Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Warre Hive

   I installed bees in my modified Warre hive a week ago. I say modified because this year's Warre hive has regular frames. I did a conventional Warre hive last year and did not get good results.  A Warre hive can best be described as a vertical top bar hive.  The depth of the Warre boxes are very close to the depth of a conventional deep hive body but their width is that of an eight frame hive and the length is reduced as well. These comparisons won't mean anything to non-beekeepers. The Warre hive was developed by a French monk who died in the 1950s. If anyone has an interest in Warre hives there is quite a lot available on the internet, including an English translation of Abbe Warre's book. I think he had a number of very good ideas. I'm just not very enthused about the top bar aspect.

    Last year's Warre hive was something I inherited from my daughter Rachel.  She got stung and while trying to put bees in the Warre hive and went into anaphalaxis.  I got to take her to the emergency room while someone else put bees in the hive.  With such an auspicious beginning I shouldn't have been surprised when other things went wrong with the hive.  First of all, the bees chose to draw out the comb diagonally connected to a least three different top bars. That made it impossible to check on the bees progress without damaging the comb where they were rearing brood.  The swarm that was placed into the hive turned out to be a secondary swarm as opposed to a prime swarm.  That meant it had a virgin queen as opposed to a mated queen.  Queen bees don't mate within the hive.  Rather they mate on the fly about 50 feet in the air on a sunny calm 70 degree day.  We don't usually get many such days in western Washington until June. As a consequence the queen bee in this April swarm never got mated and became a drone layer.

     An unmated queen would have been a minor problem in a conventional Langstroth hive with moveable frames.  As soon as I discovered I had a drone layer I would have replaced the queen and all would have been well.  Due to the problems mentioned above, I didn't discover I had a drone layer until it was too late to fix the problem. I was going to give the conventional Warre hive another go this year, but a customer talked me into selling the hive to him.  As I said, I am intrigued with several other aspects of the Warre hive and wanted to experiment with those concepts without dealing with a top bar hive.

     I build the modified Warre hive last summer. I used the same width as the conventional Warre hive, but I lengthened the boxes a bit so as to retain the 12 inch by 12 inch interior size of the brood nest after I had added frames.   The size of the Warre hive is supposed to replicate the approximate size of the cavities bees find in hollow trees.  The idea is that the bees should winter better if the diameter of the nest approximated the normal size of their winter cluster.  Another aspect of the Warre hive that I wanted to try out was his "quilt" in the top of the hive.  Warre included in his lid, a box full of leave or wood shavings that was designed to act as a moisture buffer.  A hollow tree has a lot of punky wood at the top of the cavity that serves this function for a feral colony.  Warre stretched burlap cloth across the bottom of the box.  Anything that acts as a moisture buffer is probably a good thing to try out in wet western Washington. Anyhow, I'll try it out for a few years and see if I think it helps the hives seem to winter better.

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