The foundationless frames are working. YES! This is what it’s all about. This was the big moment of truth — and the bees did it. They had no problem building comb from foundationless frames. I’ll quote myself on this:

NATURAL COMB“Foundationless frames have nothing but a little strip of plastic or wood near the top called a starter strip. The bees hang off the [beeswax-coated] 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 a colony is generally healthier when the honey bees are allowed to build comb as they would in nature — and this is about as close as it gets in a Langstroth hive. It’s the Backwards Beekeeping approach and it’s what got me hooked on beekeeping long before I had any bees. I just wasn’t sure it was even possible in the cold climate of Newfoundland. But now that I see evidence it can work, I’m inspired. I love it. These honey bees are incredible. Here’s how it played out:

FESTOONING BEESWe added a second brood chamber to Hive #1 six days ago because the colony had drawn comb on at least 9 of the 10 frames. They were ready to expand. We took about half the drawn frames, a mixture of brood and honey, and placed them in a second brood chamber, checker-boarding them using regular empty frames with foundation. We checker-boarded the original bottom brood chamber, too (that is, we placed an empty frame between all the frames with drawn out comb), but those empty bottom frames had no foundation, only a waxed starter strip and some wire between the frames to provide extra support for the comb. Theoretically, the bees would build comb first by festooning — that’s when the bees hang off each other in a chain to determine the straightest line down on which to build the comb. Check out the photo on the left: That’s what I call festooning! Honey bees have been festooning for hundreds of millions of years. There’s no stopping them now.

The bees built straight through the support wire like it wasn’t even there, and they’ve already begun to fill the comb with honey — and it’s only been six days. All the comb they’ve drawn out will eventually join up and fill the frame.

So as long as the warm weather holds up, I’m not worried about Hive #1. These bees are going at it like gang busters. I’ll keep feeding them and check them again in a couple weeks, but I think they’re doing great.

Next summer when we can hopefully harvest some honey, we’ll go with foundationless frames for the honey supers too.

That way when the honey is capped and good to go, we’ll just cut the comb right out of the frames and extract it by following the crush-and-strain method.

I’m feeling encouraged by what we’ve seen today. I’d love to be the first successful Backwards Beekeeper in Newfoundland.

I might even have to get myself one of their t-shirts. (We’ll see if the honey bees in Hive #1 keep up the good work.)

Anyway, check out all this beautiful, natural honeycomb. You don’t see that on plastic foundations.

To be continued…

UPDATE (Jan. 24/11): What I referred to as checker-boarding was inaccurate. It’s better explained at Bee Natural.

4 Responses to “Natural Foundationless Comb”

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  1. Jeff says:

    Pretty impressive Phillip. I was hoping to check my hive today but it was to late by the time I got home. Hopefully the weather may be a little better and I can open mine for a peak.

  2. Phillip says:

    Yeah, the colony in Hive #1 is robust. They go out in large numbers even when it’s mildly warm. I think they have a healthier queen and therefore larger numbers than the colony in Hive #2. Hive #1 sucks up 500ml of sugar-water in less than two days, even when they’re coming back with loads of pollen (and I assume nectar). Hive #2, even with two feeders, isn’t as fast. I’m calling Aubrey this week for advice on adding another brood box to Hive #2. Maybe I should just had medium super (or shallow) and let them use that as a brood box over the winter. I’m not sure they’d be able to fill a second box if I added it now. Then I want to have a big meeting with Aubrey about wintering the bees. I’m still finding too much conflicting information on that.

  3. Jeff says:

    What are you using to wire the frames? Did you put eyelets in the holes on the sides?

  4. Phillip says:

    I didn’t put eyelets in the holes, and I used 40-pound test mono filament instead of wire. All explained here:

    http://mudsongs.org/foundationless-frames/

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