Category Archives: Hives

All about hives: Warre-style, topbar-style and frame-type

Queen bee colour coded marking

Around the world apiculturists (beekeepers) employ a series of colour codes to identify queen bees and indicate their age. One method is to apply a dot of harmless quick-drying paint to the thorax of the bee so that it stands out within the hive’s population.

Another, more recent, method is to use plastic/aluminium disks, readily available in queen marking kits, attached using a special non-toxic glue. The disks are either blank – solid colour only – or numbered. These 2-digit numbers are used for stock control where there are many new queens being reared.

Here’s a quick and handy guide to identifying your queen:

International Queen Marking Color Code
Colour Last digit of year Example
White 1 or 6 2011
Yellow 2 or 7 2012
Red 3 or 8 2013
Green 4 or 9 2014
Blue 5 or 0 2015

Of bees & swarming

In early June we supplied a hive and a colony of bees to a friend who lives in a nearby town. This set-up we installed in her back garden. Since then her hive has been very active and healthy – lots of bee activity, pollen & nectar coming in.

Recently, over the past 2 weeks, our friend has noticed an increase of activity each day around 12:30. Lots of bees flying out, a burst of high activity. After some additional research we have determined that this is swarming behaviour.

Swarming is a natural process caused, primarily, by congestion in the hive. Early in the spring the population of the honeybee colony can explode creating overcrowding. As a result, the colony makes a decision to divide – what biologists call “colony-level reproduction”. The colony begins the magical process of producing a second queen. Once the development of a new queen is well under way the old queen and approximately half the colony will depart the hive and begin looking for a new home. This is called a “prime swarm” – one which contains the old queen.

It seems that in the second year of life a queen & colony are more inclined to swarm even if no external “swarming factors” are present. Our queens are between 1 and 2 years old therefore the colonies are predisposed to swarm. There is a burst of increased production within the hive and the workers begin to construct many queen cells. These virgin, unmated queens are allowed to hatch and subsequently leave taking with them a small portion of the hive’s population. Once this small swarm (“after swarm”) has departed the virgin queen will mate and the hunt for a new permanent home intensifies.

On Friday 29th July, our friend called us to deal with a small swarming incident. I easily recovered this swarm as it had taken residence directly above one of the hives, only a metre away. I placed an open nuc box beneath it and shook the bees into it. After replacing the lid I placed the nuc box, with door open, below the site of the swarm and left it for a few hours. Later that evening I returned to note that all the swarmed bees had entered the nuc at which point I taped closed the door.

Success – one captured swarm.

Today, Saturday 30th July, however we have reports of two more swarms leaving the hive. They too are small so most likely also virgin queen after swarms however they’ve gone too far for us to be able to practically recover them.

Warré hives

The Warré Hive comprises a vertical stack of identical boxes fitted with top-bars rather than frames. Its essential design and usage features can be summarised as follows:

  • hive-body box internal dimensions 300 x 300 x 210 mm, with projecting handles
  • eight 36mm centred 24mm wide top-bars resting in rebates in each box (No frames)
  • wax starter strips under each top bar (No foundation)
  • flat floor, notched with a 120mm wide entrance, alighting board
  • coarse weave cloth covering the top-bars of the top box
  • 100 mm high ‘quilt’ boxed with wood, filled with straw, sawdust, wood shavings etc., retained with cloth
  • gabled roof containing a ventilated ‘loft’ and separated from the quilt by a mouse-proof board

Here are some more features of the Warré Hive:

  • the bees build natural comb in the first (top) box and extend downwards into further boxes
  • new boxes are added at the bottom
  • one or more boxes of honey are harvested from the top after the main flow
  • the bees winter on two boxes of comb containing a minimum of 12 kg stores (France)
  • honey is harvested by draining, or by centrifuging combs in baskets
  • at the spring visit, the hive is expanded by one or more boxes, containing with starter strips or comb