Top bar hives and Warre hives, while growing in popularity, are still uncommon compared to their frame-hive counterparts, such as the Langstroth hive. This leads to a lack of literature and resources for new beekeepers looking to get started with these alternative hives. This section is dedicated to providing the most comprehensive information on selecting, getting stated with and managing your horizontal top bar hive or Warre hive.
One of the most frequent questions we are asked is: How do I get started with a top bar hive or Warre hive? Here we will attempt to lay out the basic necessities of foundationless beekeeping.
Is beekeeping for me?
First you need to decide whether beekeeping is for you. Are you or your family allergic to honey bees? Is your family supportive? Is it legal to keep honey bees in your city or county? Do you have a space for the hive? Do you have countless hours to devote to your new all-consuming passion?
What are honey bees?
Once you've decided that you want to pursue beekeeping, it is important that you learn about the most important factor: Honey bees. There are dozens of useful books that cover the basics of bees, so choose one that you like and devour every page until you grasp the basic elements of bees, including: Their lifecycle, needs, predators, seasonal changes, etc.
How should I keep bees?
Once you have an understanding of what honey bees are, it is time to delve into the more biased topic: How to keep bees. Just about every beekeeping book you encounter will have its own take on the proper methods to use, but you will likely find some similarities: The vast majority of the beekeeping literature supports the use of wax foundation, frames, top supering, medicating and micromanaging the honey bee colony. Besides a few articles, web pages and the rare book, you won't find much support for foundationless, frame-free, medication-free top bar hive and Warre hive beekeeping. That's why we're here. Please read more about our reasoning on the other information pages on our site.
Should I get a top bar hive or a Warre hive?
Where should I put my hive?
Next you need to find the ideal spot in your yard (or roof, or balcony, etc.) to place the colony (or colonies). The idealistic beekeeper's checklist includes the following "requirements": Southeastern exposure, early morning sun, afternoon shade, wind barrier, dry, flat ground, close to a water source, easy access and concealment from neighbors. However, many beekeepers don't have a place that meets all of these requirements - never fear, honey bees are incredibly adaptable creatures. We've encountered numerous feral colonies in locations that don't meet ANY of these requirements and they were thriving.
Choose a space that works well for your situation, with the most important factors in most cases being: Ease of access, early morning sun, and for the urban and suburban beekeeper, concealment/protection from neighbors. You'll want plenty of room to get behind the hive to inspect the colony, or peer in the window if you are using a horizontal top bar hive.
If you are in a neighborhood that may not share your passion for beekeeping, we recommend placing the hive in a fenced area. To prevent the bees from using your neighbor's yard as a freeway, you may want to face the entrance of the hive toward a tall object such as a fence, hedge or the wall of your house. This will force the bees to adjust their trajectory and fly upward and high above your neighbor's houses.
Lastly, you will want a space that is close to a water source (preferably not your neighbor's pool). Bees are highly efficient insects - they aren't going to fly 50 yards to your bird bath if your neighbor's pool is 5 yards away - much to the frustration of your neighbor. Be sure to place a water source with gently sloping sides within 50-100 feet of your hives so that they can access the water for cooling and/or mixing with pollen to create bee bread.
What else do I need to know?
As a beekeeper you will always be learning. If you stop learning you're doing it wrong! As a top bar hive or Warre hive beekeeper you are joining an ever-growing and changing beekeeping subculture that is still not understood by the larger beekeeping community. You may be scoffed at or ridiculed for your choice of hive designs or methods, but take comfort in the fact that a shift toward treatment-free, bee-friendly beekeeping is beginning, even among long-time traditional beekeepers.
Join a local beekeeping organization, even if there are no other top bar or Warre beekeepers. Work to educate them on your methods and you may win a convert. There is also a lot to learn from long-time beekeepers despite some of their disinterest in top bar or Warre beekeeping.
Join an online beekeeping forum such as:
If you have any other questions, feel free to send us an e-mail or give us a call! We're here to help!