Edmonton beekeeper builds a better beehive
Categories: On The Farm
Langstroth hives are designed for beekeepers not bees.
- First and foremost, Langstroths are designed for beekeepers. These standard hives allow for standard equipment which is very important for commercial beekeeping (not a bad thing). Unfortunately, honeybee behaviour was forgotten about in the process. Ironically, helping beekeepers at the expense of bees often requires more work in the end.
- According to Bush Bees (highly recommended), standard was foundation (medium for bees to build wax upon) is equipped with slightly larger honeycomb cell size then the bees would build naturally. Though, it is important to note that while encouraging slightly larger bees is also makes hives more susceptible to varroa mites.
- Frames with foundation are typically reused from year to year and transferred between hives. Old wax provides vectors for diseases.
- Langstroths are big… too big. Besides makes boxes uncomfortably heavy they’re harder to over-wintering (Where I live in Alberta, Canada, it can get down to -40C). Larger hives are harder to keep warm. In addition, wide langstroth hives make it difficult for bees to access food stores in adjacent frames (more on this later).
- Langstroth hives are managed by adding empty supers (super = one beehive box) to the top. While it’s easier for beekeepers, this would never happens in nature. Honeybees always build top-down; honey then brood (area containing eggs and larvae). While bees do brood at the base of langstroths the brood nest inevitably reaches the bottom and thus stimulates the urge to swarm. When empty boxes are added to the top, bees are forced to reverse their natural tendency. A side-effect is that queen excluders become necessary so that brood and honey cells don’t mixed.
Warre Hives are designed For Natural Beekeeping
My search for an alternative to the langstroth eventually lead me to Abbe Warre’s book “Beekeeping For All” and his “peoples hive” aka the Warre hive. Impressed by the logic of this design and his concern for natural beekeeping, I found these Warre Hive Plans online. Here’s what I liked about the design:
- At 12’x12’x8′ the smaller Warre boxes are easier to handle, though, the real breakthrough is that Warre based his dimensions on the natural size of the brood nest. This makes the hive easier to heat as well as eliminates to problem of inaccessible honey stores in adjacent frames.
- Warre hives are foundationless. Equipped with top-bars, bees draw their own comb. Their natural preference for smaller cells decrease mite problems. Extracting honey by crushing the honeycomb means that it can’t be reused and won’t become a vector for disease. As an added bonus, fresh comb renders excellent beeswax.
- Warres hives are nadired (added supers to the bottom). Made possible by smaller boxes, Warre hives take advantage of the bees natural tendency to build from the top-down. As the brood nest reaches the bottom of the hive, an empty box is added underneath. The effect is that Warre’s act like a never ending tree-trunk; infinitely expanding downwards. Another effect is that the boxes on the top are always filled wither honey. No queen excluder necessary.
- Honeybees reverse their direction throughout the Winter. While they build comb from top-down, they consume it bottom-up. The effect is that an over-wintering hive will ball together and rise with the heat (consuming honey as they go).
- Warre hives are equipped with a “quilt” layer at their very top. Unlike the (mostly) solid toped angstrom, Warre equipped his hive with a breathable mesh or burlap. The effect is that honeybees will plug (or unplug) the quilt with propolis (a stick substance they gather from plants) to regulate the airflow and humidity inside the hive.
This is not to say that Warre hives don’t have their own challenges; non-standard equipment, as an example, is hard to come by (I had to build my own). Access to conventional feeders and extractors would be nice. I will address some of these challenge is future posts. In either case, it is essential that any method of natural beekeeping works with the nature of these beautiful insects instead of against them.