In Search of a Beehive Built for Honeybees
I design, build, and modify beehives for small-scale and backyard beekeepers looking to manage bees in ways that alight with honeybee biology. This is an account of my beekeeping journey and the creation of what I’ve come to call the Beecentric Hive.
I’ve been around beekeeping most of my life but got heavily into it in 2011. Fresh off of a permaculture design certificate (PDC), I came across an article on Warré hives in an issue of Permaculture Magazine. The article eventually led me to Abbé Warré’s book ‘Beekeeping For All,’ which describes a hive closely designed to match the conditions of wild honeybee colonies.
Beekeeping With The People’s Hive (Warré)
Warré’s hive design is practical, and I was inspired by how he incorporated honeybee biology and behaviour into the design. Rather than rectangular boxes, Warré used a square box with dimensions similar to hollow tree cavities. Warré main innovation was recognizing that honeybees start at the top of a hollow cavity and build down, not up, like all modern hive designs.
Honeybees Build Down
When honeybees move into a cavity, such as a hollow tree, they cluster at the top and start building combs. As the colony grows, combs are drawn down from the roof, the brood nest (eggs, larva, and pupae) is moved down, and honey is deposited above. Bees cluster to stay warm in the fall and slowly move upwards, consuming honey. The brood nest moves up and down in wild colonies with the seasons. Contrast this with a conventional Langstroth hive with dedicated brood and honey areas.
Benefits of the Warré Hive
- Boxes are sized to the width of a hollow tree cavity.
- Boxes are easy to lift.
- One size box for brood nest and honey simplifies things.
- The entrance is small and easy for the bees to defend.
- The entrance is under the hive, which helps keep the brood at the correct temperature.
- Queen excluders aren’t necessary; brood boxes are added to the bottom, and honey is removed from the top.
- Management style adds room for brood and prevents swarming.
Drawbacks of the Warré Hive
- Boxes do not fit standard frames.
- Not compatible with standard equipment such as extractors.
- The comb is free hanging and often attached to the side of the box, making it impossible to inspect (illegal in many places).
- The hive needs to be lifted when adding boxes to the bottom.
Beekeeping With Langstroth Hives
Lorenzo Langstroth invented the modern beehive in 1851 by introducing a movable frame on which the bees built their comb. Langstroths big realization was that bees wouldn’t build in 3/8s of an inch wide spaces. He called this gap “bee space” and realized that bees would build comb in gaps wider than bee space or seal off gaps smaller than bee space. By making frames exactly bee space apart from each other and the hive, he could design a truly manageable hive.
The discovery of bee space and Langstroth’s invention of movable frames have revolutionized beekeeping. But as far as I can tell, the dimensions of a langstroth hive an arbitrary and not rooted in honeybee biology or behaviour. According to Warré’s thinking, a ten-frame langstroth is much wider than a cluster of honeybees which makes honey stores less accessible in the winter months. I’ve witnessed this firsthand when inspecting colonies that have starved next to full frames of honey.
Beecentric Hive Design
Having used Warré and Langstroth hives, I wanted to find ways to build a hive that would be the best of both worlds. What if we could take the best parts of Warré and Langstroth hives and up-to-date honeybee research to create a hive built for bees – a beecentric hive?
The Beecentirc Hive Uses Standard Langstroth Frames
The biggest drawback of the Warré hive is that it doesn’t use standard movable frames. When designing, I knew the Beecentric hive would have to adapt to accept standard frames. The bonus is that standard frames allow beekeepers to use standardized feeders, extract equipment, and install bees from nucs.
While modifying a Warré hive to accept standard frames requires changing the length of the hive, the width of the hive is the most critical dimension. Because bees can’t move perpendicular to the comb, the hive width should be the same as an overwintering cluster of bees.
The Beecentric Hive Uses Eight-Frame Boxes
The Beecentric hive used eight-frame boxes to match the width of a bee cluster, making the hive taller and narrower than a conventional Langstroth. This configuration makes a narrow column of honey for overwinging bees to move through and is ideal for cooler climates.
The Beecentric Hive Uses A Single Boxes Size
Like the Warré hive, the Beecentric hive uses a single box size for brood and honey. A single box size simplifies your beekeeping practice while introducing new management techniques.
One box size means I can add empty boxes to the bottom of the hive (nadiring), to the top (supering), or between the brood and honey chambers. I can move frames up if the bees are getting honey bound. If the colony feels light in the fall, I can move frames of honey into the brood area.
The downside of using one box is that keeping track of frames and boxes that have been exposed to any treatments is essential. You don’t want to accidentally move a treated frame into the honey chamber and extract it at a later date.
At 12 pounds per gallon, honey is heavy and takes a lot of work to lift and work with. For practical reasons, I’ve settled on medium-depth hive boxes (6 5/8″ deep), which weigh between 40 and 45 lbs at harvest. What’s more, bees will happily raise brood and store honey in medium-depth hives.
Vented Warré Roof and Top-Quilt
The roof is made of a quilt box and a sloped roof and is inspired by the original Warre Hive. The roof is designed to allow the bees to control the ventilation.
The quilt is a four inches deep box that sits at the very top of the hive. The quilt contains a 1/8th-inches galvanized mesh that prevents bees from moving up while allowing exceptional ventilation. The bees fill the mesh with propolis to increase or decrease ventilation as they see fit. Too deep the bees cool in the summer and warm in the winter, I fill the quilt with loose bedding such as wood shavings designed for hamster bedding. The organic shavings will wick away excess moisture while protecting from hot and cold weather.
The roof sits over the top of the quilt box. The sloped design protects the hive from the elements while ensuring adequate ventilation.
Comparing Warré, Langstroth, andthe Beecentric Hive
|One Size of Box
|Works In An Extractor
|Nadir (Adding to Bottom)
|Super (Adding to Top)
Learn More and Order a Beecentric Hive at BeecentricHive.com
I have an entire website dedicated to the Beecentric Hive.
- Learn More
- Shop for Local Pickup (Edmonton Area)
- Shipping Options
- Join My Beekeeping Community
- Take an Online Beekeeping Certificate Course
Video Tour of an Early Version of the Beecentric Hive
The following is a tour of an early version of the Beecentric Hive. The main things that have changed are the top entrance and bottom board. The roof has seen minor changes.