How can you tell if someone is a Warré beekeeper? Don’t worry… they’ll tell you.
What is a Warré hive?
The Warré hive is a bee hive created by a French beekeeper Abbé Émile Warré in and around 1910-1920’s. Abbé Émile Warré published several editions of his book ‘Beekeeping For All’ with the 12th edition published in 1948 all editions detailing not only the design of his hive, “The People’s Hive” but a thorough guide to beekeeping using his specific methods. This thread is to discuss the hive itself, not Abbé Émile Warré’s beekeeping methods specifically.
What makes the Warré hive popular?
The Warré hive has found popularity among those who like to promote ‘natural beekeeping’, and has become the hive of choice for many that believe that there are specific failings in the more popular Langstroth hive, or even Kenyan Top Bar hives (KTBs). The popularity comes from both how the hive is promoted and it offering several points of difference from ‘mainstream’ beekeeping. How the hive design itself is ‘more natural’ than other designs is never really quantified.
What are the major differences with the hive itself?
The hive itself uses a smaller hive/super size and was originally designed as a fixed top bar vertically stacked hive. The hive boxes are square and incorporate a quilt (top box) and a signature sloped roof design (although flat roof plans are also provided). Warré’s book shows that his preferred design was top bars fixed to the top of the hive boxes. Hive boxes were then managed as a single unit and added/removed in one piece, rather than with removable frames. In some earlier editions Warré published options for removable frames but these were removed in later editions. His frame designs (from directly translated texts) can be viewed in this thread:
An original premise of the Warré hive was that it was affordable and easy to make with basic tools. In a somewhat ironic twist, the popularity of the Langstroth hive has driven the manufacturing costs of Langstroth components so low (due to economies of scale) that they are regularly available cheaper than they can be produced by a frugal woodworker.
What is the ‘Australian/Modified Warré Hive’?
What many beekeepers know as the Warré hive in Australia is a modification to the original Warré design that has been adapted for local conditions and manufacturing.
What are the specific modifications made to the Australian design?
One of the challenges I have found is tracking down specific details on the build and design of the Australian modified Warré hive. I have purchased a Warré hive that I am told is made to compatible specifications from Hornsby Beekeeping Supplies so that these details can be shared. It should be noted that this hive has some minor modifications made to it which don’t impact its compatibility.
The Australian/Modified Warré Hive boxes
The box dimensions are quite different to the original Warré sizes in both width (are wider) and depth (are deeper). Following Warré’s suggestion the hive is supplied with 3 hive boxes.
The hive boxes are also provided without wooden rail style ‘handles’ and instead use routed hand holds. This would prove impractical if you plan to use a hive jack/lift when nadiring hive boxes. Handles could easily and inexpensively be added over the routed hand holds but this is a point of difference of this specific version.
It appears the Australian design takes the narrowest dimension of the 8 frame Langstroth hive which is then squared as shown in the below comparison to an 8 frame Langstroth ideal super.
Note: the lower image shows the ‘optional’ bottom bars taped to the top bar of the frames.
As a result, the frame spacing is the same as the 8 frame Langstroth hive as discussed here
Box/frame width results in approximately 30mm of space to the internal edge of the box
Verniers showing timber thickness and rebate width
Hive Box Dimensions Summary:
External Box Length / Width: 354mm (original is 300mm)
External Box Height: 242mm (original is 210mm)
Timber thickness: 21mm
Frame rest rebate: 10mm along 2 edges
Australian/Modified Warré frames
This is the most surprising component to me. The modified frames are almost identical to their Langstroth counterparts with a shortened top bar. They also incorporate the Hoffman half wide/narrow end bars that are discussed here. What makes this surprising is that these frame designs predate Warré’s hive design by approximately 30 years and Warré chose not to use them in any of his designs (his frame designs are extremely basic). For whatever reason, the Langstroth frame design has been lifted and used in this modified version of the Warré hive.
The modified Warré frames are often sold without bottom bars, which provides a point of difference, but I found that without the end bars fixed at the bottom, the sidebars ‘flared out’ and closed in the bee space to the sides of the box. I have included the bottom bars in some of the photos, but these are provided as ‘optional’ and not used by many Warré beekeepers in Australia.
Note: I have been informed that many Warré frames don’t include the bottom bar ‘notch’ as pictured here
A comparison of the modified Warré frame to a standard 19 inch ideal depth and 19 inch full depth Langstroth frames
A comparison of the end bar design showing that the Langstroth/Hoffman end bar design is being used and the top bar is a shortened Langstroth design.
Note: The modified Warré end bar does not include holes for eyelets/wire as these aren’t used in Warré beekeeping.
Another interesting point to note is that Warré was a firm believer in 36mm frame spacing, with this spacing used for both his frame designs. In the Australian/modified Warré hive, the 35mm frame spacing from the Hoffman/Langstroth end bar has been adapted over the 36mm spacing.
Note: This specific frame runs closer to 34mm but there is some minor variance across the frames (+/-0.5mm).
Frame Dimensions Summary:
Top bar length: 322mm
Frame end bar height: 230mm
Frame end bar face width (wide section): 35mm
Bottom bar thickness: 10mm
Australian/Modified Warré base
The base provided with the hive is substantially different to the original Warré hive in that it is provided as a single integrated piece of folded/fabricated metal. The design also incorporates an integrated beetle trap at the rear which can be removed from the side of the hive without opening the hive. Two wooden blocks are provided as a stand for the base. This is an integrated design that mounts flush under the hive boxes.
Note: It is unlikely that this item will be manufactured by amateur beekeepers so the finer details have been left out. If you want specifics on measurements please let me know.
Underside of metal base with beetle trap collector removed
Australian/Modified Warré quilt box and lid
The quilt box is one component that sets the Warré hive apart from the Langstroth (although quilt boxes on Langstroth hives aren’t unheard of). Quilt boxes are used to assist in moisture management in the hive and generally consist of a cloth covering on the underside and wood shavings in the cavity.
The quilt box provided with this hive is different to others I have seen in Australia (is deeper), and it is quite obviously based on a cut down 8 frame Ideal super (144mm deep). The original Warré design used a 100mm depth quilt box. No cloth was provided with the quilt box for comparison to original design.
The lid follows the traditional Warré sloped design, modified for the increased dimensions of the hive boxes. Curiously, the lid was the only component provided with this hive that wasn’t wax dipped which explains the significant colour difference in the below photos.
Underside of the Warré lid
Hive fully assembled including base, 3x hive boxes, quilt box and lid