Apicultural Review Letters

Letter # 386
2009 September 18


 


Warré Hive Or Top Bar Hive ? - Is The Warré Hive Really So Simple, Sustainable And Bee-Friendly As Maintained By Their Proponents?

Apiary According Warré Or Standards Of The Centre For Ecological Apiculture?


Abbé Émile Warré (?-1951) experimented with over 350 hives of various types over a period of 50 years. During that time he developed a
fixed-comb hive designed for "minimal intervention, easy harvesting and enlargement as well as for producing honey at minimal
cost of labour and capital". He called his hive "la Ruche Populaire", which could be  translated as 'the People's Hive'. He describes the origins and development of this hive, how to construct it and how to manage it through the beekeeping year in his book: L'Apiculture por Tous [1]

Interesting is his criticism of hives with moveable frames:

"The conditions in the colony are far from natural, even if the hive is not repeatedly opened and the frames moved around. A wild colony building in a cavity, or a managed colony building in a skep, attaches comb not only to the top of the cavity, but also to the sides. This creates vertical cul-de-sacs between adjacent combs that retain the heat and the scents (including pheromones and possibly other volatile substances necessary for full colony health) produced by the colony (German: Nestduftwärmebindung). With framed hives, beekeepers strive to keep the sides and tops of the frames away from the hive body walls and from whatever is above, thus
allowing heat and scents to escape from the nest. As fast as the bees try to build in gaps round frames, as diligently does the beekeeper try to keep ahead of the bees by scraping away so-called 'brace comb'. The main point of the Warré hive is to make it bee-appropriate or bee-friendly by eliminating the gaps so as to conserve nest heat and scent. The Warré hive is a vertical (tiered, storified) top-bar hive.

Another artifact introduced by modern beekeeping is queen excluders. They are not used in Warré hives. The queen has access, at least in principle, to the whole comb chamber. Having no excluder is made workable by allowing the bees, to extend the combs downwards by nadiring fresh boxes, i.e. adding boxes underneath. The brood nest gradually moves downwards as brood at the top hatches leaving honey-filled comb above. This overcomes another artifact, namely that of forcing the bees to build comb for honey storage above the brood nest, i.e. in supers. As plenty of space is always kept available in the Warré hive below the nest for further building, two 'risk factors' of swarming, i.e. no work for the wax makers and overcrowding, are minimised.

The bees are allowed to build comb freestyle, subject only to the positioning of top-bars and beads or starter strips of wax. There is no need for foundation. Thus the bees determine their own cell size, the proportion of drone to worker cells and where to put them.

Feeding sugar is frowned on by followers of natural beekeeping and, in any case, if sugar is introduced into the Warré hive, some would almost certainly end up in the harvested honey. Thus, if feeding is necessary, diluted honey is used either with an Ashforth feeder or from a jar on the top bars. Sugar should be used only in exceptional circumstances." [1]

One main advantage of the Warré hive include comb built freestyle regarding cell-size and proportions of worker/drone cells. But here the Warré hive doesn't differ from a top bar hive.

Similar to a wild colony also a colony in a top bar hive (constructed according standards of Centre for ecological Apiculture) is building in a cavity, attaches comb not only to the top of the cavity, but also to the sides. This creates vertical cul-de-sacs between adjacent combs that retain the heat and the scents (including pheromones and possibly other volatile substances necessary for full colony health) produced by the colony (German: Nestduftwärmebindung). Of course with framed hives, beekeepers strive to keep the sides and tops of the frames away from the hive body walls and from whatever is above, thus allowing heat and scents to escape from the nest. This sometimes even happens with KTBH's: beekeepers strive to keep the sides of the combs away from the hive body walls.

"The Warré hive is a vertical (tiered, storified) top-bar hive." The Warré hive is not really a vertical (tiered, storified) top-bar hive. The advantage of a Top-bar hive or KTBH is that the brood nest is not being disturbed by taking a glimpse into the colony from one side. A Warré hive can't be managed in a bee-friendly way similar to magazine hives.

However, problems occur, if the the Warré hive is being opened to check the colony (diseases) or put "new (white or yellow) fixed comb of boxes from which bees have been driven for one reason or another" above the flighthole. The Warré hive needs to be managed similar to a langstroth hive: that means for instance the boxes need to be removed to get the slightest glimpse into the colony; this causes heavy disturbances within the colony and changing of the brood nest temperature (Nestduftwärmebindung). The result is that bees become aggressive. That's also the reason why Warré hive beekeepers can't work without a smoker - similar to a langstroth or dadant beekeeper who is also working with magazines, boxes or supers. Strictly, this fact is able to rule out the Warré hive as unsustainable or bee-unfriendly. On top of that Warré hive beekeeping can't be called "beekeeper-friendly", because carrying heavy boxes with brood and honey combs is anything but easy beekeeping.

Some Warré hive beekeepers think their manipulations wouldn't be ruled out as unsustainable or bee-unfriendly, even if they change the direction of combs by rotating the hive, similar as it is common by rotating frame hives (which is a prototype of a hive ruled out as unsustainable or bee-unfriendly). [2][3]

Did you ever met a beecolony rotating itself together with it's combs within a cavity of a tree? - - - I didn't.

However, ecological beekeeping, sustainalbe or bee-friendly beekeeping looks different. Managing the Warré hive is neither easy nor useful for beginners. Obtaining apitherapeutical produce is almost not possible, as honey comes from brood combs. Presshoney is an option, but comb in the comb, beebread and run honey almost can't be harvested from Warré hive beekeeping.

Thus, who really is interested in ecological and sustainable beekeeping, should start with top-bar-hive-beekeeping (top bar hives constructed according standards of Centre for Ecological Apiculture), join Natural Apitherapy Council or become a Partner-apiary of the Centre for Ecological Apiculture.

M.T.
____________________________
[1] Abbé Émile Warré:  L'Apiculture por Tous - beekeeping for all. Translated by David Heaf 2007
[2] Berndhard Heuvel 2008: Bienenhaltung für Alle
[3] Thiele, M. 2009: Warré Beute oder Top bar hive? Ist die Warré Beute wirklich so einfach und bienengerecht wie immer behauptet wird? Imkerei nach Warré oder nach Kriterien des Zentrums für wesensgemäße Bienenhaltung? Apicultural Review letters 2009, 8,Nr.386
 
 

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