Although my Dad was a bee keeper I’ve somehow never got around to it. For the last two years I’ve had two Warré style top bar hives but they have been tenantless. Arrangements for a nucleus keep being stymied, largely by the appalling difficulties facing beekeepers in this world of climate change, pesticides, and new diseases and predators. Hives were supposed to arrive in our orchard this spring from a local bee keeper but the long wet winter weakened his colonies to the point where they weren’t strong enough to be transported to a new home in blossom time – and their absence can certainly be seen in the poor set of apples on many of our trees.
So I was delighted when a friend said his bees were showing signs of swarming. I’ve dusted off one of my hives, applied wax foundation to some of the bars along with granulated honey and lemon grass, and it is going visiting – it won’t be home until a young, strong colony is ready to investigate the joys of life in Tobersool.
But what is a Warré hive? Most beginning bee keepers have only heard of National’s or Langstroths, both of which take a lot of looking after – indeed manipulation seems to be one of the attractions of the hobby for many bee keepers along with the honey of course. They are made with great precision and fitted with ready made foundations for the cells in which larvae will be raised or honey stored. A Warré top bar hive is a little different. It mimics more accurately the hollow tree which was the preferred home of our native bees and the bee builds its own cells to whatever size it likes. it encourages the bee to move around more and spend more time grooming and less time manufacturing honey for the beekeeper to harvest. What? you say. Less honey? Yes, I’m afraid so. But the beekeeper does less work and the bee may need less medication and care and attention. To add to the honey shortage Warré suggested that instead of harvesting honey as the modern beekeeper usually does, feeding the bee sugar syrup instead to take it through the winter, the honey should be left for the bee all winter, only being harvested in May or June. He believed that honey is the natural food of bees and had micronutrients that were lacking in sugar syrup.
I’m inclined to agree with him – I’m sure that creatures fed their natural food – honey full of pollen and minerals – are going to be healthier than those living on syrup. We’ve seen enough research on this for humans in late years and why should bees be different? And I’m sure that movement and grooming are also going to lead to improved health. We’l see