Bee Hive Foundation Experiment (none and ½ sheets)

I’ve previously posted about the myriad of choices in beehive foundation This post is about an experiment I’m running this year with Foundationless Frames and Frames Hung With Half-Sheets of Wax Foundation.  I’ll call these “Half-Hung” frames to make writing easier.  (By the way, the Paria Canyon post is still to come, there are just so many wonderful pictures to sort though – and foundation is way more relevant to beekeeping).

Background

Foundationless Frames have always seemed to me to be an attractive option.  The bees get to build what they want to build.  I don’t pay for foundation.   But it has never been terribly successful for me.  Often the bees just ignore the foundationless frames and work on all the other frames.

Two years ago I worked with a beekeeper friend, Clyde. 

A beekeeper on vacation

Beekeeper Clyde at Paria Canyon Trailhead

Clyde works with small cell foundation in deeps, but he only places foundation on the top half of the frame.  This technique seemed attractive as well : bees get to build what they want on half the frame, and foundation for each frame costs me 50% less.  I know I sound mercenary, but it can be challenging making a living as a beekeeper.

(yep, I did work in a picture from the trail head at Paria Canyon – Clyde gave me a lift to the beginning of the walk).

I run about 50 hives.  These hives are in a number of bee yards in eastern Whatcom County, Washington, where I live.  About half the hives are in agricultural lands.  The other half is up-river in the foothills of Mt. Baker (where my farm is located).  I only use medium boxes (“westerns”) in my beekeeping – no shallows or deeps.

The Experiment

Both foundationless and half-hung frames were wired in my usual way.

The half-hung foundations are pretty straightforward.  I cut each wax foundation in half, then mounted it on the frame and hot-wired it to the top wire.

Cutting beehive foundation in half at Brookfield Farm, Maple Falls, WA

Cutting the Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half a sheet of beehive  foundation mounted

A Half-Hung Sheet of Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The foundationless frames were a bit more time and space consuming.  I used wood glue to secure large Popsicle sticks (bought at a craft store), into the top groove of the frame.  The time is in waiting for the glue to harden.

Items needed to create foundationless bee hive frames

Items to prepare foundationless frames

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beehive Frame For Foundationless beekeeking

Waiting for Glue to dry on  upside down foundationless   

With half-hung it’s: hot wire wax foundation, then foundation goes in box.  With foundationless it’s : turn frame upside down and wait for the glue to dry.

 

 

 

 

 

Each hive got one foundationless frame and one half-hung frame.  These frames were put in at positions 2 and 9 in my ten frame hives.

Each type of frame was hung between two drawn foundations (that’s important).  They were never put next to each other or next to a sheet of foundation.

None of the hives are level.  They do not have an extreme lean, but they do slightly tilt in all directions (I use a wire bottom, so drainage is never an issue in my hives)

About 10 days later I returned to some of the hives, because I wanted to split them.  This gave me an opportunity to see how the experiment is progressing.

Current Conditions:

Strong hive in a Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey Beeyard

A hive that needs splitting

1) We are in the middle of a large “honey flow” : lots of flowers, lots of nectar.

2) The hives I checked were the strong hives from which I had chosen to breed new queens, and/or were in dire need of being split before they swarmed.

 

 

 

Observations:

1) Both the Foundationless and Half-Hung frames were being drawn out.  The degree varied from hive to hive.

Honeybees complete foundation from a half-sheet

Half-Hung Foundation on a stronger hive

Honeybees complete a half-foundation frame at Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey, Maple FAlls, WA

A smaller hive’s work with half-hung foundation

 

Half-Foundation : Strong Hive.
Hive “A” for this post

 

 

 

 

 

Half-Foundation Somewhat smaller hive

Hive “B” for this post

 

 

 

Honeybees complete a foundationless frame in a Brookfield Farm hive.

Foundationless Frame in a stronger hive

 

Foundationless : Same Strong Hive As First Half-Hung Image

(Hive “A”)

 

 

 

Foundationless Beehive frame being worked by Brookfield Farm bees

A not-so-strong hive’s foundationless efforts

 

Foundationless : Same hive as first Foundationless Image

Hive “B”

 

 

 

 

2) Both types of frames were straight as can be – I attribute this to having drawn foundation on either side of each frame.  See above images.

3) The bees did draw out the Half-Hung frames faster than the foundationless.  See above images.

4) Foundationless frames were all drone-sized cells (many filled with honey).  See the second and fouth image above.

5) Half-Hung frames were worker-sized cells on top (where the foundation was) and drone-sized cells on the bottom.  It will be interesting to see if this influences the mite counts.  See the first and third image above.

6) Regarding points 4 & 5 : These frames are in positions 2 and 8, where bees tend to build drones.  (I shall drop some towards the center on a checker boarded hive soon, and see what that produces – the link is to a very nice explanation of how to checkboard a hive from Honey Bee Suite ).

Conclusion:

So far so good.  I’ll make up some more half-hung, and foundationless (if I have the time for the latter –  time and space needed for drying are a pain.

The Future:

It will be interesting to see:

1) If the foundationless and half-hung frames seem to have an effect of bee health.
2) If they have an effect on mite counts.
3) If the bees continue building them during a standard honey flow.
4) If weaker hives and nucs build on them.

I’ll let you know what happens.

Are you trying anything new this year?  If so do share what you’re doing and the results – it’s great when we can all learn new things together.

Also, if you have any words of wisdom about Foundationless or Half-Hung hives please share.  The good sides, the bad sides….

That’s the news from Brookfield Farm Bees And Honey – outside of the frames, I’m splitting hives, raising queens, doing farmers markets, and have brought in a Livestock Guard Dog Puppy, and three Muscovy Ducks (I’m new to ducks).  These latter came from my beekeeper friend Lisa at Round Tuit Farm Check out her farm – and honey – on her website and at her farmers markets.

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About brookfieldfarmhoney

Brookfield Farm, a small off-grid apiary in Maple Falls, WA focuses on the beauty and bounties of Washington’s wilderness. I sell honey from our bees, whose naturally-treated, antibiotic-free hives are home to bees who fly Washington’s mountains and farmlands. Herbal salves and lip balms from Brookfield beeswax. Delicately infused honeys and vinegars. Varietal honeys from independent Washington beekeepers. Karen Edmundson Bean: beekeeper, photographer. Her love of the wilderness inspires her to discover new ways of bringing the wonders of nature to others. Brookfield Farm : the tastes, textures, sounds, and images of nature.
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12 Responses to Bee Hive Foundation Experiment (none and ½ sheets)

  1. Bradley P says:

    I enjoyed seeing your experimental results. Foundation-less frames interest me mostly because they look to be useful for reducing costs.

    • I was really pleased to be able to share – I put those frames in 10 days before the photos were taken. I too like foundationless because of the cost factor. I think I’m leaning towards half-sheets due to build-up speed in times of a weaker honey flow. Have you used any foundationless yet? If so how’d it work for you?

  2. Emily Heath says:

    I would have thought commercial beekeepers like yourself would reuse the honey combs after extraction – do you keep the drawn out honey frames? Perhaps if the bees are producing lots of drones you could uncap some to do a mite count.

    • Hi Emily – We do reuse frames, but my frames have a 5 year life (at longest, brood frames even shorter). With that and the expansion of the apiary, I always need more frames. It’s a never ending endeavor. So I figure if I can save a bit of money and let the bees build what they want, it’s win-win. It’s interesting to me, that even when they’re putting in drone-size comb, they fill it with honey (about half the time) and not eggs! Mite count looks good this year. But things can change so fast. Good to hear from you.

      • Emily Heath says:

        Ah, makes sense! I guess drone-sized comb is more efficient for honey storage – less wax needed, more honey. Some beekeepers I know put drone sized foundation in their supers. The only thing that puts me off doing that is stories about the queen somehow getting up in their supers through the queen excluder and laying several combs of drones up there!

        • I was kind of surprised they went all for drone size, I thought they’d do some intermediate, between worker and drone – although some top bar books I’ve read said that lots of drones on foundationless comb can happen in hives that have been given foundation previously because the bees suddenly have a place to put drone cells (rather than putting them on top of worker foundation, or along the bottom of the frames). I thought about using the ones with drones for IPM (the “freeze the drone cells to remove mites”) but I never get that organized to get them in time. I don’t use queen excluders (except when making splits) – so she could lay the drone cells up. Ah, it’s all an interesting experiment. Oh yes, I was going to mention that I’m not a “commercial beekeeper” by US standards, they have 700+ hives and do pollination. I just make my living managing honeybees for honey and selling honey.

  3. I find your information helpful and useful. I am considering bee keeping on a commercial basis in the future. I am looking for sources of information on the financial aspects of bee keeping and selling honey related products. Any place you could refer me to get this info.

    • Hi Charlie – You’re in Seattle! I’m in Maple Falls (25 miles up river from Bellingham). Commercial beekeeping – that’s a long response. A few things: I’m not a commercial beekeeper – although I do make a living from my bee’s honey and selling honey. Commercial beekeepers have at least 700 hives (and that’s a small operation). Forklifts, Pollination Contracts, Trucking Bees To Almonds and other crops: so not my world (happily). West of the Cascades: a hard place to be a commercial beekeeper. IN WA best is the other side of the Cascades – where it’s warm and sunny. I’d be happy to chat – The first weekend in June I’ll be at the Fremont Market (my husband’s there every Sunday, but he’s a wood worker who now knows about bees). Wish I could think of someplace to refer you to – but there’s good general biz info at Sustainable Connections and the Small Business Admin.

  4. Natalie says:

    It will be interesting to follow this experiment!

    And Muscovy ducks, I LOVE my Muscovy ducks. Ours are really just pets, although we do eat the eggs. But they are so much fun and very hardy. Good luck!

    • I hope they’re hardy, because they seemed to have walked into the forest! Ah well, perhaps ducks are not in my future – or maybe they’ll walk back (there’s pond and creek in the forest, probably nicer than their home in the pasture

  5. Bill says:

    I’m a backyard hobbyist and use all foundationless medium frames. I have chosen to use all foundationless for several reasons: 1) cost, 2) unknown chemicals in foundation, 3) let the bees build whatever size they want.

    I think it’s great that more people are experimenting with foundationless. Here’s my experience:

    A ridge on the underside of the top bar can help act as a comb guide to encourage the bees to build the comb centered and straight, but that doesn’t always work. Sometimes the bees have a mind of their own and some adjustments are necessary so things don’t get out of hand. Any crooked or cross comb will just repeat on the next frame, so it’s best to get it early. Providing a frame or 2 of fully drawn straight comb will help set a good pattern for the bees and you’re less likely to get crooked comb.

    To make the comb guide I just pop out the wedge strip, turn it 90 degrees and glue and nail it in place. It’s faster than waiting for the glue to dry with popsicle sticks. Some places sell frames with a guide already built in.

    I don’t wire the frames. I use crush & strain to harvest honey and wax. This saves me time in building the frames, and harvesting. I don’t have to store a lot of wax over winter. I also believe it’s good for the bees to rebuild the wax. You do have to use a different method when handling the frames and turning it to see the other face. Never turn it face down. Always keep an edge facing downward or you’ll risk the entire comb ripping out.

    I haven’t had problems with too much drone comb. The bees build as much as they need. Once they have enough drones they back fill it with honey or pollen. When they need more drones and I don’t give them someplace to build drone comb I get a lot of burr comb under the frames that gets all torn apart when I do inspections. Then they’re busy with building more burr comb again to fix the mess I made. But if I give them some empty frames when it’s time to raise drones they have the room to do it and I don’t make a mess and they don’t waste time and resources fixing what I mess up. IMO a drone-right colony can devote more time & resources to storing honey and raising workers instead.

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