Hive building

With two nucs arriving soon we need hives to house them so I took Carolyn up on her offer of building hives together and headed to Riverglen to fire up the power tools.

There are many different types of hives used by beekeepers around the world from the more traditional skeps with their domed shape to the more modern rectangular Langstroth hives. The hives Carolyn was proposing to make were Warré hives; invented by Émile Warré who wrote Beekeeping for All. The more widely used Langstroth hives are also readily available in Ottawa so there was a choice to be made between the two; each type has benefits and drawbacks and each beekeeper chooses hives that suit their philosophy, requirements and situation.
Warré hives

  • Cheaper than Langstroth hives since it’s easier to make your own.
  • Easier to manage physically due to square box shape.
  • Provides adequate ventilation aiding hive to keep dry in winter and cool in summer.
  • Can be harder to observe the hive as the frames aren’t designed to be lifted until honey harvest time. Carolyn put windows in our hives to help overcome this.
  • Allows the bees to decide bee size since no foundation for comb construction is provided.

Langstroth hives

  • More expensive option (estimated $550 for two hives).
  • Heavier to lift due to rectangular box shape (the volume of each box is greater than a Warré).
  • Can have problems with condensation in winter due to lack of ventilation.
  • Easier to observe the hive as each frame can be lifted out easily for inspection.
  • Foundation for comb construction is set in each frame acting to pre-determine bee size.

In the end price was a big factor in the decision but I’m also attracted to the philosophy of beekeeping that Émile Warré expressed; that of letting bees do what they do with minimal interference from the beekeeper. Having said that there’s plenty more research to be done and a lot more beekeeping experience to be gained. Some beekeepers prefer Langstroth, others love the Warré and some swear by top bar hives; it’s even possible to mix it up and incorporate beekeeping approaches long associated with one hive type into another; such as going foundationless like a Warré in a Langstroth hive. I found a succinct and informative comparison at Mistress Beek’s Blog.

Stay tuned for the next Bee-log entry to see how the Warré hives went over the season.

The hives that Lisa & Caro built

Having completed the Warré hives (they have a square foot print – see image left) and realising that the bees will be arriving in frames that fit the more commonly found Langstroth hives (they have a rectangular footprint – see image right) I had some more research to do; Langstroth frames are wider than Warré boxes so they won’t just slide in.

Ideally a package of bees (a box with bees, a tin of food for them in transit and a queen bee in a separate little box but no frames of comb, honey or brood ie. baby bees: eggs, larvae and pupae) is installed into a Warré hive however the bees had already been ordered so Langstroth frames it is. It seems there are several methods that people have used to deal with this problem:

  • Using a transfer box which sits on top of the Warré hives that the Langstroth frames slide into.
    • Means buying or building a transfer box.
  • Cutting the frame and comb of the Langstroth frames to fit into the Warré hive.
    • Greatly disturbs the bees and would result in losses of some brood and honey stores.
    • Cutting the wooden Langstroth frame down while installing bees doesn’t sound practical.
  • Shaking the bees from the Langstroth frames into the Warré hive.
    • This would leave the bees without any of their stored honey, brood or comb to live in until they built new comb and raised more brood.
  • Placing the Langsroth frames in a box in front of the Warré hive and letting the bees move themselves.
    • Seems like the least certain method.

None of the methods described above are guaranteed of success but in the end I decided to build transfer boxes. After carefully calculating how much space was needed I put a couple together, complete with inner covers and roofs. In the side view (image to left) the transfer box, outlined in red, has an extension at the base to cover the top of the Warré box below it. In the front view (image to right) you can see how much wider the transfer box is compared to the Warré boxes below it.

Once the transfer boxes were built and weatherproofed with a 20:1 mix of raw linseed oil and beeswax (heated to melt the wax and brushed on) it was just a matter of waiting for the pick up date and installation day.

Beekeeping 101

There are many different philosophies and methods of beekeeping so for any aspiring beekeeper one of the first steps is some research to get familiar with how honey bees work and gain a basic understanding of their habits, needs, life cycles, diseases and other health issues. This knowledge will be built upon with practical experience however there are some essential questions to answer before embarking on the beekeeping path.

  • What kind of hives to use?
  • What type of bees are available in the area and who from?
  • How big is the available budget?
  • Which equipment to obtain and where from?
  • What style of beekeeping to aspire to?
  • Is there someone who can take the role of a mentor?
  • Where will the hives be installed?

Natural beekeeping which doesn’t use chemicals and allows the bees to create their hives with minimum intervention is the style of beekeeping that appeals most (see some links at the bottom of this post) and is in-line with the organic farming taking place at Chelsea Gardens. The bees were ordered last year (from Pierre Houle in Maxville) and a friend of the farm had already agreed to be a mentor for the year. The next steps were to organise hives and equipment on a very small budget so I took the opportunity to build Warré hives and only purchased a couple of items new (the essential hive tool and a jacket with integrated veil).
Note added post first season of beekeeping: In retrospect a smoker would have been useful!

A taste of beekeeping

With the arrival of the bees imminent (we have ordered two nucs, pronounced nukes, that are small colonies of bees created from larger colonies ie. nucleus hives) I thought I should get a taste for what beekeeping can be like so I tagged along with Chris while she inspected Kelly’s hives north of Chelsea, near Wakefield.

There are a couple of hives but we only worked with the most docile of the two, checking the frames for overall hive health to see whether much honey or pollen is being stored, looking at brood numbers (eggs, larvae and pupae), searching for the queen bee (I found her – very exciting!) and switching the brood chambers so the top one was at the bottom and vice versa.

This is Chris’ second year of beekeeping and it was a great opportunity to check out her equipment, see how she does things like packing and lighting the smoker, and just start getting familiar with bees.


  • Remember to wear light (preferably white) clothing.
  • Can use pine needles as fuel for smoker with plenty of green grass stuffed in the top to cool it down – make sure you check the heat of the smoke before using on the bees; it should be as cool as possible.
  • Don’t stand in front of their entrance way
  • Take note of the weather – if it looks like a change cool change or cloudy weather/rain is on the way it might be a good idea to pack up and go back another day; bees are easier to deal with in sunny warm weather better.


Bees are an essential part of farming around the world and Chelsea Gardens is no exception; like many small scale organic farms, bees are incorporated into the farm plan. With no experience and having read two books on the subject as my only introduction I’ve been given the title of head beekeeper. Mentored by a friend of the farm managers who happens to be an entomologist in her second year of beekeeping it’s going to be a steep learning curve but one that I’m looking forward to.

(artwork by Paige Thompson)