Monday, May 19, 2014

Research, research, research

I've wanted to get honey bees for many years now. We have so many plants and trees that could benefit from their pollination and I'd love to have some honey to add to my produce stand in the summers!

When I first started researching I found the top bar hives which seem like a great idea because it involves a lot less equipment than the traditional Langstroth hives do. There are no large supers to lift because you are harvesting single frames at a time. Large extractors are not needed since the crush and strain method is usually used. On the downside, they are smaller so you do need more of them to get the same production you would with Langstroths. Also, they can be heavier than langstroths because the entire hive is in one box instead of multiple boxes but if you have no plans to move your hive this is not a problem. Of course since langstroth hives are more commonly used, parts for them are easier to find unless you build your own. (not that building a hive is a problem, there are many plans available)

langstroth and top bar hives
(photo from:

Recently I discovered Warre hives which are a combination of the Langstroth and Top Bar. What I really love about these is that they seem to encourage the bees natural behavior more so than the other hives. No artificial foundation is used allowing the bees to make their own foundation just the size they need. New boxes are added to the bottom and boxes are harvested from the top making the comb always circulating and bees always building new and not reusing old comb. This improves the health of the colony. Also, the adding off bottom boxes allows the bees to build the hive from top to bottom which is the way they would build a hive in the wild.

A quilt box on top (which is not found on other hives) not only adds insulation but allows moisture to escape out of the hive. Like the top bar hives, not much equipment is needed and the low maintenance of these hives means opening only once or twice a year to add boxes and harvest honey!

The floors generally have a mesh bottom to allow mites that fall off the bees upon entering the hive to fall out through the bottom. This floor would need to be changed to a solid floor for the winter or built with a drawer underneath the mesh to allow the mites or other debris to be cleaned out.

Warre bee hive
(photo from:

The only downfall I see with the Warre hive is when adding boxes you need to lift the entire hive to place the new box underneath. With multiple boxes this could be over 100 pounds! Many people have built hive lifts to deal with this problem. A lot of those plans can be seen here:  I think having a lift should go on a list of essential equipment if owning this type of hive, along with a smoker, hive tool, and whatever garments one chooses to wear.

Just like top bar hive, you'd need to make most of the components yourself since they are not as common as langstroth hive. Building does seem to be very simple, some people even use scraps from around their work shops to make their hives: 

Detailed plans to build a warre hive can be found here:

My dream with have to wait until next year. Most apiaries only ship packaged bees in April and they sell out quickly. I have a whole year to continue my research and get some hives built (or ordered). Early next spring I plan on taking an introductory bee keeping class so I'll be ready to go come bee season!

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