What are the pros and cons of a Warré hive, the “People’s Hive”?

Vertical top bar hive, Warré:

Cute Warré hive on a porch.  Photo credit: blumenbiene via Flickr  cc
Warré hive on a porch. Photo credit: blumenbiene via Flickr cc

Pronounced “war-ray,” these hives were designed by Abbé Émile Warré in France. He called this hive the “People’s Hive.” It’s a vertical  hive, so the boxes are stacked on top of each other like with a Langstroth, but instead of adding a new empty box on top as with a Langstroth and the bees build up into it, the empty box gets put at the bottom of a Warré hive and the bees build their comb down, as bees would more naturally do in a bee tree.

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What are the pros and cons of Kenyan and Tanzanian horizontal top bar hives?

Kenyan and Tanzanian top bar hives

Kenyan top bar hive - horizontally oriented with sloped sides, narrow at the bottom.  Photo credit: CIFOR via Flickr cc
Kenyan top bar hive – horizontally oriented with sloped sides, narrow at the bottom. Photo credit: CIFOR via Flickr cc
Peeking under the cover of a Kenyan top bar hive - the inner "roof" is made of top bars.
Peeking under the cover of a Kenyan top bar hive – the inner “roof” is made of top bars.

Would you like an inexpensive bee hive that you could build at home and work without a lot of back strain?  Kenyan and Tanzanian top bar hives each consist of a horizontal cavity with strips of wood called top bars that form the roof. The bees live in the cavity and build their comb off of the top bars. A cover usually goes over the top bars to keep out weather and reduce temperature fluctuations.  Although these hives originated in ancient Greece, they are often used in East Africa due to their low construction cost. Some beekeepers believe that this hive style may be more suited to hot climates and bees that swarm often (African bees) than to colder climates with European honey bees, but there are beekeepers in Maine, USA and Canada who successfully keep bees in them. There is a difference between the two: Kenyan top bar hives have slanted side walls and Tanzanian top bar hives have straight side walls. The Kenyan style is more common in the US as the comb is reputed to attach to the walls less than in a Tanzanian hive, but that’s debatable. (Most states and localities in the US want hives with inspectable frames. Research your local beekeeping laws before you invest in one of these hives.)

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What are the pros and cons of a Langstroth hive?

Are you wondering, “Should I run a Langstroth Hive?”

Two Langstroth hives. Often they get painted white or various colors.
Two 8 frame Langstroth hives. All  medium hive bodies, except the top box is a deep (to accommodate a feeder bucket inside).

If you’re here reading this, you must be considering keeping bees. How exciting! And if you live in the United States, it’s likely you’ve already seen Langstroth hives, either in fields, on tractor trailers or (sadly) on the news when CCD is discussed. This hive may may be the style you want to start with. It is a vertical frame hive. One of the nicest things about this hive is that there are many books and beekeepers who can help support you as you begin to learn about beekeeping.

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What kind of beehive styles are there?

Thinking about beekeeping? Once you decide to be a beekeeper (woo hoo!), you get to decide what kind of hive you want to run. The only thing the bees want is a dark cavity, about 40 liters/10 gallons in size, that stays dry and has a small entrance they can defend. We as beekeepers want a little more. We want something easy to work with, that we can expand in size, that generates maximum honey production or is portable for pollination services or is “natural” for the bees or is inexpensive or is easy to manage or is light, or all of the above. We humans have a lot of wants. Make sure you’re familiar with what your state and local municipality want too, since inspectable frames are usually required in the US.  And while you’re going through this decision phase, if you aren’t already, find some local beekeeping meetings and a mentor(s)! It’s good to do a lot of research before you make your decision. And start slow so you don’t invest a lot of money buying hives you don’t like. Here are some beehive styles that you can choose from when deciding how you want to keep bees.

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Fall bee hive update

I have three hives and as we enter Fall, each is doing a little different. This is a nerve wracking season for me as a first year bee keeper, trying to make sure they are as well prepared as can be, because once it’s cold and they’re winterized, I won’t be able to go in and “help” them at all or (more likely needed) fix mistakes I made earlier. And my fingers will be crossed all winter. We’ll see who survives and is alive in the Spring.

Hive A, Langstroth, 8 frame mediums:

Hive A, east entrance.
Hive A, east entrance. Hive top feeder is top box.

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Kenyan Top Bar Hive comb breakage

Inspected the Kenyan Top Bar Hive, and I was surprised to pull up this top bar, deep in the brood nest, and there was very little comb on it! When I looked down, the “fallen” piece had been anchored in place by the workers. I haven’t been this far into the hive for quite a while, so I don’t think I broke it. Looking forward to a different KTBH in the spring, wider and more shallow.

Hey, where's the big sheet of comb that should be here?
Hey, where’s the big sheet of comb that should be here?!

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Kenyan Top Bar Hive – Learning Experience

You know that heart sinking feeling when something goes wrong? Yeah, that.

That’s what I experienced Friday, September 12th, when I did a hive inspection of the Kenyan top bar hive (KTBH). It was mid-day, mid-seventies, so not too hot. And I found some of the comb close to the entrance (starting with comb 14 of 20 [20 being the newest comb]) curling at the edges towards the entrance, which I have heard happens. And I have also heard to cut the comb off the top bar a little at the edges, push it back where I want it to be & the bees will fix it back onto the top bar. I did this to comb 18, 17, 16 and put them back into the hive. While comb 15 was hanging on the outside of the hive (over a Langstroth inner cover in case anything dropped – I was thinking “queen” when I set it up), I adjusted the edges and turning away, heard a sickening “thud” as 2/3 of the comb broke off the top bar and plopped onto the inner cover on the ground.   Continue reading “Kenyan Top Bar Hive – Learning Experience”