Hive Choices

There are a number of hive designs that complement natural beekeeping, and  even the conventional Langstroth hives can be modified slightly to promote a more natural environment for the bees.   Below are some examples of alternative hive designs followed by a description of how Langstroth hives can be adapted to promote beekeeping according to natural principles.

I.  The Warré Hive

The Warre Hive (also known as the People’s Hive) was developed by the French monk by Emile Warré. 

Emil Warré with one of his "People's Hives"

His careful research over many decades using dozens of designs resulted in a hive that promotes the well being of bee colonies by maximizing warmth and scent retention, and promoting good ventilation. He reasoned that these features optimize hygienic conditions for the bees, and support the bees in their work by minimizing temperature and humidity fluctuation helping them maintain the constant conditions needed for the care of the developing young.

The modern Warré hive has no frames, but uses movable top bars. This allows bees to build comb in the shape and form that is natural to them. The square boxes are small, with an inner dimension of 12″ x 12″, and comfortably accommodate a typical bee cluster, making it easier for the bees to keep warm.  They are added at the bottom in the spring to allow the colony to expand with the nectar flow, as it is their nature to expand downward in the wild.   In the fall, the upper box(s) are removed and the comb is cut from the top bars for honey extraction.  Through this practice, the comb is renewed at least every two years promoting hygienic hives conditions.  If the nectar flow has been good, the top boxes will be full of honey. Warré stresses leaving ample stores for the bees for overwintering, to avoid having to feed the bees overwinter or in the spring.

The drawbacks to a Warré hive are that the top bars encourage more free form comb building, including attachment of the combs to the sides of the boxes.   This makes inspection of the comb, and harvesting of honey more complicated.    A comb cutting tool can be fashioned that allows the separation of the comb from the walls of the box, but there is still a greater chance of bridge comb with top bars than with frames.   In the case of truly crazy comb throughout the box, the Warré method indicates waiting until that box is at the top and filled with honey, then harvest the entire box, instead of one frame at a time.   Warré felt strongly that the bees should be left alone to manage their brood nest, and the hive only needed opening once in the spring for clean out and inspection, and once in the fall for the preparations for winter.

II  The Horizontal Top Bar Hive – Kenyan and Tanzanian

The horizontal top bar hive was designed for use in Africa, where a hot and arid climate and a paucity of resources for wood construction made it an ideal alternative.   The top bar hive is relatively easy to construct, and is oriented like a hollow tree laying on its side.  To be continued.

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