Foundationless Beekeeping

There are many reasons to not use foundation in your hives. With the recent test showing  trace amounts of various chemicals in bees wax and foundation it is becoming more important to replace your comb every 3 – 5 years, if your hive has two deeps and three westerns that could cost you over $50 for each hive every three years or so. Some claim that bees make better comb when left to their own and they will in fact create cell size that they need, not what is forced upon them. Many who dont use foundation claim that bees get off to a better start when installing packages, although this will vary just as packages on foundation do.

Bees that use foundation only raise about 5% drone cells, in the wild this would be closer to 20%, some reports suggest that not having enough drones is leading to poor breeding and reduced gene pool and could be a reason why the African bees are taking over so quickly. On foundationless comb bees will raise more drone, this is not a bad thing, in the wild drones play a roll in the hive, a successfull beekeeper will use this to the benefit of the hive.

Varroa mite control can be easier in a foundationless hive, typically a whole frame or most of one will contain all the drone cells, be removing and freezing and then replacing in the hive you are breaking the mite breeding cycle and encouraging hygenic behaviour in your bees.

How to prepare your frames.
You have a couple of options on how to prepare your frames depending on what style you have.
The first type we will demonstrate is for a wedge style top bar.

For this you only need an exterior grade wood glue and your hive tool.

 toolandglue

Remove the wedge from the top bar and scrape the wedge and frame clean with your hive tool.

cleaningframe removewedge

Apply a bead of glue into the corner

glueonframe

Push the wedge into position rotated 90 degrees from when it was removed.

finishedframe

Yoe are now done, any excess glue can be scraped off when dry, additionaly some like to add a bead of wax to the edge created but it is not necessary, this will give the bees a guide to start the comb building.

If you have a grooved top bar you will need some melted bees wax and a wax tube fastener.

waxtube
The wax tube is a great little tool, you dip it in melted wax and it fills up, you put your finger over the little air hole
and this will stop the wax from coming out when you lift it up. Place over the groove, remove finger and the wax
will flow out of the tube, put finger back over the hole and it stops. Dadant stocks these for under $6.

Pour your melted wax in the groove,

waxframestep1
This gets easier with practice, you dont need to be neat as once cooled down you will trim it up

When cooled trim the excess and you are done.

finishedwaxframe

This will give the bees a starting edge when building comb.

If you have grooved top bars and you dont want to mess with wax, you can get popsicle sticks and glue into the groove so it looks the same as the wedge style.

Inspecting Comb and Harvesting
You will need to take care when inspecting your hives, when the bees start out the comb is only attached at the top so you MUST keep the frame vertical when you remove and inspect it, if you dont it may very well break from the bar. This could actually be a good thing for the beginner, you want to move slow around the bees and this will force you to do just that. Once the bees have filled the frame and attached the comb at the sides and the bottom it can be inspected just the same as a foundation frame. You will find that the bees like to leave gaps around the edges, this is normal.
If you notice the comb is starting to drift off the center of the frame you can just use your thumb to push the ends back into line, the bees will reattach it and keep going in the new direction.Harvesting.
Foundationless frames can be harvested in an extractor just the same as a foundation frame, so long as the comb is attached along the sides and bottom, any frame not attached is probably one they are not finished with and you should consider leaving it in the hive as winter food, if you really must harvest it then you can use the crush and strain method.