If you’re looking at beehive options you may already be familiar with the Langstroth. They’re a good option for new and experienced beekeepers, but most would agree their design isn’t perfect.
Some prefer a more natural approach to beekeeping that gives bees freedom to build hives the way they want it. Others seek a “hands-off” approach to keeping bees or want to avoid lifting heavy boxes.
If that’s you, then the low-cost Warre hive could be perfect for your needs. In this guide, we’ll take a close look at how the Warre hive is designed along with its strengths and weaknesses.
Overview of the Warre hive
From a distance, the Warre hive looks similar to a Langstroth. It has a system of vertical square boxes along with a roof, quilt box, and bottom board.
What makes the Warre unique is that instead of adding frames to each box, eight removable top bars are used. This allows the honey bees to construct their own comb, similar to how they would inside a hollowed-out tree.
The simplicity of a Warre will appeal to natural beekeepers who are looking for a simpler approach to keeping bees. Those interested in natural beekeeping may also want to check out our guide to top bar hives.
The four main sections of a Warre
Base: The base forms a foundation for the boxes to sit on and also features the hive entrance. Some brands include small legs.
Boxes: One or more square stackable boxes that house the bees and top bars for building comb on.
Quilt Box: A wooden frame with cloth attached to the underside that sits neatly on top of the box below. It is filled with insulation like leaves, straw, or wood shavings.
Roof: A high pitch roof allows rain to runoff efficiently and helps protect the bees from external threats.
The Warre is a simple hive which makes it a relatively cheap option for beekeepers on a budget. Let’s take a closer look at the main components of a Warre hive.
The base of a Warre is a simple part of the hive that is used to place the boxes on.
It includes an entrance that is much smaller than a Langstroth’s, which means an entrance reducer isn’t required. On the downside, the smaller entry hole means it’s not as easy for the colony to enter and exit.
Some models may include legs to give the hive added protection from pests and to help keep out moisture. Beetle traps are another optional inclusion that some manufacturers include.
Warre boxes are designed to house 8 top bars that are positioned evenly across the box on rebates. There are no frames or foundations, giving the worker bees space to build out comb how they see fit.
Standard Warre boxes are square and usually measure 12” x 12”. That’s much smaller than the rectangular Langstroth boxes which are often closer to 20”.
Small boxes offer some significant benefits for the beekeeper and honey bees. Inspections are much easier and moving the boxes with handles around is easy. Compared to hoisting a Langstroth deep that’s packed with brood, Warre boxes are child’s play.
A smaller box also replicates the typical dimensions of hives in the wild. The honey bees experience a more natural environment to build their comb and it’ll be easier to keep the colony warm in winter.
Warre boxes may also include a viewing window. This is a handy feature, allowing the beekeeper to see inside without disturbing the hive.
A second entrance is sometimes included in the box. This is handy on busy spring and summer days when foragers are bringing a lot of nectar and pollen back to the hive.
A Warre spacing tool is well worth the investment as it allows even spacing of the bars in the box. This is important for respecting bee space and getting the best out of your hive.
3. Quilt Box
The quilt box is unique to a Warre hive and is made of a wooden frame with burlap or a similar cloth attached to the underside.
When the quilt is filled with absorbent materials like wood shavings, it offers the hive excellent insulation.
Moisture that gets released when bees consume honey is a big concern for beekeepers in winter. It may drip back down on the bees from the roof or even freeze. The Warre hive box helps deal with this by absorbing and releasing moisture from the hive. This is a feature that may help the bees survive through the cold months.
A Warre hive’s roof is slanted to encourage rain and snow to slide off. It is made using relatively thick pieces of wood to help the quilt box control moisture control and insulation.
The roof of a Warre also has a small gap that allows for ventilation.
How do honey bees use a Warre hive?
Once bees are introduced to their new Warre hive, they’ll start drawing comb from the top bars down into the box. The lower section of comb will be used for brood while the upper area is mostly used for honey. As there’s no foundation the bees can determine what size cells are built.
The bees will stop building comb as they get close to the top bars of the box underneath. This bee space means the boxes don’t become joined together with propolis and comb. For beekeepers, it allows them to manage and harvest each box separately.
Also worth reading: If you like vertical hives then take a look at our article on what is an Apimaye hive? It is similar to a Warre but is built for dealing with extreme weather.
Why use a Warre beehive?
A Warre hive is a great option for beekeepers seeking a low-maintenance way to keep bees that won’t break the bank. Compared to the Langstroth, inspections are a simpler process, and moving the boxes is much easier. There’s also less need for expensive equipment like honey extractors.
Tip: We recommend checking out our comparison of the Warre and Langstroth hives to get a better idea of which is best for you.
- Manage boxes instead of multiple frames
- Cycles out old comb and brings new comb in
- No need for chemical-laden foundations
- Relatively easy to lift the boxes
- A good choice for hands-off beekeepers
- Hive mimics a tree cavity
- Bees don’t misplace honey and starve during winter
- Low-cost thanks to a simple design
- Natural comb is better for hive health
- Fewer resources and local knowledge about Warre hives
- Lower honey yield than some other types of hive
- Foundationless comb is much more fragile
- Requires storage space for empty boxes
- Have to add additional boxes to the bottom of the hive
Why are Warre hives low maintenance?
The idea behind Warre hives is to conduct as few inspections as possible. A treatment for varroa mite may be necessary, but activities like checking for the Queen and straightening out comb aren’t in the hive’s best interests. It is better to leave them to run their own affairs.
Add empty boxes to the bottom of the hive during spring and harvest the honey from the top in the fall. That’s what the hive’s inventor, Warré, argued was best for the colony’s wellbeing.
When beekeepers inspect a hive, the colony’s work is set back 1-2 days. This is referred to as “unnecessary and harmful overwork” by Warré.
Are Warre hives expandable?
As the colony grows, beekeepers can increase the size of a hive by adding an extra box below the lowest one. Wild bees prefer to build down in nature, so the Warre hive replicates this.
The workers will begin building comb in the bottom box which leads the queen to join them and start laying eggs. Over time, adult bees will emerge from brood in higher boxes; the cells will get cleaned and then converted into honeycomb. This makes it easy for beekeepers to harvest the top box that’s full of honeycomb.
Who invented the Warre hive?
The Warre hive was invented by Abbé Émile Warré. It was the result of 50 years of research which included experimenting with around 350 different designs. The final design was coined “The People’s Hive”, meaning it was economical and simple to use.
How to build a Warre hive
Building a Warre hive is within the skillset of most people who are handy with tools. Check out this video to see how it’s done.
What is nadiring a hive?
Nadiring is the process of adding an extra box to the bottom of the hive. This style of management means new comb is built out at the bottom while the top boxes containing older comb are cycled out. Removing old comb is good practice and doesn’t allow it to become laden with potentially toxic chemicals.
The Warre hive may not be as popular as the Langstroth, but it definitely has its strengths.
Beekeepers who are interested in the philosophy of natural beekeeping will appreciate this hive design. The use of top bars rather than frames allows the beekeeper to take a more hands-off approach. With fewer inspections, bees can focus on what they do best, building hives.
Warre hives are also an affordable option. Their simplicity means you could potentially build your own with some cheap materials.
Keep in mind that newcomers to beekeeping may find it hard to get information on working with Warre hives. While there are plenty of getting started resources, specific problems aren’t as widely written about.