9 Jun 2012

Warre roof - making a top bar cloth

The Warre hive has a multi-functional roof in three parts:
  1. The roof itself;
  2. The quilt;
  3. The top bar cloth.
You might like to build a Warre style roof for your Langstroth? It provides what is arguably a better (closer to natural) environment for the bees inside the hive. The roofs we use here in Australia have fixed vents which provide a constant flow of air through the hive - something that does not occur in the bee's natural home - a hollow in a tree trunk.

This post describes how to easily make the top bar cloth in acordance with Warre's original plans (BfA p. 53). The whole thing takes about 15-20 minutes of work. David Heaf also has a post on this topic.

Note that there are alternatives to using hessian, such as organic cotton or even flyscreen. Here I'm trying to stay true to the Warre style. It's primarily about applying a flour paste to the hessian - if you do not apply flour paste, the bees are likely to chew through the cloth and cause problems when you remove the quilt at a later stage.

1. Roughly cut a piece of hessian to be a few cm larger than the outside dimension of your hive's box. Do not cut to fit the box at this stage - as the hessian dries, it make shrink and not fit, so best to make it oversized this stage.

2. Gather your tools. Perhaps use organic flour.

3. Mix a little flour with (perhaps three cups of) cold water and heat gently until it forms a paste. Warre's book states a certain amount of flour per litre, using rye flour if possible and adding some starch. No matter, so long as you have a thick but paintable paste. David's post includes some measures.

4. Place the cloth on a newspaper. Using a clean (new, cheapie) paint brush, apply the paste evenly over the cloth. Work it into the cloth. Don't apply too thick. You are aiming to soak the fibres without clogging all of the holes with the paste. The bees will decide whether they want to block those holes with propolis.

5. Once complete, the cloth will be wet and wrinkled. Leave it flat for a few hours to dry out.

6. It will then by dry and wrinkled. Run a hot iron over it to flatten it out. If you don't, it won't sit neatly across the top bars (or frames) and form a simple seal.

7. Place a hive box on top of the cloth and mark out around the outside. Cut the cloth to fit. It should be a neat fit and seal completely over the wood, to the edges, without (ideally) going beyond the edges.

8. The finished item.

Pic credit: David Thorn

9. When the cloth has been in place on the hive for a few weeks, the bees will propolise it to the box edges and to the top bars, forming a bee-tight (and air tight) seal across the top of the hive. They can remove propolis (should they wish) to allow some air to vent into the quilt.

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