Archives for posts with tag: foundation

I read To Kill a Mockingbird in Mr. Severson’s class as a young freshman who had spent most of my life until then devouring books purely for the purpose of diving fully into whatever world had been created for me and enjoying the story, and rarely for the purpose of analyzing the meaning of the story from a literary perspective. Now that I live in a location where I hear mockingbirds singing nearly daily, I think of that book, and that line from it, often. There is a male singing his heart out throughout this video and he’s really the star of the show. Also, please disregard my footwear once again. Beekeepers advise that one should wear boots or something that provides protection at the ankle, as this is an access point and an area that is often attacked by defending bees; exposed wrists are also an easy target. My bees have so far been so gentle and non-defensive that I am quite nonchalant about these things. I’m sure a day is quickly approaching when I will need to be more cautious. We’ll know we have arrived on the day when I’m shrieking about being stung again. I hope I will be able to manage a more zen response, but we’ll see when we get there.

The bees are progressing very well. They have filled out the foundation-less frames, leaving only four frames with no comb and two with partial construction. This time I replaced another frame, trying a piece of the old foundation as a guide to encourage the bees to build across the frame. I don’t know that it was necessary since they have been building straight combs with no cross comb, but I wanted to try the concept.

Me, pointing to the comb guide at the top of the frame and fashioned from foundation.

I don’t think I placed the frames in the best position for an accurate interpretation of the results as a preference for foundation-less versus an increase in the number of workers who have been able to build more comb. I have an idea for another (better?) experiment to try next time when I replace one or two of the last frames. Ultimately, I wanted to convert the brood nest to foundation-less anyway, so the answer isn’t critical.

This was also the first time that I found the queen on a frame other than the two that my friend had gifted me…well, except that one time I found her in the ball of bees in the cross-comb on the cover. There are multiple frames with some honey in them, although still only a small amount of capped honey. They are drinking a little more than a liter of syrup each week and I will continue feeding them until I have four frames mostly filled with honey as that is the general recommendation for over-wintering a colony in San Diego. All in all, everything seems to indicate that the colony is expanding and gaining strength.

The last couple weeks I have mentioned the use of foundation in the frames. It’s generally recommended that new beekeepers begin using foundation-filled frames. These provide a template for the bees because the plastic is embossed with a hexagon, honeycomb pattern to serve as a guide for the bees who then add their own wax to the template to expand the cells to their full width.

Still life #1: frame, foundation, and lime.

There are a few arguments made in support of foundation: 1) fewer drones are made, 2) it is easier to harvest honey without damaging the comb, and probably the most important reason, 3) the chances of cross-comb are reduced. Cross-comb is where the comb is built so that it runs through multiple frames rather than running the length of a single frame. It poses a nightmare for hive inspections since the frames are now held together and cannot be individually removed for inspection without damaging all of their work.

An example of cross-comb gone awry, courtesy of

Proponents of foundation-less beekeeping argue that it is a more natural method that allows the bees to build the size of cells they prefer or need, rather than some human-imposed system that limits them to worker-sized cells. The bees simply build their comb themselves without the template. As a biologist, this method appeals to me since I tend to think humans are rather arrogant in our assumption that we fully understand a natural system well-enough to improve on it. In case I needed more reasons (I don’t), the wax coating on the foundation has a tendency to contain accumulated pesticides and herbicides, which may not be good for the bees.

My friend gifted me the equipment with which I started, and the foundation was fresh in 2018 when I made my first attempt to entice a swarm. More than two years later, and after being stored in the heat of our garage, it may be somewhat stale and this could be why I haven’t seen much comb building on those frames. This gave me a great opportunity to run my experiment into the foundation-less world. I think that by trading out a frame at a time that I can minimize the risk of cross-comb. For future frames, I’ll attach a piece to the top as is advised by other beekeepers. It can be as simple as a tongue depressor attached to the top, or even a piece of foundation, which is what I plan to try next since I had frames already filled with foundation. This still provides at least some of a guide in the direction that the beekeeper wants the comb drawn, and helps to discourage the bees from making their own creations.

Still life #2: Frame, comb guide, rock, and passion fruit.

I think that replacing only a frame or two at a time also helps limit their creativity. That’s what I’ve done so far; I’ve replaced two frames and placed them next to frames that were already drawn. When I checked the syrup feeder this week, they had drank quite a bit and I saw foragers returning with dark orange pollen pants. I hope this is indicative of a lot of construction occurring within the hive. We’ll see next week!

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