The Pondering’s of Bernhard

Little has been happening in my apiary of late. As I have said before it seems that swarming doesn’t turn up until June so I have the next month to look forward to. Meanwhile the bees are building up nicely. As a stop-gap for posting I have decided I need to give you something to be getting on with. Here is an article produced by Bernhard Heuvel. A prolific contributor to the biobees forum and a man who has an intimate knowledge and understanding of his bees. Bernhard is based in Germany and although he has a few hive types he has a large number of Warré hives and these are the hives Bernhard provides the most support for on the forum. I am posting here (with Bernhard’s permission) an article he provided to me last year. I have reproduced it below word for word. I have struggled a little taking it from pdf into wordpress so there maybe a few format changes from the original.

To Bernhard, Thank you.
To everyone else, Enjoy!


Local modifications and adaptions for Warré-beekeeping

Bernhard Heuvel

Initial thoughts
The Warré bee hive by the French Abbé ELOI FRANÇOIS ÉMILE WARRÉ – called by himself the PEOPLE’S HIVE – got very popular nowadays. That hive is very economical and practical – and also supports the more natural approach of beekeeping. The Warré-bee hive is a box hive – which is why it is able to adapt to many local situations, needs and necessities. The capability to adapt is the reason, why box hives in general are popular all over the World. The ‘frameless box hive’ – the Warré hive – seems to gain similar popularity today. It is in use throughout North and South America, from Alaska to Brazil. Beekeepers from Europe, Africa, Indonesia, Asia and Australia report keeping bees happily in the Warré hive.

Thus the life’s work of ÉMILE WARRÉ – Beekeeping for All – receives appreciation and his vision of a PEOPLE’S HIVE comes true. But even ÉMILE WARRÉ himself points out the dependency of success on local contexts:

»The truth – No type of hive, no method of beekeeping turns stones into honey.Neither do they make the beekeeper any wiser, or increase queen fertility or improve the ambient temperature. As a result the yield of a hive varies from one region to another, from one hive to another and from one year to another, just as does the nectar wealth of the region, queen fertility, temperature and the skill of the beekeeper.« 1

WARRÉ distinguishes here between hive and method. The methods the Warré-hive is used with are various today. And that is a good thing. Because adaptions and modifications of the hive and method is beneficial not just for the beekeeper, but for the bees as well.
»All beekeeping is local.« 2

WARRÉ worked with splits and the heroic method under his local circumstances: Under today’s circumstances the use of the heroic method without doubt is becoming a necessity, to gain a profit/harvest.« 3

Time for modifications!

The classic method of WARRÉ is based of a timely nadiring of the hives with boxes in Spring. The bees are left alone throughout the season until harvest in autumn 4. Swarms are not prevented. This system is not successful under all circumstances as even Warré admits. About 85 % of feral swarms die before or in the first winter, which has been found by Seeley and Morse – even in times preceding the occurrence of varroa. In addition the classic system is based on the vitality of the bees and on a flora rich in nectar throughout the season. The citation above of WARRÉ on the necessity to use the heroic method shows, that he already noticed the changing environmental conditions. In place of a many small nectar flows of wild groves, shrubs and herbs there are mass nectar flows with long times of dearths between. This is a real challenge for both beekeepers and bees.

The heroic method on the other hand really is ‘heroic’, because it is „gamely“ and risky. It fits the modern concept of removing all brood during the season to treat against varroa mites. The removal of brood and combs cuts back varroa population dynamics. Often combined with a chemical treatment or essential oils.

»The brood retains in the hive many bees that could otherwise go foraging. 5.

This logic is appropriate – but local circumstances do not always allow the use of the heroic method. For example: in our region there mainly is a Spring and a early summer flow. Just before the hives recovered from being broodless – a worker bee needs 40 days to develop from an egg to a forager – the main nectar flow is over. With the flow the chance to collect amounts of honey worth mentioning is gone. As a consequence it is even necessary to feed sugar to get the hives through winter. Just like the removal of brood, a swarm diminishes the foraging of honey.

»If they lack space, they swarm. As a result, the honey harvest is reduced.« 6

You just need to let the hives swarm to verify the significant reduction of honey yields by swarming. Not only that the minimum harvest of about 15 kilogram isn’t reached – also you give up harvest altogether and you have to feed.

Some bee-ology

In fixed comb hives I observed differences in the building ability of prime swarms and casts. Prime swarms have old queens and casts young queens. It is widely accepted, that a prime swarms fills a hive with combs fasted – even without any feeding. The bees of a prime swarm simply want to build. The prime swarms clusters in the center of the ceiling and the combs build look very appealing. That’s different in a cast swarm, which often starts building combs from the sides of the hive and does look some sort of ‘lost’ in the hive. The cast does need feeding or it will most probably not survive the winter. I therefore conclude (and may be wrong, of course), that there is a division of tasks: the prime swarm fulfills the tasks to occupy empty cavities and build a proper brood nest, while the casts with the young queens occupy already build nests. Be it the combs of the mother hive or the combs of a vacant hive/cavity. In the case the cast doesn’t find such a nest, it is doomed. That may explain the high losses of feral swarms in the study mentioned above. For the development of a system or method in fixed comb hives I therefore deduce that prime swarms should be used to build brood nests, while casts have to be put on already drawn combs. At least you can’t do anything wrong by following this principle.

Swarm beekeeping and reproduction

A dividing colony that swarms, moves off with the old queen and a huge part of worker bees, presumably to build a new brood nest in an empty cavity. Some brood, a lot of nectar as reserve and unmated queens are left behind. The young queens need time to get mated and lay eggs. The division of the colony implies a cut in numbers of worker bees – which affects the completion of tasks in the hive – for example cleaning or foraging. The prime swarm on the other hand first needs to draw comb before the queen is able to lay eggs and combs are also needed to store honey into. A worker bee needs 40 days to develop from an egg into a forager. Both – prime swarm and cast do reach a comparable colony size to the initial size way beyond the main nectar flows. When it is too late to store sufficient amounts of honey. This fact constricts swarm beekeeping to locations with a late main nectar flow – as in the heathland of Germany. To make use of the main flow in May and June, most beekeeper try to prevent swarming. Conventional beekeepers generally achieve this by timely supering, ‘bleeding’ (remove young bees and brood here and there) and breaking queen cells. WARRÉ used the heroic method and splits with whole boxes.

All swarm preventing methods share the common objective to prevent swarming, thus the reduction of the colony’s size. When splitting hives or bleeding or other methods, the colony still gets weakened. To weak a hive while you want to prevent the weakening seems pretty questionable. Quite often the bees do swarm anyway, because the artificial weakening was too little. On the other hand the bees do not bring in much honey, in case they got weakened/bled too much. It also seems questionable to break queen cells – just before starting queen breeding afterwards.

Preventing swarms just before artificially splitting the hives. Push brood rearing through manipulations just before culling out all brood for varroa treatment.It seems, that a colony potentially suffers from being torned to and from. The goal of beekeeping is, to provide a colony with numerous workers at the right time: the main nectar flow. To harvest honey, create young fresh colonies for next year and cut back the varroa mite population dynamics a little. Below it is attempted to develop a method using Warré hives to approach the above stated goals – utilizing methods of swarm beekeeping (Demeter beekeeping, skep beekeeping), and box hive beekeeping method of the German most famous beekeeper KARL PFEFFERLE. 7 At the beginning of this text it was called for being open for adaptions – which is why the below approach is just one of many modifications possible. You have to find your way in your place in the end. But maybe this description helps you to find your own system. You need a system as you need a hive – but don’t simply copy it. It can not be copied, because – you remember – all beekeeping is local.

Steps to success

1 Initial situation after wintering.

After the hives have been wintered successfully – so in early spring, the bees didn’t eat up much of the stores. In spring the bees use most of the stores, which get turned into brood then. In early spring you find – if wintered on two boxes – usually one box with more or less honey and another box with more or less brood in it.

Initial situation

Initial situation

2 Stimulation of brood rearing.

As already stressed, a bee needs 40 days to develop into a forager. If a huge amount of workers during the first strong nectar flow (plums, cherries, apple) is to be achieved, the brood rearing has to be stimulated timely. KARL PFEFFERLE recommends a simple method during the first strong pollen flights. 8 He takes out the central two honey combs and lightly scribes them open. Just a bit. The bees start to relocate the honey around the brood nest. PFEFFERLE states that there are hidden protein reserves in the comb. The emptied cells soon get occupied by brood and the bees move up into the honey cap. PFEFFERLE:

»Everywhere, where bees „reach out“ of the broodnest, they find open food and get the impression of floating in enormous amounts of food. That inspires their expansion and development.«

WARRÉ writes about splits:

»If you do this at the beginning of the main nectar flow, and if, in autumn, you left only the necessary stores only in box No. 1 [topmost box], there will certainly be brood with which the bees will raise a new queen.« 9

WARRÉ, too, speaks about two hive boxes with brood at this time of year. But that is not always the case – in opposite the bees more often seem to struggle to keep pace with spring. The stimulation used by PFEFFERLE may help to let the bees move up into the honey cap and brood throughout two boxes. This is necessary to achieve the needed numbers of bees in May. A Warré sized comb has about 4.000 cells – thus per hive box 32,000 potential brood cells (maximum). Two hive boxes are needed in order to build up a colony of 40,000 worker bees and more. Because bees do hatch in a time cascade.

Stimulation by scribing two honey combs in early spring.

Stimulation by scribing two honey combs in early spring.


Indicator: First strong pollen collection. 40 days before expected first main flow.

3 Stimulation of swarming and building comb.

At the very latest during dandelion blossoming the bees start drawing comb – and need space to do so. In the box hive beekeeping method after PFEFFERLE the upwards movement of the brood nest is continued by supering and giving frames with foundations within already full frames. Because I want to produce swarms I let the bees hit the ceiling and backfill with nectar. To give them at least some space to build, I nadir one box in the first step.

Nadiring an empty box.

Nadiring an empty box.

Indicator: Dandelion is blossoming.

This hive box later contains some combs which can be used as seed combs for swarms. The nadiring can be left out as suggested by PFEFFERLE and supered instead, which will produce even larger colonies.

 4 First strong flow.

The first super is put on in the first strong flow, which is usually cherry trees, so this box gets drawn out and eventually filled with honey. At this time of year there are about 1,000 bees hatching per day – those bees need something to do. Building combs and later foraging are very good tasks.

Supering a honey box.

Supering a honey box.

Indicator: Cherries are blossoming.

5 Swarming and making use of swarms.

Starting with the first strong flows and the daily increase of worker numbers the first

queen cells get drawn and cared for. It doesn’t take long until first drones can be seen inside and outside the hive. Swarming can’t be too far away then. Once temperatures do not drop below 10°C during the night, swarms can be expected.

The prime swarm has to be catched. This you can do in various ways. You either use bait hives, swarm traps mounted at the hive entrances or you simply pluck the swarm of a tree. (If you have the time to do so…).

Different on what WARRÉ recommends, the prime swarm should not (!) be brought away from the apiary. The prime swarm – which is most eagerly to draw comb – receives two empty hive boxes, and another two honey boxes on top. The one honeybox is the honeybox of the hive that just swarmed. It contains fresh honey – the bees are willing to fill that other box, too. The prime swarm is put into the place of the hive that swarmed. This way the foragers are combined with the prime swarm which makes a strong colony. Strong, broodless and willing to build and collect. Similar to the heroic method – just less heroic. The hive with the prime swarm is eager to forage. This way the main nectar flow can be fully used by the bees.

Prime swarm at the old location. Brood boxes are split and used as nucs.

Prime swarm at the old location. Brood boxes are split and used as nucs.

The brood boxes of the swarmed hive are splitted and the queen cells divided into the two boxes. The boxes are put into another place. If there is brood only in one box, the one box will be put into another place. Foragers of the split will return to the prime swarm, resulting in small colonies that won’t swarm and swarm. The young queens get mated and until the end of summer the colonies grow into full sized young colonies, ready for next season.

A variation is the twin-hive system. Simply put an empty box above a queen excluder onto the two splits, thus combining the hives through the top. The hives communicate through that topbox and even out themselves, sharing the workforce. That helps both colonies.

Twin hive system with the two splits.

Twin hive system with the two splits.

Indicator: Apple and horse chestnut blossoming.

This way the young colonies/splits may collect their own honey for wintering. Being broodless for some time there is a chance to treat against varroa mites.

6 Use of nectar flows and harvests.

Honey is harvested once cells of the honey combs in the topboxes are capped. Bee escapes are used to get the bees out. In localities with early nectar flows only, the use of a queen excluder between honey boxes and brood boxes should be considered, because it is the only chance to make a harvest. And to not need to feed to winter the hives.

Supering, Nadiring, Harvesting

Supering, Nadiring, Harvesting

Indicator: Raspberries, blackberries, locust tree, lime tree

Once the young queens lay eggs and first brood hatches, the splits should be nadired. Boxes with fully drawn comb preferred, but empty boxes do as well.

 7 Getting ready for winter.

If the nadired boxes of the splits do not contain comb, the splits get combined and feeded to get ready for winter. Honey boxes get harvested and the colonies feeded until the topmost box of every hive is full of honey. The hive with the old queen gets reduced or the bees combined with the splits.

Ready for winter

Ready for winter

Final words

I hope that the above thoughts illustrate my trials to adapt to our locality, a region with mainly spring nectar flows and a long summer dearth. I think it is necessary to differentiate between the hive and method/system, and to develop your own system. That is adapted to your locality. Being advantageous not only for you, but for the bees, too. Wintering hives in one box, feeding sugar every year, excessive swarming of hives that just build one or two boxes, no harvests – that is not necessary.

There are times when well-trodden trails have to be left and new ways to be explored. The Warré hive itself is enormously flexible and adaptable. It provides an excellent potential to keep bees the simple and productive way – by all of us. Just what Warré intended. I finish this text with his wish:

»Mella fluunt tibi.«

sketch 8

1 Abbé Emile Warré: Beekeeping for All. Page 3. david (at)
2 Michael Bush: The Practical Beekeeper Volume II. ISBN: 978-1-61476-062-7, Pages 269-270
3 Abbé Emile Warré: Beekeeping for All. This cite is missing in the English translation.
4 Page 120
5 Page 94
6 Page 88
7 Karl Pfefferle: Imkern mit dem Magazin und mit der Varroatose. (book)
8 Karl Pfefferle: Imkern mit dem Magazin und mit der Varroatose. Page 35 ff. (book.)
9 Page 146


This article was published with the permission of the author Bernhard Heuvel who retains full rights and permissions to this work.

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1 Response to The Pondering’s of Bernhard

  1. Pingback: The Pondering’s of Bernhard | August Cottage Apiary | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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