Getting started with beekeeping - with Leigh from 5 Acres and a Dream

by Liz Beavis
In the third of my series of interviews about getting started with bees, I'm chatting with Leigh from 5 Acres and a Dream.  Leigh and her husband homestead on five acres in the foothills of the Southern Appalachians.  Their climate is very similar to mine, with a relatively mild winter, and hot humid summers.  Leigh's book "5 Acres & A Dream The Book: The Challenges of Establishing a Self-Sufficient Homestead" is a great resource for anyone thinking of homesteading.  But today we are talking about bees, which are a recent addition to Leigh's homestead and she's chosen to use a different hive, this time the Warre Hive.  
In the previous interviews I talked to:
Sally from Jembella Farm in South Australia and then Vickie from Making Our Sustainable Life, who lives in the Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

eight acres: getting started with beekeeping - with Leigh from 5 Acres and a Dream


Farmer Liz: How long have you been keeping bees?

Leigh: We set up our first hive on the homestead this past spring.

FL: What got you interested in bees originally?

L: My interest in bees started about 40 years ago when I found a book about them in the public library. I was immediately fascinated, and got my first beehive the following summer. Unfortunately I had to move before I ever had a honey harvest and I couldn't take the bees with me. That little taste of beekeeping, however, left a lifetime impression on me.

FL: How many hives to you have now?

L: We still have the first one and I'll be adding two more hives next spring.

FL: Can you tell us a bit about Warré hives and why you chose to use a Warré rather than the typical Langstroth hive?

A. When I started preparing to add bees to the homestead, the first thing I did was to read and research their needs and care. At that time I was only familiar with the Langstroth hive. As I visited various beekeeping websites, I found one which advocated natural beekeeping. He used horizontal top bar hives and after reading about his philosophy and practices, I set about on another internet hunt for more information. From that I learned that there are several styles of top bar hives. There are two types of horizontal hives (Kenyan with sloping sides and Tanzanian with straight sides) and a vertical top bar hive. The vertical top bars are typically Warré hives.  (FL: Vickie from last week's interview uses a Kenyan Top Bar Hive)

The Warré hive was developed in the early 20th century by a French priest named Emilé Warré. He was an avid beekeeper who thought that beekeeping should accommodate the bees rather than the keeper of the bees. He also believed that beekeeping should be economical enough for anyone to practice. In accordance with those beliefs he developed what he called "The Peoples' Hive, " which we now know as the Warré hive.
eight acres: getting started with beekeeping - with Leigh from 5 Acres and a Dream
The Warre Hive

The size and structure of the Warré hive mimic what a colony of swarming bees would find in a hollow tree. Left to their natural way of doing things, the bees will start building comb at the top of the cavity and work their way downward. The queen will immediately begin to fill the new comb with eggs and work her way downward as well. After the new bees emerge, the cells are filled with honey. Warré beekeeping facilitates this behavior by adding hive boxes at the bottom (nadiring) rather than at the top (supering).

"Top bar" refers to the use of bars rather than frames and foundation for comb-building. A thin strip of melted beeswax is painted along each bar as a starting point for the bees to begin their comb. Without the bars, the bees would build one long continuous comb from top to bottom. The bars are the one concession for the beekeeper. Warré beekeepers commonly harvest honey with the crush and strain method. This gives the additional bonus of a wax harvest.

FL: My biggest concern about using a “different” type of hive as a beginner is that we would find it difficult to get help from other beekeepers if we had any problems. Have you found that this is an issue?

L: Oh yes. When I first became interested in top bar beekeeping I mentioned it to my area beekeeping supplier. The response was instantly negative, so I knew there would be no help there. Other top bar beekeepers have had similar experiences.

I think this is always the case, however, for those of us seeking sustainable alternatives to the modern commercialized production model. There will always be some who will be critical and discouraging. I'm sure many of you can relate to what I'm saying. It is sad that much of the world does not appreciate the land-based agrarian way of living, but thanks to the internet, there is worldwide help available!
eight acres: getting started with beekeeping - with Leigh from 5 Acres and a Dream
Warre hive top bars

FL: What resources (online/books/in person) have you found useful in learning how to manage your Warré hive?

L: I have found numerous resources in books and websites. At the end of this post there is a link to my blog where I've created with a list of resources and links.

FL: Is there anything that you’ve learnt so far that you wish you’d known right from the start?

L: Well, when I first bought my equipment I delayed on getting gloves, because I figured I wouldn't need them until honey harvest later in the season. When I installed my package of bees, however, I couldn't find the queen cage. I quickly called the bee supplier (this was one time the type of hive didn't matter), who told me to simply catch the cage as I dumped the bees into the hive! How I regretted not getting those gloves! I ended up using my husband's welding gloves. They were awkward, but I managed to catch the queen cage as it tumbled out. I was then able to proceed in the usual manner.

FL: What advice would you give to readers who are considering getting bees?

L: Do your research and then make a start. As in all of life, the true learning of a thing is in the doing. Whenever I start something new I assume I'm going to run into unexpected problems and make mistakes, but by doing the best I can, I know I'll learn from these and will be the better for it.

Thanks Leigh, I love your philosophy and I agree, its difficult to go against the mainstream, but we are so lucky to have the internet to connect like-minded agrarian rebels all over the world!  If you have questions or are interested in learning more about Warré or top bar beekeeping, please visit Leigh's blog 5 Acres & A Dream The Blog.  Leigh is happy to answer questions, and will have links there to her own beekeeping blog posts plus lists of books, groups, and websites to help get you started.  

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