(This is the 4th in a series of posts about Bringing honey bees to Lewisham House.)
Like conventional bee hives, Warré hive uses ‘top bar’ frames. The difference lies in how the frames are used.
In commercial beekeeping, the frames have a wax ‘foundation’ that is wired into the frames. This gives the bees a starting point for building honeycomb, but forces them to conform to the rigid spacing of the foundation. Once filled with honey, the tops are cut off the honeycomb with a hot knife, and the honey is spun out in a centrifuge.
In contrast, ‘natural beekeeping’ in a Warré hive allows the bees to grow completely fresh honeycomb. This allows them to create cells of differing sizes, to match their particular needs. When filled with honey, the entire honeycomb is then cut out, and drained of honey. Next season, the bees start again from fresh.
This is the most natural way of raising bees, and there are many potential benefits in terms of disease management (honeycomb is not repeatedly used with the potential for diseases to remain from season to season).
Left to their own devices, however, the bees could end up creating honeycomb in any way within the hive boxes. This can make it impractical to get out the combs, for inspection or harvesting.
The practical compromise is to add a ‘starter strip’ underneath the top bar of the frame. This consists of 1cm-ish of foundation, glued into the bar using melted wax. This heads the bees in the right direction when they start creating the comb.
It took an hour or so for my novice’s hands to get the strips in place for the first two boxes worth of frames. But with that done, and the hive painted, everything is now up on the roof ready for bees.