At the beginning of the year I set myself some goals for my beekeeping season; one of those was to move to foundationless frames.
Going foundation free appeals to me for a number of reasons:
- Pre-embossed wax encourages bees to build worker comb, I’m keen to see what the girls do left of their own devices
- I like to be frugal with my spending on beekeeping, let’s be honest, it is a hobby with a high potential to become a money pit. So saving a few quid here and there isn’t a bad thing.
After watching a few videos and reading guides online how to go foundationless I decided it to give it a whirl, however, as with all beekeeping it seems bees don’t read the same websites as I do.
Some suggest that it is possible to draw a line of wax at the top of the frame to prompt the bees to draw comb, but, I decided I’d rather use starter strips. These provide a distinctive guide for the bees to draw their comb which made me feel slightly more comfortable than simply slapping a bunch of empty frames in a box.
I have recently reverted back to National standard from 12x14s boxes for several reasons which probably deserve their own blog post. One of those reasons was that the compact dimensions make foundationless frames easier to handle without the added weight of larger 12×14 combs which are more likely to fall out if not handled with care. I’ve been able to handle broad frames packed with honey quite easily without wired wax. As long as you treat it with a bit of care and if you want to retain 12x14s and use this method I have no doubt if done you’ll be fine.
I’m a cautious beekeeper so decided to wire my frames to provide that extra support. As you can see in the picture below this requires a little more work than using wired foundation. I purchased a very handy frame punch which inserts the eyelets into the side bars preventing the wire cutting into the wooden frames.
I cut some wireless foundation into thirds and use those as starter strips; turned out to be a mistake – we’ll talk about in a moment
Early in the season I bought myself two nucs from Paynes Bee Farm and thought that these would make ideal candidates to try out my newfangled foundationless frames. I’m not sure why but the most commercial nuc sellers seem to use frame spacers rather than hoffman’s so it is useful if you have hoffman frames to have a bag of converters which are the small clips that attach to the frame to make them compatible.
I used the foundationless frames to fill the rest of the box, using the already drawn comb provided a guide for the bees. They have since proceeded to draw out lovely straight comb almost precisely as the guides and YouTube videos had described.
I discovered later in the season that if you place an empty food box with only foundationless frame in it above a drawn out box the bees build comb home from the bottom bars rather than working their way up to the top of the frames during the countdown. So it is advisable to take at least two combs from the bottom box and put it in your new broad box to provide a guide for the bees.
My second learning from this experiment was that using very large starter strips in your frames isn’t advisable. During the warmer days the wax buckles and because it has no wire to support it it drops out of the frame. This does not seem to happen if you use smaller starter strips of maybe 3 to 4 centimetres this also has the added advantage that you can make an entire boxes worth of frames with only 1 and a half sheets of wax. Which is pretty cheap compared to using wired foundation across the entire box. Saving a few pounds here and there in my beekeeping is most welcome.
My biggest concern when starting this experiment was wild comb I had visions of boxes with combs running every which way and having to endlessly cut and reshape wax to get straight comb. However; I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I’ve only had 3 frames out of four hives where my bees have started to draw wax diagonally across the hive. During weekly inspections it is relatively easy to spot this and fix it.
My other concern was that not giving the girls foundation I would be giving them more work to do which would slow down development of the hive. This does not seem to have happened and it is interesting to see if left to their own devices what types of comb the bees actually build. I’m not sure if this is related but as I write this post none of the hives with foundationless frames have started swarm preparations maybe they been too busy building comb.
I tried going foundationless just to see how it worked. Almost two months in I’m on my way to being a convert.