PDA

View Full Version : Comb rotation and foundationless comb



BjornBee
Dec 15th 2009, 06:28 AM
This was a small article to the state newsletter that was a followup to a presentation I gave at the fall convention this past November, in regards to some points I presented.

Thinking Outside the Box

In following up with the short presentation I gave at the PSBA fall convention, I wanted to expand upon some of the issues facing beekeepers today in regards to practices perhaps not mainstream to some beekeepers. They are certainly worthy of consideration.

You hear much chatter about possible contaminated foundation and comb in recent research of CCD, the amount of pesticides honey bees bring back to the hive, and other issues with possible viral and bacterial issues with old comb. But how do you tackle such issues or potential problems? There seems a huge following of Top Bar Hives, Warre hives, and a large varied group of beekeepers who claim “natural” this, or “organic” that, all aimed at dealing with some of these issues.

But what about the group of beekeepers that see the need for better management strategies to eliminate some of these issues and possible detrimental consequences, but yet want to keep their traditional Langstroth equipment? Consider the following:

1) Comb rotation. Yes, a good practice in beekeeping today is to just actually change out the brood comb after a period of years. With few exceptions, nature does not allow 20-30 year old comb in feral colonies. From time to time, feral colonies fail, the comb is destroyed, and the comb replaced when the next swarm moves in. With beekeepers, we tend to save comb from dead hives, reuse it, and have it around much longer than nature ever intended. You say you don’t use chemicals? You may not, but your bees probably do! I had a sample of forage pollen tested from one of my yards, and was shocked at the chemicals the bees were dragging back to the hives from down the street.

2) Foundationless comb. This is the principle idea that is promoted and used in top bar hive beekeeping, and other hives that some suggest are more “natural” in one way or another. And if some of the suggestions others have made are true in regards to chemical contaminated foundation, then this may be a good alternative. It involves using starter strips or comb guides, and then allow the bees to draw comb completely as they need it, thus eliminating the possibility of contaminated foundation, and saving you a whole bunch of money at the same time.

If you insert 10 foundationless frames into a standard box, the bees may draw the comb ever so slightly off center or with a small bend. By the end of the last frame being drawn, it is not lined up, since it progressively increased with each comb built. So many insert foundationless frames between two already drawn brood combs, where the depth has already been established.

The other, and for me better way of drawing foundationless comb, is by using 5 frame nuc boxes, and stacking them more than one high. Placing them above the brood chamber may result in honey comb. Placing them below the brood chamber results in brood comb. In both cases, you will have some of the best drawn foundationless comb. Once you have more than one five frame box drawn, you can change them over to your standard boxes. I draw medium foundationless frame comb in medium depth 5 frame nuc boxes, and the comb is fantastic.

Comb replacement used for keeping chemicals from building up year after year, and natural or foundationless comb……. Two things to consider.

If we can be of assistance to anyone wanting more information on these suggestions mentioned in this article, or other information about non-standard approaches to beekeeping, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are more than willing to help out.

Thank you.
Mike Thomas - Bjorn Apiaries

Omie
Dec 16th 2009, 10:47 PM
The other, and for me better way of drawing foundationless comb, is by using 5 frame nuc boxes, and stacking them more than one high. Placing them above the brood chamber may result in honey comb. Placing them below the brood chamber results in brood comb. In both cases, you will have some of the best drawn foundationless comb. Once you have more than one five frame box drawn, you can change them over to your standard boxes. I draw medium foundationless frame comb in medium depth 5 frame nuc boxes, and the comb is fantastic.

Hi Mike,
I'm a little unclear as to envisioning this setup.
Are the 5 frame nuc boxes medium or deep boxes?
Are you putting foundationless frames in them?
Are you stacking them in a pair side by side so they span the width of the 10 frame brood box underneath them?
And what are you 'changing over to your standard boxes after you have one 5 frame box drawn'- the frames, or the bees? (or both?)

I'm obviously confused. :confused:
Maybe a picture...?

BjornBee
Dec 19th 2009, 07:44 AM
Omie,
Most of the foundationless combs I make are mediums.

The nuc boxes are five frame nucs, with a five frame box on top. You can stack them just as you would a 8 or 10 frame hive. So just envision five frames over five frames.

As I have 10 or even twenty combs drawn, I change over the whole colony to a standard size box. I have done a good number of splits like this also.

The big advantage is that you have far less comb deviation with a five frame system while actually drawing combs. If you put 10 frames of foundationless in a standard box, you will get some waves or curl in the comb many times. Using five frame nucs all but eliminates it.

Here is a nuc building yard. I use nucs to raise queens, build nucs, draw comb, etc. It's just also the best way I have found to draw foundationless comb.

Hope this helps.

http://i186.photobucket.com/albums/x236/BjornBee/beepictures154.jpg

Omie
Dec 19th 2009, 12:46 PM
Oh thanks- that's helpful!
I was thinking you were stacking 5 frame nucs on top of ten frame brood boxes or something.

In th ephoto, it seems you have a fairly equal number of medium and deep 5 frame boxes. Are you using the mediums mostly for comb production and the deeps mostly for brood/queen raising?

the kid
Dec 19th 2009, 01:42 PM
what and how big are the starter strips ,, and what do you use for comb guides .. I want to drop useing foundation and go foundationless .. I want to start next spring ,, and have been thinking of a number of ways to try .. would like to have you in put ....

BjornBee
Dec 19th 2009, 02:50 PM
Omie,

This particular apiary, is used for both queen rearing/mating and nuc production. If you look in the back, past the goldenrod, you can see two other sections. I'll run anywhere from 75 to 100 nucs in this location. Much of what I'm doing comes down to time of the year.

Kid,

I use smallcell starter strips of about 1/2 inch. Not for any reason other than I got a bunch of the stuff from a few years back when I was testing smallcell. So I just cut up the full sheets into starter strips.

Almost all my natural cell comb is medium. I do not like deep natural comb, due to the use of wire or a vertical bar being needed. I think everyone going natural cell should make them medium, regardless of the type box being used.

Thank you for your interest and questions.

Omie
Dec 19th 2009, 03:43 PM
I use smallcell starter strips of about 1/2 inch. Not for any reason other than I got a bunch of the stuff from a few years back when I was testing smallcell. So I just cut up the full sheets into starter strips.

How are you securing these (non-wired wax?) strips into the frames?

BjornBee
Dec 19th 2009, 05:30 PM
I use smallcell starter strips of about 1/2 inch. Not for any reason other than I got a bunch of the stuff from a few years back when I was testing smallcell. So I just cut up the full sheets into starter strips.

How are you securing these (non-wired wax?) strips into the frames?

I use a propane torch and a large flat screwdriver. I scrape off some wax from a wax block with the slightly heated screwdriver, then heat the tip to melt the wax. I then use the drop or two of wax along with the heat of the screwdriver tip to melt spots along the inserted foundation strip. I may "tack" at 4 or 5 places along the frame. Of course all this is with the frame up side down, with the strip in the groove of the top bar. The extra drop or two is needed because without it, and you use heat to tack the foundation, it seems there is not enough wax to do the job correctly.

Very effective and simple to do.

SlickMick
Dec 20th 2009, 03:42 AM
I have been recently converting my hives over to foundationless by keeping the brood box as it has been from the start ie built on foundation but by treating the super as a top bar hive with just the top bar of a frame. OK so far.

The bees built off the foundation strips right to the walls of the box and to the top of the frames underneath. A solid block of comb and honey when I came to take the super off. All I could do was put a wire under the super to cut the comb off the frames underneath and then put a knife down the sides of the box. The girls did not like this at all!!

So how do TBH's deal with this and what should I have done???

Mick

BjornBee
Dec 20th 2009, 07:33 AM
Mick,
The bees really did what they are supposed to do. They filled in the available space and attached it. This is the same problem I see with the Warre hive. You can read about the comb problems here... http://www.bjornapiaries.com/warre-hive.html

Foundationless does not mean having to go frameless. Unless the box is a Kenyan type system (Sloped sides) you will get massive comb attchment. Some "purists" of whatever the hive they are promoting, will say it's no big deal. But it is for me. Cutting out each comb from within a box is a real pain and a mess, let alone dealing with ticked off bees after having to slice the boxes apart.

I love foundationless combs. But using frames should be part of the system. And there is nothing wrong doing it that way.

I have TBH's (trench and long), where I super with normal supers of frames. The natural comb, and the benefits that come with it, are seen in the brood chamber. I'm less concerned about the supers that are placed above for honey.

Duck1968
Jan 4th 2010, 04:50 PM
When you move from the nuc to a full size box do you checker board empty frames in to fill the boxes? I will be starting from scratch with 2 splits from my cousin who uses double deeps with Durigilt foundation.

Brian

Iddee
Jan 4th 2010, 05:45 PM
E=empty frame
F=full frame

If there is a good flow and warm weather, I would go E-F-E-F-F-F-E-F-E-E, leaving the 3 frames of brood together and a foundation next to them, then the 2 outside frames from the nuc, then the rest empty.
Absolutely DO NOT start with 9 frames in a 10 frame box.

Duck1968
Jan 4th 2010, 07:12 PM
Would follower boards be a good option. Just add 2 empty frames to the outsides and move the follower boards till the box is full. Adding new frames when the last ones are half to three quarters built.

Brian

Iddee
Jan 4th 2010, 07:42 PM
That would require nearly daily opening of the hive during a honeyflow. I have seen a strong hive fill a deep of drawn comb in 10 days. That's a full frame of honey per day, fully capped. It takes four frames of nectar to process a frame of capped honey.

Duck1968
Jan 4th 2010, 08:07 PM
Thanks Iddee

Brian

BjornBee
Jan 6th 2010, 06:18 AM
That would require nearly daily opening of the hive during a honeyflow. I have seen a strong hive fill a deep of drawn comb in 10 days. That's a full frame of honey per day, fully capped. It takes four frames of nectar to process a frame of capped honey.

Hey wait a minute...How did you know all that without nearly daily openings of the hive.... :lol:

phillybees
Jan 10th 2010, 09:11 PM
Hi All -
I am a new beekeeper in Philadelphia who started last spring with 2 hives - I am waiting to see how they do this winter (one is on my roof and one is at a local community garden a few blocks from my house). I use Lang hives (all mediums) with a combination of foundationless and small-cell foundation. I started with all foundationless and the girls were drawing some crazy comb so I started feeding in some smallcell foundation as a guide in order to try to get them to draw straighter and cleaner foundationless frames. I have a question about cell size -

Bjorn said -

"I use smallcell starter strips of about 1/2 inch. Not for any reason other than I got a bunch of the stuff from a few years back when I was testing smallcell. So I just cut up the full sheets into starter strips."

Can I ask - when you say you were "testing smallcell", what exactly were you testing? And what were the results? Obviously you are using foundationless now - have you measured cell sizes and if so, what is the range of cell sizes within your colonies?

Thanks -
Adam

BjornBee
Jan 11th 2010, 07:33 AM
philly,
I was simply testing to see if the MANY claims being made were true or not.

You ask about results? Well, the result was that I made many people mad, and I suppose some hate me. I spoke out against the claims, at least 5 years ago. Not being one to write fancy articles, I simply made my finding known on another forum. And so I was easily tossed aside as one having an agenda or not "really' knowing what I was doing. I said at that time, that eventually some well respected research would back me up but it would take a couple years. Now, four independent studies, in three countries, all confirm what I was saying years earlier. That other factors were probably at play, and that smallcell alone was not the factor in low mite counts.

Some run around posting inspection results based on "observations" of "seeing" no mites. Some have suggested three years in changing over (regressing) bees to smallcell, while really going through selective processes involving survivor bees, while claiming the results were from smallcell. I took part in a study two years ago where mite counts were taken on my hives with regular foundation. The highest count was two. And that was in the middle of September. I'm not making wild claims or suggesting I have perfect bees. Just that the same results some suggest are solely attributed to one item such as smallcell, can be duplicated in many hives for any number of reasons.

As a former inspector, I can pull out MANY mite counts that came up clean on any type foundation you want. I can also show you complete failure of many supposedly fantastic mite proof methods including smallcell, FGMO, etc. And it also allowed me to see many other peoples purchased bees and nucs, including supposed smallcell from a few rather large proponents of smallcell, to which names will not be mentioned.

Many factors go into successful beekeeping. And ANYONE who thinks they will buy a queen, nuc, or keep bees in a particular type hive, regardless of foundation, and thinks that will solve all their problems.....is living in a dream world.

As for the foundationless, I see a large range of cells. I have top bar hives, Warre hives, and many other type hives. The one thing the bees do not do, even with years of regressing previously, is maintain anything close to 4.9 They will build based on flow, timing, and other factors. One of the things I did find out was that if you allow bees to build natural comb after forcing them to regress, they will not stay at this smaller cell size. That is why I have stated many times, that "forcing" bees on smallcell is as unnatural as forcing them on standard cells.

I hope this helps.

Walt B
Jan 11th 2010, 07:40 AM
:goodpost:

Thanks Bjorn

Walt

Omie
Jan 11th 2010, 10:19 AM
Hi,
Say you have a very old lang 10frame deep with funky ancient 9 frames in it with the bees and you want to encourage them to move up out of there into a new 10frame deep with 10 new frames...

I am thinking of alternating some new frames with standard wax wired foundation (I have a bunch of it) in the new deep with frames that I simply flip the wedge on and have no foundation? Alternating foundation frames with no foundation frames in a deep will encourage straighter comb in the foundationless frames, right?

But if i did this, would the bees build their own comb with cells the same approx size as the foundation they are used to?

Can I slowly add more foundationless frames as time goes on, until there are only maybe 3 frames with wax foundation in each 10 frame box?

Also- would there be less need to have a few foundation frames in a medium, since there'd be less height for the bees to make crazy wavy combs on?

Not exactly sure what I'll be doing yet, but answers to these theoretical questions will help me understand better and make better decisions. I have several new empty lang hives with deeps and mediums and frames for them all ready to use, so I need to stick with langs for now.

Iddee
Jan 11th 2010, 11:19 AM
Omie, foundationless comb is nice, and probably better for the bees, BUT....

It takes knowing beekeeping to get the better comb. I would suggest you use all wired foundation for the first 3 years or more, than think about no foundation. It is a skill to get them to draw the frames like you want them. It takes constant monitoring and manipulation to keep from having a total mess in your hive.

OR when you have a half frame covered with bees and honey fall out of the frame onto your feet.

phillybees
Jan 11th 2010, 08:07 PM
Thanks Mike -
Your answer is helpful - and I can only imagine which other forum you offended when your results showed that smallcell was not the "bee-all end-all" ;)

Personally I am a new beekeeper and I don't really know much except what I read and what one-half a season with bees has taught me. I have no agenda myself - just trying to learn what is best for the bees. I would be curious to hear more about the methodology and details of your testing of smallcell foundation. If you are willing to share - either on or off list - that would be helpful to me. Also, it may be a lot to ask, but if you have citations for those 4 studies which have been carried out about smallcell, that would be helpful too.

Am I correct to assume then that all of your colonies are foundationless now?

Hopefully our paths will cross soon in person - I am active in the new Phila Beek Club that Joel E. has been organizing. So we may come to you or maybe you will come to us to speak.

Thanks -
Adam

BjornBee
Jan 12th 2010, 08:40 AM
Heavens no....They are not all foundationless. I produce nucs, and except for a small crowd, most customers want foundation in one variety or another.

I'll be in Philly for the February meeting. :thumbsup:

BjornBee
Jan 12th 2010, 08:51 AM
The studies were mentioned in a November 09 Bee Culture article. I don't have it here with me.

phillybees
Jan 12th 2010, 10:55 AM
Heavens no....They are not all foundationless. I produce nucs, and except for a small crowd, most customers want foundation in one variety or another.

So what size do you use? Not smallcell I guess.

I'll be in Philly for the February meeting. :thumbsup:

Cool, I look forward to meeting you.

Omie
Jan 12th 2010, 10:36 PM
Omie, foundationless comb is nice, and probably better for the bees, BUT....

It takes knowing beekeeping to get the better comb. I would suggest you use all wired foundation for the first 3 years or more, than think about no foundation. It is a skill to get them to draw the frames like you want them. It takes constant monitoring and manipulation to keep from having a total mess in your hive.

OR when you have a half frame covered with bees and honey fall out of the frame onto your feet.

Hmmm....three years of wired foundation before even thinking about trying some foundationless frames?
I don't think so! :mrgreen:
I'm getting too old to wait three years for anything! ;)

tecumseh
Jan 13th 2010, 06:07 AM
omie:
for myself I don't think their is much progress to be made in dancin' the one step forward and two step back waltz.

from my own personal point of view I think a lot of the small cell and foundationless stuff is about folks (almost exclusively book beeks) who have real control issues that should have been addressed by their mamas when they were in diapers. for myself I just put the frames and foundation in the hive and leave it up to the bees to build whatever they wish. the foundation texture doesn't necessarily mean that 'the girls' will pull it out in exactly that shape. sometimes they do of course and sometimes they don't.

in the end a lot of folks want to run before they can crawl. I think 'the other way' is what Iddee is tryin' to point you towards.

BjornBee
Jan 13th 2010, 07:40 AM
First year beekeepers start TBH's, foundationless, and now even Warre hives and it's not that hard. If your using foundationless frames, that is as easy as it gets.

I would venture to say that I see no real education of three years being needed as it would relate to some vast learning experience gained, versus just doing it from the start. What possible lessons would be learned from three years of foundation frames, that would be gained, that would qualify someone to now be able to do foundationless hives?

It's not rocket science. And this forum would be a good way others can try things, without years of trial and error. The pooling of information and experience allows new beekeepers to speed up the process by years. Even though some item such as foundationless frames never needed it to begin with.

Start a thread Omie when you install the bees. Keeping it updated, and allowing others to anticipate the next step, while watching for any mistakes, will have you an expert in no time at all.

Iddee
Jan 13th 2010, 07:45 AM
OK, I'll sit back and watch. When we are giving directions for cutting 60 lbs. of honeycomb out of a foundationless deep that has been built as one big gob, I promise I'll "TRY" to refrain from saying "I told you so." There's not a 10 year beek on this forum that hasn't given those directions to someone before.

BjornBee
Jan 13th 2010, 08:02 AM
OK, I'll sit back and watch. When we are giving directions for cutting 60 lbs. of honeycomb out of a foundationless deep that has been built as one big gob, I promise I'll "TRY" to refrain from saying "I told you so." There's not a 10 year beek on this forum that hasn't given those directions to someone before.

That may be true. But I bet they didn't seek help from the start..... :thumbsup:

For the record...if I was to start foundationless, I would do mediums...hint, hint.... ;)

Iddee
Jan 13th 2010, 08:09 AM
>>>>That may be true.<<<<

Thank You. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. :P :P :P :D

phillybees
Jan 13th 2010, 09:49 AM
OK, I'll sit back and watch. When we are giving directions for cutting 60 lbs. of honeycomb out of a foundationless deep that has been built as one big gob, I promise I'll "TRY" to refrain from saying "I told you so."

I had some small issues like this but I could have avoided them if I had just checked on the hive more frequently as they were building the comb. My intermediate step was to intersperse some frames with foundation (since I didn't have access to drawn comb) - this helped them draw the foundationless frames better. This year I will have more well drawn comb to work with so i will do even more foundationless than last year. And also, cleaning up the messy combs is good experience.

I agree with Mike - foundationless is easier in many ways (cheaper too :thumbsup: )

Omie
Jan 13th 2010, 12:09 PM
Idee, I appreciate you trying to steer me in a logical direction. I can be adventurous, stubborn, and feisty, though. ;)

I do plan on having mostly wired wax foundation frames, and was hoping to intersperse an occasional frame (like maybe 3 out of each box of 10) with just a popsicle wood starter stick, placing any such frames between the wax foundation frames. It should be fun to see what they do. Also, the fact that I have no access to an extractor and that I ADORE eating comb honey adds to the appeal.
Thanks Bjorn- I have indeed read that medium frames are typically more successful for starting out with foundationless, and it sounds like something I'd really like to try. My local advisor has been Sam Comfort, who keeps only TBH....but I have plenty of nice new Lang equipment sitting here that I really need to use. I have lots of unassembled frames in both deep and medium sizes. I also have plenty of wired wax foundation of both sizes. And I have a bag of popsicle sticks and wood glue. :P
Now all I need is some bees that survived the winter and have a laying queen. :|

Iddee
Jan 13th 2010, 02:20 PM
Adventure is always fun, but even more fun if you have the knowledge to see the disasters beforehand. Bjorn has a sticky thread under this forum dealing with starting foundationless. Read it and we will add to it as we think of things.

The most important rule in hobbyist beekeeping is: HAVE FUN!

tecumseh
Jan 14th 2010, 05:23 AM
first bjorn writes:
That may be true. But I bet they didn't seek help from the start.....

For the record...if I was to start foundationless, I would do mediums...hint, hint....

and then phillybee writes:
I had some small issues like this but I could have avoided them if I had just checked on the hive more frequently as they were building the comb.

tecumseh:
both the above sounds like good advice. 'a bit more frequently' could have been defined a bit tighter.

onehorse
Feb 7th 2010, 07:46 PM
How do I wire frames? We would like to try foundationless. Actually, we did, last year with a handful of deep frames and, while, the bees seemed very happy about it, the comb was very fragile. We are in the process of going to all mediums, for more reasons then one, and would like to try foundationless with them. But I don't want to do foundationless without wire, but we really haven't been given a good education on how to wire a frame. Could someone please explain? Thanks!

tecumseh
Feb 8th 2010, 05:33 AM
first off onehorse the essentials are wood frames, thin wire and two tacks (for securing the two ends of the wire). if you wish to do a bit better job of wiring frames grommet (these keep the wire from cutting into the end bars) and a wiring jig are useful (I would suggest for almost anyone essential). most wiring jigs have a means (quite typically a horizontal clamping device) to pretension the unwired frame. you then string the wire thru the holes in the end bars, seucre the far end of the wire, tension the wire slightly (the individual wires will make a twangy sound similar to a banjo), secure the tail end of the wire and then release the clamping device.

the wire also acts to give some lateral stability to the frame.

Omie
Sep 17th 2010, 08:01 PM
...you then string the wire thru the holes in the end bars, seucre the far end of the wire, tension the wire slightly (the individual wires will make a twangy sound similar to a banjo), secure the tail end of the wire and then release the clamping device.

Banjo reference!! :o :yahoo:

tecumseh
Sep 18th 2010, 04:35 AM
well omie at least it wasn't a dueling banjo reference.