hive I had no idea what was going on inside. Despite the fact that I did not wish to intervene in the process of the bees, I was still curious what was going on. Observation windows were a must! My next design would have windows, and they did. With the windows in place on the new hives, a surprising development occurred, people who were not otherwise interested in beekeeping all of a sudden took notice. They were drawn to my pictures and videos of the bees building comb and filling their hives. The children took greater interest in watching the bees’ progress. Afterall, what’s so fun about looking at a wooden box? The observation windows changed everything; I can’t imagine not having them.
A view inside a barnwood hive after only 4 weeks
Challenge/Upgrade # 2 The Queen ring
Placing the queen and installing the hive.
May 2010, the day before I received my first ever package of bees, I set up the hives. I used a brad nailer to tack the slats in place, respecting the 12mm bee space. On the top hive, where I was to deposit my package bees I left 4 slats detached. I marked the spots where I needed to replace them and had my brad nailer ready to attach them after the bees were dumped in. When I arrived the next day with the bees I quickly realized I had no place to put the queen cage. It had to be in a place where I could confirm that she had been released after a couple days. No such place existed (see Challenge #1). In the traditional Langstroth hive you pull a few frames, hang the queen cage between 2 others and dump the bees into the hive. You can easily inspect a few days later to confirm that she has escaped. I had little choice but to lay her in the bottom, dump the bees on top and hope for the best. I know there are other techniques, but they all involve lifting the boxes a few days later which inevitably leads to the disappointing “crunch” of one or more of the girls. There had to be a better way....
Enter the “queen ring”.
The queen ring is a simple spacer that sits between the first and second boxes and allows you to monitor the queen cage from the outside, without having to open your hives. This is an important task when installing a new hive that insures the queen has been released into the general population where she will begin doing her thing. It comes standard with all of our hives and can be seen between the first and second boxes on our product pictures below.
Challenge/Upgrade #3 Propolis collection
One thing we all learn very quickly in beekeeping is that bees will "propolize" just about anything where a space exists. Propolis is a hard resin like substance that the bees use to seal cracks in their hives, as well as isolate small parasites like the Small Hive Beetle. Propolis is thought to have immunoprotective qualities for the hive and so the presence of propolis in a hive is very beneficial for the overall health of the girls. When I constructed my first Warre, I somehow missed the part about the separate cloth under the quilt box. I set my quilt box right on top of my top hive box. About a week later I checked on my bees and found them exiting the hive with a layer of sawdust on them. Daahhh!!! They had eaten through the cloth and released the sawdust. Fortunately I had windows that allowed me to see and fix this problem within hours of its occurence (see Upgrade #1). By constructing a simple screen, and placing it between the quilt box and the First hive box you can protect the cloth/sawdust compartment AND have a means by which to collect your own propolis. We include 2 Propolis screens with our hives so that you can either rotate them for Propolis harvesting, or save a clean one for mite treatments. In any case, my oversight/blunder gave rise to a this versatile and highly functional hive component.
A close up view of our Propolis screen
Challenge/Upgrade # 4 Screened Bottom Board
Simple Mechanical Mite Control
When Warre developed his hive design he didn't have to deal with Varroa Destructor - The Varroa Mite. Unfortunately we have managed to import this virtually worthless life form from Japan in past 30 years. Large commercial beeks with hundreds, even thousands of hives have little choice in managing this plague other than aggressive chemical miticides. The rest of us can look at simpler, non-chemical approaches that are arguably just as effective without introducing chemicals into our hives, and potentially tainting our honey or, worse yet, contributing to potential resistance within the mite population. A screened bottom board allows the mites that fall off the bees to fall through the bottom of the hive. As part of our screened bottom board, we supply you with a mite board made of corrugated plastic to get you started. By simply spraying it with a cheap cooking spray, then sliding it under the screen you can make a very effective, and reuseable sticky board for mite capture. Every week so you simply remove the poster board, scrape it clean, respray and reinsert. This screened board approach will give you an idea of what's going on inside with respect to these hateful parasites. This simple/mechanical technique is extremely effective and can spell the difference between a colony's survival or demise.
Challenge/Upgrade # 5 Bee Space and the PBS technology
Looking back at our earlier designs I thought I had a "good bead" on how to establish and maintain the proper bee space between the top bars. I simply made pencil marks on the ledge that was to receive the top bars, and had my trusty Brad-nailer at the ready to affix them in place once the bees were installed...great plan. So we arrived with our bees, installed same, affixed the top bars with the brad nailer and all was right with the world, for now.
The problem with the nailer (or pretty much any pinning technique) is that when the hive boxes are all brand new and shiny it's a chip-shot, easy-peezy placement of the top bars where you want them. After the bees take up residence and the inside of your hive box resembles the floor of a taxi cab with comb, propolis, honey, pollen and assorted other detritus, it's not so easy to get the top bars back where they belong.
To address this we introduced our PBS (Positive Bee Space) technology. We cut a spacer (heretofore known as a castellation) into a piece hardwood and insert that into the hive box. Now, if for any reason you need to remove your top bar(s) you can easily replace them from whence they came, always and forever maintaining the original bee space! And, being made from Hardwood they will spare your cedar from the potentially damaging effects of a prying hive tool.
Emile Warre’s goal was 2-fold. Build a home for bees that was as close to nature as possible, and do it for the lowest cost possible. To that end, you will find phrases in his writings such as “sufficient” or “good enough/strong enough”. He met both of his goals. The mere existence of this website (and people like you & I) are evidence of that.
Without “Gilding the Lilly” we have incorporated upgrades that we believe to be both functional and decorative. All of our hives come with observation windows so that you can follow your girls as they furnish their new home. Additionally it will help introduce your friends and family to the amazing world of the honeybee. Don’t be surprised to find a number of converts who wish to join you with hives of their own! There's an old saying: People fear that which they don't understand. These windows, by themselves, will do more to promote an understanding of Honeybees than almost anything you can say. That understanding is the keystone of our mission here.
Our hives are constructed with Western Red Cedar. Cedar is a stand alone product that has long been used for outdoor applications because of its natural resistance to the elements. Cedar is also very paintable. Many people like to personalize their hives to match their house or landscaping.. have at it!
All our Hive Packages are sold with 3 Hive boxes. It has been our experience that when hiving a new colony in a 2-box construct, the chances of swarming within the first 6 - 8 weeks is about 80%. Swarming is a natural function for the Honey bee. It insures survival of the species and should not be prevented once the process has begun. That being said, you do not want to encourage swarming in a colony, especially a new colony if you can help it. Well, with 3 boxes, we will help you "help it"!