Frequently asked questions and answers
Q1. Will your Warré hive bodies and other accessories work with the Warré hive that I bought elsewhere or built myself?
A. All of our Warré parts and accessories will work with any Warré hive that was built to the correct specifications, which means each box must have inside dimensions of 300mm (about 11 13/16") square and the rebates that are cut into each box for the top bars or frames must be at least 1cm x 1cm (about 3/8" x 3/8"). Please give particular attention to the specifications that are given in the listings for our top bars and frames, and make sure they will work in your hive(s) before ordering. The specified height of a Warré hive body is 210mm (about 8 1/4"). If your box is not exactly 8 1/4 inches tall, the wrong (or no) bee space will be created if you install our frames in the hive (height of the box doesn't really matter if only top bars are used). Also, please note the handle placement on the bodies that we assemble, by looking closely at the photos in the listings. If you assemble the boxes that you buy from us yourself, you can install the handles however you'd like; otherwise, the handle placement might not match.
Q2. What is the difference between a Warré hive and a modified Warré hive?
A. Warré hives have top bars only. Modified Warré hives ( by our definition) have movable frames, as well as metal frame rests in the rebates in order to make the frames easier to remove and to protect the parts from damage from propolis adhesion. With our new modified hive design implemented in November of 2016, both hives are exactly the same in every other way, and may be converted back and forth as you wish.
Q3. Isn't it difficult to add hive bodies to the bottom of the hive? Don't you have to lift up the entire hive to do that? Isn't the hive really heavy?
A. The quick answers to these questions are "Not usually", "No" and "Only sometimes", respectively. First of all, nowhere is it written that a Warré hive cannot be disassembled, box by box if necessary, when adding a box or boxes to the bottom. If that is what you need to do at any particular time, then you can do that. However, bees normally winter in two hive bodies and in the spring (after most of the stores have been consumed) these two hive bodies and the quilt will likely only weigh about 25 lbs. or less. After removing the roof and setting it aside, most people will find it quite easy to lift the two hive bodies and the quilt (all three pieces at once) off of the floor and set them aside so that boxes can be added. Ideally, each spring you'll add two boxes to the bottom of the hive, then take two off the top at the fall honey harvest. If you live in a nectar rich area, you may wish to add two boxes at the spring visit and then super (add a box to the top) during the main honey flow. If a Warré hive is properly managed, it's likely that nothing will be required that compares with the intense lifting of full, 10-frame Langstroth deeps. Handling individual Warré hive bodies is similar to handling Langstroth 8-frame medium boxes. To learn more, please refer to Warré Beekeeping.
Q4. Do you make Warré hive lifts?
A. We don't make Warré hive lifts for many reasons. First and foremost is that you don't need one (see previous question and answer). Using a lift would be more difficult than not using one. Think about it...you'll have to pay for this expensive lift and for its shipping, you'll have to transport this heavy and awkward lift to your hive(s), your stand(s) will have to be constructed so as to not interfere with the lift, your hive(s) will have to be located where the ground is perfectly level and stable, you'll have to store the lift somewhere most of the time, etc.. Our only question is "Who would want one?"
Q5. What type of Cedar do you use to construct your hives? How thick is the wood?
A. Our hives are constructed from inland red cedar, which is the exact same species of tree as is western red cedar. The only difference between the two is that true western red cedar is grown right along the coast of the Pacific ocean, which gives it a slightly different appearance. We use exclusively STI certified inland red cedar and each board has a nominal thickness of 7/8".
Q6. Why do your hives come with only two hive bodies? Won't I need more than that?
A. Actually, there is no limit to the number of hive bodies that you might need for your hive. Warré claimed to have had one once that was seven boxes high! Most of the time you will need three, four or five. Having available a total of five bodies per hive will pretty much ensure that you'll have all you ever need. We sell our hives with only two initially, because you only need two in order to get started. You can decide how many extra hive bodies you'd like to have on hand and order those along with your new hive or later on; whichever you choose. Please note that you will need more than two hive bodies during your colony's first year.
Q7. What are the external dimensions of your hives? I'd like to get my stands set up before my hives arrive.
A. All of our hives use a floor that has external dimensions of 13 1/2" square. Stands should be constructed so the screened bottom is not blocked off and hives should be kept 12-18" off of the ground. Save yourself the trouble…beautiful heavy-duty cedar hive stands are available right here.
Q8. Isn't cedar lumber toxic to insects?
A. Cedar lumber is only toxic to some insects if it is very freshly cut and/or if they try to eat it. Although your cedar hive will not be eaten by termites or carpenter ants for this reason, cedar is not even remotely toxic to bees. In fact, cedar is arguably the best wood to use for a hive! Click here to learn more.
Q9. Is there a federal law that requires beehives to have movable frames?
A. No, although many states do have laws requiring them. Click here to learn more.
Q10. When/how often should I harvest honey from a Warré hive?
A. Please see Harvesting Honey for a detailed answer.
Q11. How is honey typically harvested from a top bar hive?
A. Honey is usually harvested from top bar hives by using the "crush and strain" method. Click here to learn more.
Q12. I see that you recommend that I select screened floors for my hives, rather than the solid floor option. Why?
A. We are firm believers that screened bottoms are a very good and natural means of helping to combat varroa mites. That is why we use them on all of our hives. Our thinking is this; if you have screened bottoms and decide you want solid, you can very simply block off the opening without expense or disturbing the bees. But if you have solid bottoms and decide you want screened, you will have a more difficult and costly task on your hands. You may elect to have your hive built with a solid floor if you wish. Simply select "Solid Floor" from the drop-down menu when ordering. The solid floor that we will provide will be exactly the same as the screened floor, except that it will have cedar boards instead of a screen and there will be no opening in the rear for a sticky board.
NOTE: During very hot, humid weather, hive overheating and comb collapses may become a problem if a solid floor is used.
Q13. Should the screened bottom be blocked off in the winter to help protect the bees from the cold?
A. Probably not. Some people have expressed concern that having open screened bottoms will allow lots of cold air to enter the hive. This is simply not true. Since heat rises, cold air can only enter the hive as warmer air exits out the top. This flow of air is strictly limited by the quilt. What the screened bottom does allow, is slow, even distribution of outside air throughout the hive, which helps to prevent condensation and keeps the bees drier. It is moisture, not cold, that is the biggest threat to bees in the winter. Wet bees die in a matter of hours; possibly even minutes. Our bees have survived several winters (even as temperatures have reached -30F) with their screened bottoms wide open. Screened bottoms are used on lots of hives of all different types throughout the U.S., and 95% of the people using them leave them open all winter. Protecting your hives from the prevailing winter winds, however, is very important.
Q14. I am a new beekeeper. How many hives should I start with this spring?
A. We recommend that you start with at least two. The first year is the hardest when establishing new colonies. If you have two, you'll have the ability to combine the hives together if you need to, and you'll be almost guaranteed to have at least one that's doing well the following spring. One hive will probably be OK too, but if it does fail you'll be disappointed and not able to get going again until the following spring. Anyway, the more the merrier!
Q15. Is a 2 lb. package with a queen enough bees to get my new hive started?
Q16. Is a 3 lb. package with a queen enough bees to get my new hive started?
A. If a 3 lb. package of bees is what’s in your budget and/or what’s available, you can certainly use a 3 pounder to populate your new hive. However, starting with more bees than that will allow your bees to build up much more quickly and really thrive in their first season. Warré recommended installing at least 2 kg (4.5 lbs.) of bees when populating a new hive, and you'll surely have greater success if you do. One common method is to start up 2 hives and populate them using three 3 lb. packages of bees. Each new hive gets a full package with a queen, and then the third package is divided up between the two hives. In this way, each hive gets about 4.5 lbs. of bees with a queen. If you want to start just one hive, there are some package suppliers that offer 4 lb. packages that would work well. There are also suppliers that offer 2 lb. packages as well as 3 pounders, so you might buy two packages (a 3 lb. and a 2 lb.) and start off with 5 lbs. of bees with a queen. Remember that whenever you install more than one package of bees in a hive, always introduce the (most robust) queen in her cage. Do not direct release her upon installation.
NOTE: It might be tempting to start a single hive with 6 lbs. of bees, since a 3 lb. package often only costs 10 dollars or so more than a 2 lb. package. However, experience tells us that starting a Warré hive with 6 lbs. of bees can cause swarming to occur very quickly, so it’s not recommended. If you’re having trouble figuring out how you’ll start your hive(s) with 4-5 lbs. of bees, simply start with 3 lbs…no worries.
Q17. I've been told that starting out with a nucleus hive (nuc) is much better than starting with packaged bees. Is this true?
A. Although it might be better than starting with only a 3 lb. package of bees, we feel that starting with 4.5-5 lbs. of packaged bees is the best approach to use when starting a Warré hive.
Q18. I want to buy a particular type of bee, but can only get them in a 5-frame Langstroth nuc. How can I get them into my Warré hive?
A. We build an adapter for doing this. It's called a Lang Nuc-to-Warré transfer box.
Q19. After I have installed my package of bees into my new hive, what happens to the queen cage?
A. Check the queen cage 3 days after you install your bees to make sure the queen has been released and remove it from the hive. Checking and removing the cage is an extremely simple procedure that usually takes less than 2 minutes. After only three days, there will be minimal comb built in the upper hive body and all of the bees will be clustered only in that top box. It's best to allow the syrup level in the feeder to go low before you do this (just don't fill the feeder all the way up on the second day and you'll be fine). I find it's best to perform this procedure as the sun is setting, as long as it's 50 degrees or better outside. You will, of course, need to wear your jacket/veil and you may want to fire up your smoker for this. If you smoke the bees, use only a puff or two through the screened bottom just before you start. You don't need anymore than that. To remove the cage from a Warré or octagonal hive, do as follows: First, lay two scrap 2x4s sideways and about 12 inches apart next to the hive to work as "rails" to keep your hive parts off of the ground. Next, remove the roof and put it aside, but leave the quilt in place. Slowly and carefully lift the upper hive body, feeder and quilt off of the hive (all three pieces at once) and carefully set the assembly down on the 2x4s. You will then find the queen cage on the top bars of the lower hive body, where you placed it during the installation. It's likely to be covered with bees, but they shouldn't be aggressive. Carefully pick up the cage. Verify that the candy plug has been eaten away and that the queen is no longer inside (it's not uncommon that there will be one or more workers inside the cage just checking it out). As long as the queen has been released, simply shake any bees off and out of the cage and onto the top bars of the lower box, reassemble the hive and take the cage away with you. It's as easy as that. Removing the cage from a modified hive requires removing the quilt and feeder, removing a few frames, and then removing the cage. Use your smoker, if necessary, to drive the bees back down into the hive before reinstalling the feeder, quilt and roof.
Q20. If I choose to use a modified Warré (framed) hive, should I use foundation in the frames, or go foundationless?
A. Foundationless is the natural way, but there are some very good reasons for using foundation. First, if you are installing bees that have been living on standard (5.4mm) foundation (as is the case almost all of the time), you'll want to start off new your colony by using 5.1mm foundation in the upper hive body and 4.9mm foundation in the lower hive body. Do this to get your bees regressed back to natural size as quickly as possible, in order to help combat varroa mites. Click here to learn more. Another good reason for using foundation is that it virtually guarantees that the combs will be built the way that we need them to be built in a framed hive. If cross-combing (when combs are attached to multiple top bars) occurs in a Warré (top bar) hive, it is of little consequence. But when a modified Warré hive gets cross-combed, it causes major aggravation for the beekeeper. Using foundation prevents this. Even when you're using foundation, leave the third frame (doesn't matter which side) in each box foundationless. Watch this video to see how to set up your frames. You can also wire the blank frames to give them extra strength. The blanks will serve two purposes; the one in the upper box gives you somewhere to place the queen cage upon installation of a bee package (on top of, and parallel with the bottom bar of the frame), and they all will serve as places for the bees to raise drones.
Q21. Does it matter which way I choose to orient the hive bodies, as far as whether the top bars/frames are parallel or perpendicular to the hive entrance?
A. If your hive has a screened bottom, air-flow between the frames will not be affected in any way by how you choose to orient the top bars/frames in relation to the entrance. If you choose to use a solid floor or block off the opening of the screened floor for extended periods (not recommended), placing the hive bodies so that the top bars/frames are parallel with the entrance will keep the bees slightly warmer (and possibly wetter-not good) by causing most of the air entering the hive to travel between the front wall of the hive and the first comb in each hive body before exiting the hive through the quilt. This is called "warm way" orientation. Also, it's important to note that certain accessories, such as pollen traps and robbing screens, cannot be mounted to your hive if there is a handle directly above the entrance. So, basically, it's best to set up your hive with the handles at the sides; not the front and rear.
Q22. Are there any times when I may need to reduce the size of the hive entrance?
A. Any time that you've just installed a package of bees into a hive, the entrance should be reduced to only about two bees wide. This is easily done by placing a small piece of scrap wood on the landing board in front of the opening. During times of nectar dearth (in most areas of the country this is in the fall) it's best to install a robbing screen. It's an inexpensive insurance policy against robbing and is highly recommended. When bees know that winter is coming and there's no nectar to be found anywhere, they can become quite aggressive and are likely to rob other, weaker colonies of their stores.
Q23. I tried to remove the quilt box from my hive today, but it seems to be stuck down to the top hive body. Isn't the screen supposed to prevent that? What do I do now?
A. The screen is used to minimize the propolizing of the quilt to the top hive body. After the hive is first set up, the bees may fill the gaps of the screen with propolis and some of this propolis may actually stick the quilt down quite firmly. Simply hold down one handle of the top hive body with one hand and pull the quilt loose with the other. It may take a bit of force, but the quilt canvas is strong enough to handle it. When you reassemble the hive, be sure to put the screen back as it was, so that the propolis filled sections correspond with the spaces between the top bars. If you do that, the next time you need to remove the quilt, it will be much easier.
Q24. Where do I put the screen when I'm using a hivetop feeder?
A. You do not need to use the screen while the hivetop feeder is in place. Put it somewhere that you'll be able to find it when you need it, which will be when you remove the feeder.
Q25. In your videos you recommend feeding a new colony a 2:1 ratio of sugar/water syrup, but I have read elsewhere to feed a 1:1 mixture. Are you sure I should feed 2:1?
A. Some people do feed 1:1 in the spring and 2:1 in the fall, if fall feeding is needed. We find it simpler and usually more effective to feed 2:1 any time feeding is necessary. Any and all feeding recommendations that we make are based on feeding a 2:1 mixture.
Q26. Once I have installed my new bee colony, how often do I need to check and/or fill the feeder?
A. A new colony that is enthusiastically taking feed can empty the feeder every day. Most of the time they will empty it every other day. It is important to monitor the feeder and keep it supplied with syrup for as long as the feeder is on. Remember to pour the feed in slowly and give the bees time to climb up out of the way, so that you don't drown them. The best time to fill the feeder is in the early morning, working from behind the hive.
Q27. How long should I leave the feeder on the hive after I have installed my package of bees?
A. As long as your bees are consuming the feed, you can leave the feeder on for a maximum of three weeks. Feeding your bees any longer than this is not only unnecessary, it can actually be harmful (refer to Beekeeping Myths to learn more). If your bees seem to be ignoring the feeder after it has been on for several days, you can go ahead and remove it because they are already finding ample nectar outside.
Q28. How long after I install my bees will I need to add another hive body?
A. Most people who start with at least 4.5 lbs. of bees and use our hivetop feeders will be amazed at how fast things progress. It's a very common misconception that one should wait until the bottom hive body is mostly filled with comb before enlarging the hive. The bees will often decide to swarm well before the bottom hive body is built out, and once they make that decision you'll be unable to convince them otherwise, regardless of what you do. New hives should have a third hive body (and possibly a forth if you live in a nectar rich area) added after 2-3 weeks, which will usually coincide with the removal of the feeder. Adding boxes at this time is easy because the hive is still fairly light and easy to lift. Because your hive is likely to be light, yet top-heavy at this time, be sure to secure it together and to its stand with either hive staples or a ratcheting hive strap.
Q29. How will I know that I need to enlarge an established hive?
A. Established hives should be enlarged in the spring as soon as the first sources of nectar (usually dandelions) appear. After that (unless the main nectar flow is nearing its end), one or more hive bodies should be added if large amounts of bees are seen (when looking up through the screened floor in the evening hours) clustering in the bottom box. If your hive already consists of four boxes but the bees need more room, you might want to super your hive.
Q30. Won't the wind blow my hives over? Should I do something to prevent this?
A. Many people will be pleasantly surprised at how stable these hives are. Some folks get the impression that they'd blow over easily...they don't. As long as the boxes have been in place long enough to be propolized together (a few weeks), the only time that any of our hives is prone to blow over is when it is empty. Not empty of bees or comb, but of stores. Once there are even 20 lbs. of stores in the hive, blowing over is of very little concern. The only real risk at that point is that high winds can cause the hive to slide and then fall off the edge of its stand. The floor of the hive should always be secured to the stand. If the hive is tall and light, hive staples should be used to secure the components together. If you're expecting a severe storm, or just want to have complete peace of mind during the winter and spring, use a hive strap to secure the quilt and hive bodies, then install the roof over the strap. Never put a strap over the roof of the hive.
Q31. Are there any precautions that I should take to prevent the hive from overheating in hot weather/climates?
A. First, make sure that your hive is not overcrowded and add boxes if necessary. If the bees have plenty of room, there are still some things that you can and should do to minimize high temperatures inside the hive, since a hive that is too hot could suffer comb collapse and/or the bees could abscond. When the first hot days of summer arrive you should push the sawdust in the quilt to the sides, so that a 3-4 inch circle of canvas is exposed. Remove some of the sawdust if necessary. Also, do not leave sticky boards in place or otherwise obstruct the screened bottom during times of hot weather. If you suspect that the hive is still getting too hot, remove all of the sawdust from the quilt. Also, always be sure that the bees have access to plenty of water nearby, as they use it to cool the hive.
Q32. It's the middle of winter and I walked out to my hive(s) today to check things out. I saw lots of dead bees on the landing board and some on the ground also. The weather has been too cold for the bees to come outside for the last several weeks. Should I be worried?
A. Your bees are probably just fine. It is normal for bees to die during the winter months, building up on the hive floor and sometimes crawling out just before dying. Other bees will also carry out the dead if it is warm enough. How many dead bees build up depends on many factors, but since your Warré hive has a short entrance slot (only about 1 cm tall), it is important that you do what you can to make sure that the entrance doesn't become blocked. Use a stick, pencil, etc. to pull out the dead bees that are within a few inches of the entrance. This will not only help with ventilation, but will ensure that your bees are able to get out of the hive for cleansing flights (to relieve themselves) when the first nice day arrives.