bee hive

Making my own Warré bee hives

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My new set of Warré hives
My new set of Warré hives

When I started with beekeeping at the beginning of the year, I purchased a set of Warré bee hives from Natural Beekeeping Australia (Tim Malfroy). These are lovely, and made out of 22mm Macrocarpa Cyprus, they’re built to last.

In the quiet winter, it’s a good time to plan for the coming spring. I’m hoping to add a second bee hive to the roof, and so a second set of boxes are required. After some helpful advice from Tim, I decided to make my own.

Routing a 11mm x 11mm rebate for the frames to sit into.
Routing a 11mm x 11mm rebate for the frames to sit into.

The first step was to rout a 11mm x 11mm rebate into the sides of the boxes, for the frames to sit into. I borrowed a router off a friend, and even with no prior experience, I had the rebates done in about 30-40mins.

Sides for one box, ready to be screwed together.
Sides for one box, ready to be screwed together.

Some careful cutting with my circular saw produced the first set of box sides in the first hour, after a bit of initial stuffing around.

A completed box, screwed together and ready to go.
A completed box, screwed together and ready to go.

After a quick dash to the nearby Bunnings to get some clamps big enough to hold the box together, I had the first box screwed together.

Four completed boxes.
Four completed boxes.

Repeat three times until a complete set of boxes is created! All that’s left is the base, roof, and quilt box.

The completed set of hive parts is shown in the first picture in this post. From a standing start, and with a lot of on-the-job learning, the whole process took about 2/3 of a day. It will be a lot quicker next time around!

All that’s left to do is to install a Beeltra trap in the bottom and paint the hive. 🙂

Materials used

  • 10.8m of 240×190 radiata pine (6 x 1.8m)
  • 6mm marine ply (small amount)
  • 15mm ply (small amount)
  • recycled hardwood (small amount)
  • approx 40 of 8g x 35mm square drive screws
  • approx 150 of 8g x 65mm square drive screws

The radiata pine was the only material I was able to easy source locally. So while it’s a bit thinner and less robust than the cyprus used by Tim, it’s still fine (it’s painted to protect it from the elements). The key thing is to ensure the interior dimensions are 308 x 308 mm, so the frames fit.

I used some left-over ply to make the base and lid for the hive.

The total cost of materials was approx $120.

Tools needed

The tools needed for the job, nothing too unusual.
The tools needed for the job, nothing too unusual.

These were the tools I used for the job:

  • circular saw
  • router (borrowed from a friend, in my case)
  • impact driver (electric screwdriver would be fine too)
  • 4 clamps
  • combination square
  • builder’s pencil
  • glue for joints
  • tape measure
  • safety glasses
  • ear muffs

This is pretty much a set of standard tools for the typical DIY’er. Using a circular saw for accurate work is a hassle, but possible. It would be much easier with a good-sized mitre saw, or bench saw.

To end on a very geeky note, making your own hives as a new beekeeper feels like a young jedi making their first lightsabre 😉

Getting starter strips in place for our Warré hive

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The 'top bar' frames within our Warré hive
The ‘top bar’ frames within our Warré hive

(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.

A starter strip of comb is 'glued' into the top bar, using melted wax.
A starter strip of comb is ‘glued’ into the top bar, using melted wax.

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.

The completed frame with starter strip, ready to go back into the hive box.
The completed frame with starter strip, ready to go back into the hive box.

Picking up our new Warré bee hive

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All the bits that make up a Warré hive, ready to be painted and assembled
All the bits that make up a Warré hive, ready to be painted and assembled

(This is the 3rd in a series of posts about Bringing honey bees to Lewisham House.)

Instead of getting conventional bee hives, we went down the route of Warré bee hives and so-called ‘natural beekeeping’. So what’s all this about?

Warré bee hives, also known as the “people’s hive”, are a little different from conventional hives:

  • they’re smaller in cross-section, to make them closer to the natural dimensions of the hollow trees that bees normally live in
  • the bees are allowed to grow natural honeycomb, rather than using
  • there’s a quilt box at the top of the hive, to keep warmth in over winter
  • empty boxes are added underneath, rather than on top, to minimise disturbance to the bees
  • (plus various other changes and tweaks)

This sits within the broader philosophy of ‘natural beekeeping’, which focuses on:

  • minimising the number of disturbances of the bees (Warré hives may be opened as few as 2-3 times per year)
  • creating the most natural environment for the bee
  • supporting the bee’s natural biodiversity and defences
  • working with bees in a way that is ethical and sustainable

(This is my quick, layman’s summary. Much more is written on Tim Malfroy’s Natural Beekeeping Australia site.)

When it came to our new hive, it was made by Tim and delivered to a pick-up point in Sydney. When I arrived, there were over a dozen hives going to destinations throughout Sydney, so it seems that natural beekeeping is making its mark. Very exciting!

As shown in the picture above, there’s a lot of elements of a hive, including:

  • base for the hive, incorporating a small beetle trap
  • four boxes, two of which are used initially
  • bee excluder (basically a square of flyscreen)
  • smaller box containing the ‘quilt’ (a fabric pillow containing wood shavings, etc)
  • wooden cover board
  • roof that goes over it all
  • Emlock strap to hold the hive down

The boxes and roof were then painted with a white “natural paint”, sourced from The Natural Paint Company (tell them you’re a beekeeper and they’ll know what you need).

We’re getting close now! The next post will talk about preparing the hive for bees.