Comb rotation and foundationless comb

Discussion in 'Organic Beekeeping' started by BjornBee, Dec 15, 2009.

  1. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    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
     
  2. Omie

    Omie New Member

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    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...?
     

  3. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    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.

    [​IMG]
     
  4. Omie

    Omie New Member

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    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?
     
  5. the kid

    the kid New Member

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    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 ....
     
  6. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    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.
     
  7. Omie

    Omie New Member

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

    BjornBee New Member

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    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.
     
  9. SlickMick

    SlickMick New Member

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    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
     
  10. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    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.
     
  11. Duck1968

    Duck1968 New Member

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    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
     
  12. Iddee

    Iddee New Member

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    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.
     
  13. Duck1968

    Duck1968 New Member

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    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
     
  14. Iddee

    Iddee New Member

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    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.
     
  15. Duck1968

    Duck1968 New Member

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    Thanks Iddee

    Brian
     
  16. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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

    phillybees New Member

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    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
     
  18. BjornBee

    BjornBee New Member

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    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.
     
  19. Walt B

    Walt B New Member

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    :goodpost:

    Thanks Bjorn

    Walt
     
  20. Omie

    Omie New Member

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    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.