Apiary - Warré or TBH or Langstroth = Happy Bees

This spring, {2013} we plan to add Bees to our sustainable farm project. Like most of our project we are trying to do as much research before we get our creature. At the moment I’m trying to figure out if I want to get a Top Bar Hive or a Warré Hive. Let’s begin with some of the research I’ve done.

Let's take a step back and look at the way honeybees live in the wild.  Most feral honeybees prefer to nest in hollow trees.  That means they are quite well insulated from the elements, with thick wooden walls on the sides.

Nest chambers of wild bees are vertically elongated cylinders with a capacity of about 8 to 16 gallons.  The deep brood box that most Langstroth hives begin with has a capacity of about 11 gallons, and beekeepers generally add on at least one more deep brood box or two shallow supers.  That makes the wild bee hives sound small, but keep in mind that wild bees don't sock away as much honey as we ask our bees to.  Instead, they swarm as soon as conditions in the hive start to get cramped, sending out a daughter colony to make a new hollow her own.

Wild bee hives are usually at or near the base of a tree and the entrances are generally at the bottom of the hollow.  Entrances vary in size depending on the capacity of the tree, but range from about 4 to 16 inches in diameter.

The bees chew away rough bark at the entrance to make a smooth landing area, then they coat the inside walls with propolis.  Combs are fastened to the top and sides of the chamber, but the bees leave small passageways along the edges to allow them to move around inside easily.  They put honey in the top of the combs, then pollen, and care for their brood below.

Ok, now we have a basic understanding of how the bees’ choose to live. Let’s look at a few of the hive types.

Langstroth Beehive, a very common kind, consists of several parts:

Picture via http://www.sonomabees.orgh

  • Hive stand. Something to keep the hives off the ground about 18-24 inches. Treated wood and concrete blocks are good enough. Some people use pallets. It should provide ventilation and a level surface to support the hive.

  • A bottom board. This forms the bottom of the hive. It can be screened for ventilation and mite control, or slatted or solid wood.

  • Deep hive bodies. These are the boxes with frames and foundation in them where the bees will live and raise their brood. Multiple boxes are stacked together to form the hive. Inside each individual frame is foundation, which the bees "draw out," forming comb.

  • Inner and telescoping outer cover. The inner cover provides a hole for the bees to get out of. Sometimes a pail feeder is inverted on top of this hole to feed the bees sugar syrup. The telescoping outer cover is usually covered in metal and provides a secure top to the hive.

  • Supers. The boxes where the bees make honey - and where you collect it. These are filled with frames as well.

  • Frames. Frames are wooden or plastic, and are rectangles that hold foundation. The frames give you the opportunity to pull out parts of the hive to inspect the bee colony, or to harvest honey.

    • Foundation. Foundation is the base on which bees draw out honeycomb. The bees use the pattern on the foundation as a guide and add wax to the needed depth. Then the queen lays eggs in some of the cells. In others, the workers store honey and pollen. So a frame of foundation can have eggs, brood (developing bees), honey and pollen.

    • Here is a link to free plans Langstroth Plans

      Warré Hive (pronounced war-ray)

      Features of the Warré Hive Design

      • Hive bodies are square and smaller than a Langstroth hive.

      • Most  Warré hives do not use frames, only top bars. The bees build wax comb without foundation off the top bars. The sides of the comb are attached to the interior walls of the hives.

      • A "quilt" filled with sawdust rests on the upper hive body. The quilt absorbs excess hive moisture and provides insulation.

      • The roof is sloped and vented to allow for ventilation.

      • The entrance is sized for most situations and usually does not need to be modified.

      • Why Choose a Warré Hive

        Proponents of Warré hive design like that the size and shape of the hive is more natural for the bees. It is more like their natural home: a cavity in the trunk of a tree. Bees typically build downward, beginning by constructing comb that attaches to the cavity ceiling. Bees raise brood in this upper part of the hive at first, but as the hive expands, the brood are kept lower down, and the upper area is used for honey storage. As winter approaches, the bees cluster in the lower part of the nest with honey stored above them. As the winter progresses, they move upward as they consume the honey stores.

        Since in a Warré hive, the bee cluster is almost touching the hive walls, there is little to no condensation in the corners. Condensation occurs in Langstroth and top-bar hives, and can contribute to winter diseases like nosema as well as mold and mildew. The Warre hive's quilt and roof combination also allows for a more natural style of ventilation while still insulating the hive. Warré's idea was that the quilt mimics the top of the tree cavity - decomposing, soft wood that allows moisture to escape without condensation.

        Warré Hive Management

        Warré hives are managed in a slightly different way from Langstroth hives. The key is that they require very little intervention from the beekeeper. Instead of adding boxes to the top of the hive, in a Warré hive the beekeeper adds hive bodies under the existing brood chamber, mimicking the way bees naturally move in a tree. The brood nest will be moved down into the new wax and the upper area is used for honey storage.

        Since Warré hives are smaller than Langstroth boxes, you will need to leave at least two, possibly three, hive bodies to overwinter your colony. Typically, in the spring, you will add two hive bodies to the bottom of the Warré hive. You may have to add another hive body if the summer nectar flow is strong - this can be done underneath the existing or above (supering).

        Top Bar Hive

        The Top Bar Hive is very similar to the Warré hives. Instead of setting up the hive vertically, they switch the plane to horizontal, so that the honey is at the front and the brood nest is at the back.

        via http://kick-artist.deviantart.com/

        So, we will see where this goes. At the moment I’m really thinking Top Bar style with a Warré Roof as possible a place to put a Langstroth Super. As we start building our hive I will add pictures!


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