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Warré Hive Design

The Warré hive has several important features that set it apart from other commonly used hives, including:

  • Square hive bodies with internal dimensions of 30cm (about 11 and 13/16").
  • No frames; only affixed top bars (8 per box).
  • A shallow, sawdust filled box, or "quilt", that rests on the upper hive body and insulates the hive.
  • A sloped and vented roof assembly.
  • A relatively small entrance, but one that is adequate even during strong nectar flows.

First, let's look at how the Warré's size and shape helps our bees. In nature, the most common site for a bee colony's nest is a cavity in the trunk of a tree. Bees begin building their home by constructing combs which are attached to the ceiling of the cavity. These combs are first used to raise the bees' young (brood) and as the combs extend downward, the area where the brood is raised also moves downward into the freshly constructed wax. The comb above is abandoned for brood rearing and is then used for honey storage. In the late fall or early winter, the bees are clustered together, keeping warm near the bottom of the nest with their winter stores (honey) above them. Throughout the winter season, the bees move slowly upward, consuming their stores. If the bee cluster reaches the top of the tree cavity before the first food sources appear in spring, the colony may die of starvation.

Given that a cluster of bees is round, and that the bees like mostly to move straight upward when consuming winter stores, the ideal beehive would be round and vertical; just like a tree cavity! Since a round hive is difficult to construct,  felt that the most viable option is a square, vertical hive. He also felt that 30cm is the ideal inside dimension to accommodate a bee cluster and keep nearly all of the winter stores directly above that cluster. Your bees will not starve in a Warré hive unless there are just no stores in the hive at all.

Another very notable advantage of the Warré's shape and size comes from the fact that because the bee cluster is close to all of the hive walls, and therefore is heating the walls, little or no condensation occurs, not even in the corners. The condensation that frequently forms in other types hives is a significant contributor to mold, mildew and bee diseases such as nosema. Sometimes, condensation can become such a problem that the bees get wet and die of exposure. Winter losses due to this are quite common.

In regards to the top bars that are used instead of frames, Warré had numerous objections to using framed hives (please see Warré Beekeeping). The eight top bars that are used in each box have simple, wax coated comb guides instead of foundation sheets. Wire brads are used to secure these top bars in place. The bees build their own, natural wax combs from these top bars. The sides of the combs are then (typically) attached to the interior walls of the hive. This makes for a healthy and quite natural environment for honeybees.

Every hive has moisture in it that must be allowed to escape to the outside. So next, let's examine the Warré hive's unique quilt and roof combination. While other hives are highly dependent on ventilation to prevent excess moisture build-up and condensation, the Warré uses a sawdust filled quilt, which allows for very slow air movement through the hive, while temporarily absorbing moisture and then dispersing it to the outside through the roof assembly. The whole idea behind the quilt is that it mimics the top of a tree cavity; soft, decomposing wood that allows moisture to escape instead of condensing into droplets. Insulating the hive, rather than just ventilating it, allows the bees to expend far less energy keeping warm (consuming much less honey during the winter months), while also allowing the nest to retain its unique scent. These benefits are achieved without the risk of excessive moisture buildup. Another benefit of reduced airflow through the hive, may be that the hive is less detectable by predators. The sweet smell of honey emitting from a hive can attract robber bees, yellow jackets or even bears from long distances away.

Finally, let's discuss the hive entrance. Other hives often have very large entrances that require the use of reducers, which can work OK if used properly. But not only are these large entrances unnecessary, it's not always easy to know how much to reduce them. Leave the reducer in too long and you'll create a traffic jam that impairs productivity. A wide open entrance will often lead to the colony's stores being stolen. Warré felt that it was best to settle on a smaller entrance, which makes it much less vital to monitor things so closely. Our hives have entrances that are approximately 1cm tall and 17cm wide. 

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