Some people will argue that honey production may be impaired when boxes are only added to the bottom of the hive (nadiring), rather than to the top, as with a Langstroth hive (supering). These concerns are in fact, valid. If honey production is one of your primary concerns as a beekeeper, there are indeed times when you will benefit greatly by supering your Warré hive.
In the normal scheme of things within a Warré hive, as within most feral nests as well, worker bees fill the cells above and beside the brood nest with nectar, which once dehydrated becomes honey. Significant amounts of nectar will very rarely ever be stored directly below or within the brood nest. As brood emerges, workers clean the empty brood cells and quickly fill them with nectar while at the same time, newly constructed cells are added to the bottom of the brood nest. Now, it doesn't take long to realize the limiting factor here. Worker brood takes about 19 days to develop and emerge from the cell. Drone brood takes even longer; up to 24 days. That means that the worker bees may run out of space to store nectar while they wait for empty, cleaned, former brood cells to become available.
Oftentimes, lack of space is not an issue since the availability of nectar in many areas is such that the bees have to forage a large area (one colony may forage up to 50,000 acres) in order to collect any significant amount of nectar. Also, remember that much time is spent foraging for pollen for feeding the brood and much is also spent bringing water into the hive. Although many areas are not particularly nectar-rich, many others are very much so, such as the upper mid-west of the U.S. For example; our biggest source of nectar here in Michigan is purple (or star) thistle. It's an invasive plant that might be a nuisance to some, but is loved by bees and beekeepers alike because of its abundance and because its nectar makes some of the best honey available. During the approximately 6-week bloom time of purple thistle, there may be literally an infinite amount of nectar close to the hive. It is during this time that bees kept in Warré hives may find that they have little space in which to store any of it. Supering your Warré hive during your area’s heaviest honey flow can be good for not only you, but for your bees as well. Busy bees are happy bees.
Even if you choose to super your hives, you still need to be managing them using traditional Warré methods as well. Ideally, you’ll be adding two boxes to the bottom of the hive each spring, and then removing the two boxes that the bees had wintered in, filled with honey, from the top of the hive at harvest time. In this way, you will be helping your bees to continuously renew all of the comb within the hive. If you discover that your bees are consistently able to produce only enough honey for you to remove one box from the top of the hive each year in this way, then you probably shouldn’t ever super your hive. You may live in a nectar-poor area, or perhaps bad weather is to blame, in which case you might be able to super during years when conditions are more favorable. As with anything else, there is a learning curve to building your knowledge of how to best manage your own hives. If honey production is important to you, you really need become very aware of nectar flows in your area. If you pay close attention to the world around you, within a couple of years you will know exactly what you can do, and when you can do it. Trust me...you will. Most of you will probably find that you can super during the heaviest nectar flow and get a "bonus" box of honey, above and beyond the one or two boxes that you’ll harvest each year by traditional means. Supering has several benefits, including:
Puts a large number of worker bees into high-gear foraging mode, keeping your bee colony busy and contented.
Allows for production and harvesting of a mostly one-nectar honey, so that it can be labeled as such and sold to a specialized market.
Allows for the production of chunk honey (where a chunk of comb from a sections box is placed into a container, suspended in honey) or section honey (section of honey comb, usually 4" square, filled with honey and sold in a cut-comb box), since a super will yield clean honeycomb with very few bi-products (very little pollen and no brood remnants such as cocoons or shed larval skins).
If modified Warré hive bodies are used as supers, the frames of drawn comb can be extracted and reused, since they will be clean, virgin wax. You can learn all about the process of honey extraction by watching this video!
NOTE: If you plan to use an extractor, use wired foundation in your frames and leave the super on the hive for at least a few weeks if the comb is freshly drawn. New wax comb is relatively weak and may come apart in an extractor. To make these combs even stronger, you can wire your frames in addition to using wired foundation.
Above, you can see the difference in color between honey harvested from our regular fall harvest and honey harvested from a super that was on during the star thistle bloom. They are both excellent honeys, but the one on the right contains only pure, star thistle nectar. This type of honey is preferred by many, although the honey made from multiple types of nectar and containing some pollen is a healthier choice.
Comb and honey from supers has a beautifully clean appearance and is 100% edible. This is because, in a super, no brood has ever been raised and virtually no pollen is present. Although excellent honey can be harvested from hives that are managed using the traditional Warré methods, combs that once contained brood are not considered edible by most people (they won’t hurt you, but the idea of eating brood remnants doesn’t appeal to most). Therefore, if one wishes to produce section (comb) honey or chunk honey, he or she should definitely use a super. One important consideration when using a standard Warré (top bar only) hive body (as shown in the photo above) or an octagonal hive body as a super is that oftentimes, the bees will build at least some of the combs in these boxes from the bottom up. This means that they may actually start combs by attaching them to the top of the top bars below and then building up into the super until they attach the tops of the combs to the top bars of the super. They do this because they are trying to build a continuation of their existing nest. These upside-down combs can cause lots of problems; mostly because they often collapse during construction. For this reason, using a modified hive body with foundation is the recommended way to super your Warré hive. Foundation prevents the bees from doing the same thing as discussed above; building their combs upside down from the tops of the bottom bars of the frames. Using a modified body isn’t an option for supering octagonal hives, but using two frames with foundation in the center positions of an octagonal hive body may prevent the issue. If you do choose to use a top bar hive body as a super, please be sure to review the information regarding harvesting honey so that you will know how to deal with box-to-box connections. Some beekeepers using top bar bodies as supers remove one clean comb from the bottom box of the hive and then install it in the super for the bees to use as a “ladder” to try to counter the building upside-down problem. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.
People are always asking us how much honey can be produced each year in a Warré Hive. This is, of course, an impossible question to answer with any accuracy because there are just too many variables that factor into it. But if you learn to recognize the honey flows in your area and install a super when conditions warrant one, you will maximize production. In the photo below, you can see how much honey comes from just one Warré or modified Warré hive body (about 10 quarts or 25-27lbs.). In most areas, carefully managed hives could easily yield two or three boxes each season.
Contrary to what many folks may think, supering your Warré hive does not violate the basic management principles of the man himself. Warré had practiced hive supering with a sections box as is described in Section Honey Production, an excerpt from Beekeeping for All. Although he never mentions using hive bodies as supers, Warré acknowledges in the book that he spent many years keeping bees in a relatively nectar-poor area, so it seems likely that there simply would have been no benefit to doing so. He also emphasized that he was a firm believer in the health benefits of mixed-nectar honeys, which are obtained by using his traditional methods.
Do you have to super your Warré hive? Absolutely not. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with managing your hives using only traditional Warré methods. The purpose of this page is simply to dispel the myths that you cannot super these hives or that you have to use a Langstroth hive in order to produce more honey, clear honey, chunk honey or section (comb) honey. As you have now seen, you can do all of those things while still allowing your bees to live in a bee-friendly Warré hive.