The Warre and Langstroth are popular hives that you could be forgiven for getting mixed up. They’re both vertical, modular hives that share a similar design and features. But each hive has differences that will appeal to alternative styles of beekeeping.
If you want to learn how a Langstroth and Warre differ then keep reading. We’re about to compare these hives to help you decide which is right for you.
Short on time? Just skip down the page to this handy summary table comparing the Warre and Langstroth. It sums up all the main points.
What’s the difference between a Warre and Langstroth hive?
A Warre hive is made up of vertical 12” square boxes along with a roof, quilt box, and bottom board. Each box houses 8 top bars that are positioned evenly across the box. There are no frames or foundations, giving the worker bees space to build out comb how they see fit.
The more productive Langstroth is a vertical hive consisting of rectangular boxes that can vary in size. Frames with foundations give the bees a head start building out comb. However, the use of frames requires a more hands-on approach to beekeeping compared to the Warre hive.
The above explanation is useful but oversimplifies how these two hives differ. Let’s take a closer look at their components to get a better idea of how they work.
Whether you choose a Lang or a Warre, the main part of your hive will consist of boxes where the bees live, store food sources, and raise brood. But that’s about where the similarities end.
Langstroths use large rectangle boxes that are around 20” in length. Bigger boxes provide the benefit of more space for the bees. If honey is your main game, then this design will serve you well.
Warre boxes are only 12” so they may not be as productive when it comes to honey output. But a smaller footprint has its benefits. The space roughly mimics the size of a tree trunk. That’s a huge benefit in cold climates as keeping a small space warm is easier for the bees.
A Warre box usually has thicker walls too, helping the hive to conserve heat in winter and keep heat out in summer.
Langstroths use frames that can be inspected individually. Although beekeeping styles can vary, often the idea is to perform weekly or monthly inspections. The beekeeper may inspect for varroa mites and other threats, check brood, look for the queen, repair comb, and remove unwanted propolis.
The argument for hands-on beekeeping stems from a world that is completely different from a century ago. Many new pests and diseases have migrated to areas where bees used to live in peace, so protecting the hive is necessary. If you want to actively manage your apiary, then a Langstroth is the better choice.
The philosophy of the Warre’s inventor, Abbé Émile Warré, was to let the bees manage their own affairs. He believed that opening the hive set the colony back days and should therefore be kept to a bare minimum. Instead, add a box or two to the bottom of the hive in spring and harvest from the top in the fall.
Some Warre owners will perform limited inspections, like checking for varroa mites. But the overall approach is more about leaving the bees to look after themselves.
Managing the boxes in each hive requires a completely different approach depending on the hive. As the the Langstroth starts to reach capacity, beekeepers add an extra super to the top.
This is much easier than adding supers to a Warre, which get added to the bottom of the hive. While this process requires a lot of extra lifting and is more intrusive to the colony, it allows the bees to build downward, just like they would in the wild.
Another benefit of bottom placement is that it allows fresh new boxes to replace older ones. This is more hygienic, helps reduce potential diseases, and stops toxins from building up in the wax.
There are no hard-and-fast rules for the type of roof used on each hive. However, you’ll usually find Langstroths have a flat roof while the Warre has a pitched roof.
Of the two designs, the Warre is best equipped for dealing with cold winters. Thicker, angled roofs help the rain and snow to slide off onto the ground.
But it’s what you find under the roof that can make the difference between successful overwintering and dead bees. A quilt box lies between the roof and the top super in a Warre.
The quilt box can be filled with wood shavings or other materials with insulative properties. It keeps the hive warm and stops moisture from building up under the roof which can freeze or drip onto the bees.
The hive entrances on Langstroths and Warres are both located at the bottom of the hive. The Warre is smaller meaning entrance reducers are unnecessary.
Smaller entrances are usually won’t fit an entrance feeder though, so you’ll need to look at alternative locations for feeding your colony.
Quality of honey
While many beekeepers get intrinsic benefits from keeping bees, they’re usually happy to harvest honey too. If you’re looking to maximize honey output, then a Langstroth is your best option.
Adding a super or two to the top of the hive allows the colony to quickly build out honeycomb – quicker than adding a box to the bottom of the Warre hive. Beekeepers who only want enough honey for their home, say 20-30 pounds, will find a Warre perfectly fine.
Anyone looking for the cleanest-looking honey should also opt for a Langstroth. This type of hive lets you produce clean comb that’s free from brood.
Honey taste and appearance will often be tainted with brood when produced in a Warre. The colony moves the comb into sections of the hive that previously contained brood, which gets into the honey. While the honey still tastes good, clarity and taste are impacted.
Frames of honeycomb from a Langstroth are easier to store without getting infested with wax moths. There are no remnants of bee silk left on the comb which attracts moths like a bright light.
The Langstroth hive offers a lot more flexibility when compared to the Warre. It is well suited to commercial operations and beekeepers who actively manage more than one hive.
The operational benefits of a Langstroth over a Warre include:
- Easier to split if the hive is growing fast.
- Frames with foundations make it easier to transport the hives wherever you choose without damage.
- Easily rear queens.
- Sugar feeders fit between the frames.
Keep in mind that a Langstroth’s flexibility is a double-edged sword for a newcomer to beekeeping. It is easier to mess things up which can be a liability. Also, hobbyist beekeepers who don’t want to get too involved with their hive may find them too much work.
Most would agree that a Warre is better looking than the Langstroth. It is smaller with neat square boxes and a pitched roof. Along with a viewing window, you get a hive that’s a pretty addition to the corner of any backyard. While a fun paint job will help the Langstroth, it lacks the viewing window and looks more like a pile of rectangle boxes.
In countries like the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, Warre hives are much harder to find than Langstroths. You may not be able to find a local beekeeping equipment supplier that stocks them. Buying online could cost a lot when you factor in shipping.
Langstroths are sold everywhere which also means getting spare parts and the correct equipment is also easy.
Warre vs. Langstroth – Summary Table
|Hive boxes||Smaller 12” square boxes with thicker walls, mimicking a tree trunk.||Larger rectangle boxes around 20” in length.|
|Inspection philosophy||Bees manage their own affairs, with occasional inspections.||Regular, hands-on management of each frame.|
|Box management||Supers added to the bottom of the hive.||Supers added to the top of the hive.|
|Roof||Often pitched with a quilt box below for insulation.||Often flat.|
|Hive entrance||Smaller entrance at bottom of hive.||Larger entrance at bottom of hive.|
|Quality of honey||Good, but may be tainted with brood.||Excellent quality, pure honey.|
|Flexibility||Less flexible – unable to move the hive, split, or rear queens.||More flexible – can split the hive, rear queens, transport the hive.|
|Hive appearance||Excellent – looks like a neat little house with a viewing window.||Looks more like a pile of boxes, although a paint job helps.|
|Hive availability||Harder to locate in many locations.||Easy to find in most places with many spare parts.|
Choosing the best hive out of a Warre and Langstroth will come down to the beekeeper’s personal needs. If you’re the type that loves to roll up your sleeves and manage the hive regularly, then the Lang is your hive. It has some other big advantages over a Warre like more scalability, better honey, and more of it.
In most cases, beekeepers are best starting with a Langstroth. It takes more skill to manage, and mistakes will occur. But there are also loads of resources to help you get started and learn fast.
Anyone looking for the easier to manage hive should go for the Warre. It is less work and also a less intrusive way to keep bees. But remember any hive still requires some work. You’ll still need to inspect for varroa mites (unless you’re in Australia) and other parasites and pests.