I introduced some foundationless frames to Hive #1 this weekend. I’ll tell you why and I’ll tell you how. Here’s one of my foundationless frames:
Conventional frames (photo) hold a plastic foundation the bees use to build their comb on. They follow a honeycomb pattern that’s impressed on the plastic. Foundationless frames have nothing but a little strip of plastic or wood near the top called a starter strip. The bees hang off the starter strip and construct their comb like they would in nature, creating cells the size they want them to be, not the size that’s imposed on them by following the pattern on a plastic foundation. It’s argued that the natural sized cells are better for the bees because they help prevent infestations of various mites, and the bees are generally healthier when they’re allowed to do what they would naturally do. Look at this video from the Backwards Beekeepers to see how frames with starter strips are made:
Check out this video at the 1:30 mark to see bees building off the starter strip — and don’t tell me it isn’t cool:
It’s the Backwards Beekeepers who got me hooked on beekeeping, so I’m trying to follow their example. I don’t know how well the more natural methods of beekeeping will work in the cold climate of Newfoundland, but I’ve asked around and I’ve been told by more than a few beekeepers in similar environments that the foundationless methods will work. So I’m going for it.
I built the foundationless frames like I did my regular frames, but I also had to do the following:
1) Cut out and insert plastic starter strips. I made my starter strips from a corrugated plastic sign I got from a friend of mine pretending to be a politician. (Skip to the 4:18 mark on this video to see what I’m talking about. You might want to watch the other Bushkill Farms videos while you’re at it. Lots of good stuff.) Cutting and trimming the plastic and then inserting it into the frame with carpenters glue was time-consuming and tedious. All of this stuff is tedious.
2) Wax the starter strips. I took the little bit of wax I scraped off the top of my frames in Hive #1 (see the First Taste of Honey post), melted it in a jury-rigged double boiler, and then applied it to the starter strips with a toothbrush. I could have done it like the Backwards Beekeepers in their instructional video, but I had a minuscule amount of wax. I hope it was enough to encourage the bees to build off it. UPDATE: I got hold of a big chunk of natural raw beeswax, melted it down in a pot and re-waxed many of the starter strips just like they do in the video. Worked like a charm.
3) Wire the frames. Freely-drawn comb is usually anchored only to the top of the frame, which makes it easy to accidentally break off during inspections. (UPDATE: Our bees seem to connect the comb on all sides of the frame. A strong anchor is not a problem.) The bees have no problem building through the wire, though, and the wire provides greater support for the comb. I couldn’t find any half decent wire locally, so instead I used the strongest mono filament (or fishing line) sold at Canadian Tire — 30 pound test, though 40 is recommended. Apparently it works just as well. If the line gets old and eventually breaks, I’ll tie wire on the outside of the frames and be done with it. The bees can work around the wire and it’ll due for brood frames. The wire is strung through holes that are already drilled in the side of the frames. Just make the wire tight and you’re good to go. (UPDATE: I got hold of some real wire. I’ll try it out for 2011.)
I’ll quickly check the foundationless frames next week. If the bees are building comb on them, hooray! If they’re not, the experiment is over and I’ll insert foundation into the frames. I will be thrilled if it actually works, though, because my admiration for the Backwards Beekeeping methods is what got me into beekeeping in the first place.
UPDATE (Oct. 22/10): The foundationless frames worked out fine. I don’t know if going foundationless in Newfoundland is better than any other method, but I think it might be fun to give it a try.