Fun with foundationless frames

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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:

  1.       Pre-embossed wax encourages bees to build worker comb, I’m keen to see what the girls do left of their own devices
  2.       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.

My first foundationless frame

My first foundationless frame

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.

 

Foundationless FramesDrawn

My bees dutifully drawing out new comb

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.

Foundationless Frame Wild Comb

My bees didn’t read the foundationless frames guides - bad girls!!

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.

foundationless frame fail

Don’t use big starter strips.

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.

Building a new apiary

I count myself very lucky because I have a friendly, kind and considerate farmer who puts up with my bumbling beekeeping.

This season he’s letting me build a new apiary in a small field more sheltered than my existing hives’ location. For the last two seasons I’ve been concerned that hives were struggling due to the exposed nature of their site so it’ll be interesting to see how they do at this new home.

There are plenty of guidelines for choosing an apiary; including: how much sun it gets, the amount of shade, closeness to a water supply, vehicular access and I’ve even seen people who believe that placing hives on ley-lines is beneficial. For me, however, the number one thing an apiary must have is charm.

My perfect apiary site must be somewhere I would enjoy being even if there were no bees, the sort of space that draws me to it those lazy Sunday afternoons when I could be sitting the garden with a beer and a book. Somewhere that relaxes the soul and let’s my mind rest, if may sound a bit hippy but I suspect there is a tiny hippy in all beekeepers.

This small field is a bit scruffy, but it has oodles of charm.

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Circled by trees with a small pond in the middle. Not far away is a pick yourself farm and several woods so plenty of forage for the girls. It also has the other things that are important for a good apiary plenty of sun but with some shade and I can park pretty much next to the hives if a wished.

I’ve sited the hives facing the tree line which will allow people to walk pass the hives without crossing the bees’ flight paths. When I first started beekeeping I use to buy hive stands from beekeeping suppliers. They look nice but I’ve found that small fence posts and four aerated blocks makes a great stand for three hives for the same price.

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After hiving some over wintered nucs I’m looking forward to spending time just tinkering around on sunny afternoons.

hives

Beekeeping plans for 2016

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The days are becoming just that little bit longer, the sun is just that little bit brighter and this week I’ve seen crocus flowering everywhere.

Yes folks, the new beekeeping season is almost here; time to get excited about this year’s plans and schemes.

Christmas mince pie binging gave me plenty of time to think about what I’d like to get up to in the new season. I’ve set myself four goals which are challenging but achievable.

  • Build a new apiary - I’ve found a new site which seems rather nice. In March I’ll place the hive stands on the site, with three overwintered nucs to follow in April.
  • Single size boxes – over Christmas I read the Rose Hive method by Tim Rowe. I was inspired to do so by an excellent talk given to our association by Liz Knee who only uses super boxes in her hives.  I’m planning on using national size boxes rather than the Rose as I have a stock of these.
  • Queen rearing – raising my own queens has been a goal for some time. Queen rearing is one of the skills which many insist isn’t that difficult but appears utterly bemusing to those that haven’t given it a go.  I’ve booked myself on a weekend course in June to becoming indoctrinated to this weird sub-sect of beekeeping – I wonder if there is a secret handshake?
  • Foundation-less frames – on the Internet it would seem that going foundation-less is a common practice in the United States, but, I know only a few people in the UK who have foregone wired foundation. Rumours are that foundation prices this year are going up so this seems a jolly good idea.

Between now and the end of March I need to make up some new frames, clean a few boxes and do a stock take to make sure everything is ready for April when I jump feet first into the new season.

I wish you all well in whatever plots, plans or schemes you are hatching for this year’s season.

Good luck!