Pollinators like honeybees are in decline around the world, but they are seeing a sort of Renaissance with something called a Warre hive in urban Paris, France, where authorities banned pesticides. The city of Paris now has more than 1,000 hives, thriving on the rooftops and pollinating community gardens. Even though the bees are dwindling in many rural areas, they have found a surprising sanctuary in the cities of France.
Increasingly people have become aware of the struggles bees and other pollinators are facing, resulting in a growing appreciation for these winged insects. People across the globe want to help the bees, recognizing their vital importance to the entire food chain. They also want to help them in the most natural way possible. That’s why they are turning to the beekeeping methods of a French priest during the late 19th century. As it turns out, he was a unique expert who specialized in raising bees in the most accessible, affordable, and bee-friendly way possible. Today, what he learned is more important than ever.
This news would no doubt bring a smile to the face of one French priest and beekeeper who spent much of his life dedicated to making it easier for the average person to enjoy beekeeping. He was Abbé Émile Warré (1867-1951), and he designed what he called, “The People’s Hive” (or Ruche Populaire) to make beekeeping easier, more affordable, and above all, bee-friendly. Warré designed his hives to replicate the bee’s natural habitat inside hollow trees. For those interested in natural beekeeping, they will no doubt appreciate this design.
Before Warré came along, only a privileged few could afford to raise their own honey. Afterward, the hobby was open to just about anybody who wanted to try beekeeping. We now know the People’s Hive as the Warre Hive, and the concept is seeing a surge in popularity thanks to the French priest’s “Laissez-faire” informed approach to beekeeping.
Warré designed his system to allow the bees to go about their business naturally, with minimal interference from the beekeeper. It’s perfect for those who would prefer to let the honeybees do the work, and you still get a great harvest of honey from the happy buzzing bees that live inside.
So what are the pros of the Warré Hive?
Perhaps the biggest pro is that beekeepers who don’t want to interfere with the hive don’t have to very often. Aside from the end of the summer harvest, you will probably not have to do a whole lot most of the time. That’s great for many new beekeepers in particular. It’s a hands-off approach and perfect for new backyard beekeepers.
As we noted, the Warre Hive mimics the natural nesting place of a hollowed-out tree cavity. Some beekeepers report that their bees are noticeably less stressed and “chill” compared to other hive systems. This may be due to some of the other pros we’ll look at next.
Temperature And Humidity Control
Because of the intelligent design, the hive can self-regulate temperature, humidity, and the bee population easier. The top “quilting box” helps retain humidity and ventilate the air in the lower boxes. The pitched roof with an air buffering space protects the hive from the elements and also allows for healthy airflow. The extra airflow really helps in the hot summer months, especially when bees are more prone to “bearding,” or hanging out around the hive to try to stay cool.
The slat design of the boxes also allows for the perfect amount of airflow and space between the honeycombs. The slats have no frames. They are merely short pieces of wood, which helps the bees to build their combs the way they want to. There is no restricting bottom frame, referred to as the foundation. Because of this design feature, bees can freely travel between the boxes as they like.
The square-sized boxes help the bees to regulate temperature as well. Rectangular boxes often have unused dead spaces. Bees will have a harder time heating those spaces in the winter. A more compact space means bees can easily huddle together for warmth, snug as a bug, so to speak.
When it comes time to harvest the honey and wax, the beekeeper can remove entire boxes rather than individual frames. You don’t need expensive equipment to harvest the honey due to the slat-design, which relies on foundationless combs that hang from the top down.
The medium-size square Warre boxes weigh between 30 to 40 pounds when full of honey. Most beekeepers will appreciate the manageable weight when it’s time to harvest the honey. Other hive designs can be so heavy that it will require more than one person to move them around.
Some of the Warre boxes come with a transparent window so you can easily see inside the hive. This feature helps the beekeeper know when it’s time to add on more room to a growing hive. It’s also just fun to see what all those busy bees are up to.
The biggest con with the Warre hive is that it’s not currently as popular as the Langstroth Hive in the United States. Since it’s not the industry-standard model, there aren’t as many readily-available accessories, upgrades, or resources on the market. Thus, it won’t be as easy to mix and match boxes from other manufacturers. This may or may not be a problem, depending on how involved you plan on getting with the hobby.
Adding On Can Be Tricky
Another con is that the beekeeper adds new “super” boxes to the bottom of the hive, not the top as with the Langstroth Hive. This can be comparatively difficult. However, since maintenance is minimal, the inconvenience won’t come but perhaps once annually.
Earlier, we looked at the pro that harvesting honey and wax is easy if you remove an entire box. The con is that if you only want to harvest an individual comb, it will be more difficult. The bees will build their combs naturally, and they can be fragile and hard to extract from the hive. Since they have comparative freedom and space, they can build combs against the hive walls too.
We researched some of the best Warre hives on the market. Beekeeping is one industry where you may decide to opt for handmade models over mass-manufactured ones. That’s because the craftsmanship of the wooden structures determine how long your hive lasts in the elements outdoors. You will no doubt want your bee-loved colony to last for as many years as possible. So in reviewing the hives available, we looked for quality first, then customer support, customer reviews, cost, and lastly, the option to buy accessories and add-ons.
Bee Built is a company in Portland, Oregon that cares about ecology and the plight of pollinators. They use only FSC Certified® wood from local and neighboring regions because they also care about sustainable harvest of lumber. The company donates five percent of profits to organizations that help the honeybees and other pollinators.
You will enjoy a gorgeous and easy-to-navigate website that stresses quality, customer support, and education. Get started fast with helpful instructional and informative videos.
The Warre Hive Starter Kit ranges from $$$ to $$$. However, you can get a basic kit starting at around $$$, and the company offers a coupon for those just starting out in the hobby.
The starter kit comes with the accessories at a discounted price. Bee Built uses FSCⓇ certified Douglas Fir, and all of the boxes allow you to view the bees through viewing windows. You’ll get all the pieces to construct your hive with stainless steel self-drilling screws. You’ll also get a beekeeping jacket, beekeeping gloves, an American-style smoker, their Ultimate hive tool to cut through sticky propolized frames and combs, and 16 ounces of 100 percent pure Tung Oil to treat and maintain the wood.
This quality kit also comes with an instructional book, “Natural Beekeeping With the Warre Hive.” The website offers the book by Abbé Émile Warré, called, “Beekeeping For All,” as well as many other books.
Sweet Valley Hives is a small family owned business located in Northeast Pennsylvania that focuses on handmade Warre Hives. Their website states that the design and philosophy of the Warre method are appealing to the family as a “natural way to keep Honeybees.”
Sweet Valley Hives also offers a beautiful website and instructional/informative videos to help get you started. The business offers models in Eastern White Pine and Red Cedar. The price ranges from $$$ to $$$.
You may paint the white pine model for those who want extra “creative color and flair.” It offers three hive boxes with windows and proprietary top bars. Bees get started making combs fast thanks to wax-coated comb guides.
The Western Red Cedar Warre hive comes with the same number of boxes with windows and the proprietary top bars. You’ll appreciate the one-inch thick cedar, and joints sealed with stainless steel and Titebond III waterproof glue.
A unique feature of the Western Red Cedar Warre hive is the “Queen Ring,” a unique frame of wood designed by Sweet Valley Hives to accommodate a Queen mailing box, the small industry-standard cage that houses a newly purchased Queen Bee. With the Queen Ring, you can just slide the Queen’s box into the hive without any worries. Then watch the worker bees release her through the windows. After removing the Queen’s mailing box, you can decide if you want to keep the opening in place as another entrance to the hive or close it off with the provided plug.
Buzzing Rooster offers handmade Warre hives at affordable prices. They started in Boylston, Massachusetts and offer customers a “quality built hive at a good price.” Their kits range in price from $$$ to $$$ and are made-to-order.
The beginning kit is unfinished pine. It features four boxes with ample “v style” top bar frames. The top-of-the-line model is made mostly from cedar and has observation windows the full width of each box. The windows allow easy to access with hardware closures and hinges. The torched-finish model made from pine has a rugged and aesthetically-appealing look.
Buzzing Rooster’s creations are sturdy and well-constructed, according to customer reviews. They have a 5.0 out of 5-star rating on their website from customers.
AOKAFarm in Tallmadge, Ohio offers affordable and quality handmade Warre hives. The full kits range in price from $$$ to $$$. They also offer individual boxes and components separately or in combinations. If you prefer glass visibility windows, you will choose the more expensive model.
The made-to-order kits come hand assembled out of untreated cedar. They are left rough-milled inside. This mimics the interior of a natural tree cavity. The fact that AOKAFarm hives come assembled could be a huge pro for those who don’t enjoy the construction part.
Their hives come with three boxes, which they say “means swarming will not occur in the first year.” Individual boxes range in price from $$ to $$ with windows.
AOKAFarm enjoys a 5.0 out of 5-star rating on their Etsy page.
Let’s start with the best part: The cost range for a kit is between $$$ to $$$. If the cost of the handmade models is out of your budget, you could consider a kit from Ware Manufacturing on Amazon. This company makes a variety of pet supplies but also seems to have picked up on the similarly-named Warre Hive trend.
With a low price, there’s almost always a trade-off in quality, and judging from the customer reviews, this is no different. However, if you want a kit at an affordable price and can do without hand-crafted quality, it might be just the right choice for a beginner, especially in warmer climates where insulation isn’t as critical in the winter. Expect imperfections such as small gaps and cracks. The kit probably won’t last as long in the elements as heavy-duty models would.
The company claims their kits are made from solid cedar. They come disassembled and are very lightweight at around 28.3 pounds. Expect to spend at least an hour or so with assembly, and then you might also consider custom painting the kit with low odor paint. Make sure to do some research on how to best paint your hive safely.
The kit is comparatively small at just 28 inches high but you can buy add-on boxes ranging in price from $$ to $$. The add-on boxes do feature plexiglass viewing windows you assemble yourself. Remember that with a Warre hive, the added boxes go on the bottom.
Out of 42 customer reviews, the Amazon rating is 3.8 out of 5 stars. Customers are either thrilled or complain about the poor quality, as one would expect.
Now that you have seen some of what’s available, are you ready to get started beekeeping the natural way with a Warre hive? If we had to pick a model to get started with, and money was no option, we might jump in and choose the complete kit offered from Bee Built. If you are a novice and want to get started for a cheap price, you might choose a hive from Ware Manufacturing. However, it’s always a great idea to support creation based in the United States, in which case, we’ve listed some great ones to choose from.
We hope you will be inspired to help the honeybees in some way, considering they are one of the most important species on the planet. A healthy planet depends on healthy hives across the planet, pollinating the food we all enjoy every day.