Archives for posts with tag: using foundation

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 http://www.overallgardener.com/

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!

I decided to do a quick hive inspection last weekend before I installed the new water features, which by the way are looking great with a couple bees buzzing around and using them. There’s even a pretty new bloom from the water lily. It wasn’t open this morning when I took the video, but it’s pretty all the same.

There seemed to be about the same number of bees, maybe more than before, but still around 2.5 – 3 frames full. It had only been one week since I’d repaired the comb disaster, so I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of comb construction. I was excited to see that they had used the bits of comb that I’d moved from under the top cover and held onto a frame with rubber bands. In place of the larger odd pieces there were now four beautiful sections of freshly drawn comb hanging from the frame and filled with honey. That was some rapid work on their part!

I removed the rubber bands as they had served their purpose and were no longer needed. The other frame showed no signs of work being done to it, but I had only placed some very tiny bits of salvaged comb on that one and it was farther from the brood nest. I left the rubber bands on that frame, still holding the tiny pieces in place.

I now wondered if the reason the bees had not built more comb was an issue with the bees not liking the old plastic and wax foundation rather than a shortage of bees of the correct age for wax production. They had built the new comb so quickly once I provided the empty frame. So I decided on a wee experiment. Of course! I’m a scientist! I pulled another frame out on which no construction had been done yet and removed the foundation from it. I placed it between two frames with comb to discourage any free-form constructions and to encourage the bees to build in a straight line along the width of the frame.

Frames filled with a plastic-based foundation and then coated in wax. The cell structure encourages the bees to build their comb straight and to make worker-sized cells rather than drone cells.

So here’s how I’m testing the hypothesis that it’s the old foundation delaying comb-building:

  1. If the bees simply don’t like the plastic foundation, I would expect that the two frames sans foundation (one with bits of salvaged comb and the other without) will be built out to some degree by the time I do my next inspection two weeks from today and that no other comb-building will have taken place.
  2. If it’s an issue with the workforce size or nectar dearth, then I may not see any new construction, or only a small amount, but not necessarily on the two foundation-less frames.

The bees have been going through syrup pretty quickly now, so I think they’re well-enough fed. Comment your predictions as to what I’ll discover, and then check back the weekend of October 2nd to find out the results. Or if you have other hypotheses to test, let me know.

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