Abbé Émile Warré
A French abbot named Émile Warré began beekeeping in the very early 1900s and continued to do so for more than 30 years. He experimented with over 350 hives, (about a dozen of each well-known type of beehive,) finally developing his own design that he referred to as "the People's Hive". He wrote an explanatory book of his beekeeping approach, methods and hive design titled "Beekeeping For All". Though he died in 1951, his book, methods and hive design continue to have a following of modern beekeepers seeking an organic and more naturalistic beekeeping experience.
"Beekeeping For All" had twelve editions with the twelfth edition being translated into English in 2007. It is freely available as a PDF on the internet.
The People's Hive
The hive that Warré designed was intended to make beekeeping accessible to just about anyone. He is known for wanting to make beekeeping accessible to the poor in France as a means of becoming self sufficient. The purpose is to be able to harvest honey, beeswax and other hive essentials such as propolis and use them to sell, barter with, or make and use for themselves to reduce household expenses.
The hive is a vertical hive system much like the Langstroth hive in that boxes are stacked vertically and harvested from the top down. However, the management of the hive requires adding new boxes to the bottom of the stack (nadiring) as opposed to adding them to the top of the stack (supering).
Also, The hive was emphasized to use top bars instead of frames as Warré strongly felt that forcing bees onto straight combs contributes to increased risk of diseases and illnesses. He was very sure that the maintaining of nest scent and nest temperature was paramount to keeping healthy bees. Thus his insistence on nadiring boxes so that the heat and scent do not escape by having upper boxes removed from above the brood chamber.
Many people now look at his hive management system based on nadiring and think of it as difficult due to having to lift multiple boxes to add new ones to the bottom of the stack, but keep in mind that his interest was not necessarily in just making beekeeping simple for beekeepers but in keeping it simple as possible while keeping bee health as the first priority.
The hive consists of four primary components. There is a floor, the hive box(es), a Quilt box and a roof. The entrance is designed to his opinion of defensibilty at all times. The hive box is square and roughly one foot square. Two boxes make up the core of the hive as the brood chamber. The Quilt box is a screen bottom half height box which contains wicking material like wood shavings to absorb rising moisture in the form of condensation and the roof is designed to let the wind move through it dry out the quilt box before the contents can become moldy or allow condensation to build up on it and drip back into the hive.
Between the uppermost hive box and the quilt box is a piece of burlap covered in a paste so that bees will not chew through it and does not allow the quilt box to be propolised to the box it sits on. Yet this cloth still allows moisture to pass through it into the quilt box.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that Warré intended for the hive to only be opened twice a year. While he did say that it was possible to do so, he did also advocate for regular inspections.
His hive plans also include the design for a custom frame to be used within it to accommodate portability for pollination and a hive feeder.
The size of the hive box was very specific as he believed it mimicked the volume natural swarms sought out for new hives in the Spring.
A Modern Variation on the People's Hive
A modern variation on the traditional "People's Hive" is to use current day 5 frame "nuc" boxes instead of the traditional Warré square boxes. The 5 frame boxes are very similar in volume to the square boxes but are rectangular instead to accommodate Langstroth hive systems. As Warré felt that a square most closely approximates the rough cylinder of a tree cavity, he would not approve of a rectangle.
A custom bottom board with a 3/8" rise is used as well as a customized quilt box and roof. As with the traditional Warré hive, there are two styles of roofs. The "full" roof and the simple roof. On the modern variation, a simple board, much like a migratory top is used as a roof.
The modwarré hive is started and overwintered in two boxes like the tradional Warré hive and new boxes are nadired instead of supered.
Foundation-less frames work well with a modwarré, especially when in areas that hive inspection is required. It also helps the hive to be mobile and usable at cutouts, trap-outs and pollination movement.