As yesterday’s post demonstrates, the options for foundations in beekeeping can be nearly overwhelming for a new beekeeper. I suppose that’s one reason that most kits and recommendations suggest that new beekeepers just start with one of the plastic foundations and skip the details.
But since my approach will be to let the bees be in charge I wanted to choose the option that seems best from that viewpoint. And since I’m just now buying equipment, I may as well start with the approach that seems best from that viewpoint rather than trying to go back and start over once I’ve learned a system, established colonies based on one system.
In other words, it doesn’t make sense to me to start with all plastic foundation if I want to try something else eventually anyway. I’d be wasting money and wasting opportunity to quickly experiment and see what works.
Those considerations led me into pretty deep research about two possible approaches:
- Alternating foundationless frames with wax coated plastic frames
- All foundationless frames for a beginner
The short answer is that both seem like viable options, particularly for brood comb.
According to Michael Bush, bees will mess up comb drawn on foundationless frames at about the same rate as comb drawn on other types of frames. (I’ll find a link for a citation and insert later).
A variety of sources say that the best predictor of straight comb will be providing a suitable starter strip or comb guide and making sure the hive is level. A level hive seems to be more important than the type of starter guide I choose.
It’s pretty clear that bees will build up comb more quickly on foundationless frames vs. wax coated plastic, or even wax. The key is monitoring to deal with comb that’s gone astray so that I don’t end up with a mess.
The worst case scenario for foundationless frames is that I have comb that’s not aligned and a mess to deal with. I want lots of comb for lots of bees. And honey for bees to eat over the winter. I’m not concerned about producing honey for myself this year.
Can a novice handle foundationless frame hives? Apparently the answer is yes, for the reasons described above. I found several YouTube videos that show how to check foundationless frames and at least one of those is from a new beekeeper.
As for alternating frames with foundation vs. all foundationless, it seems that is a viable option as well. The comments point out that bees will prefer the foundationless frames. I take it to mean that may result in inconsistent comb development but that’s something I’ll just have to experience and report back on.
My research helped me to better understand brood comb and the cell size debate, so doing the research was a valuable learning experience.
Once I’d determined that foundationless is an option for brood comb and will allow the bees to determine the cell size they want for brood comb, I decided to definitely go with foundationless frames for brood comb.
I may experiment with alternating a few wax coated plastic foundation frames in the brood boxes. I haven’t yet decided on that. In any event, I’ll have some on hand if I need to use them. The nucs will come with plastic foundation frames so they’ll be starting out on foundation. (But I’d rather let the bees determine cell size, so plastic foundation will muck that up).
The question of whether to use foundation in the honey supers seems to depend more on the convenience for honey extraction and size of the apiary. It didn’t occur to me at first that cell size would not matter for honey comb. But I think it was Michael Bush who pointed that out in response to a question on a beesource.com. Or maybe it’s in his book. If I find it, I’ll share the link.
Once I’d made the firm decision to go (mostly) foundationelss for brood comb, that freed me up to explore more about wax coated plastic foundation. I started first to look for reviews of the Rite-Cell Foundation, since that’s the type of foundation used in Legacy Apiaries Western red cedar hives, if I buy the frames from them.
Rite-Cell™ Foundation is apparently very high quality, although the cell sizes are on the larger end of the scale. I didn’t find any negative comments about Rite-Cell Foundation from anyone using it, although I won’t claim to have done exhaustive research. Once the reviews seemed uniformly positive to not-negative, I stopped looking for information on Rite-Cell Foundation.
Armed with the positive feedback on Rite-Cell Foundation and my choice to go (mostly) foundationless for brood comb, I was ready to order my hives.
On Friday, May 10, 2012 I placed an order for two Western red cedar beehives from Legacy Apiaries in Indiana:
- One hive consisting of 5 boxes and 50 frames with Rite-Cell Foundation
- One hive consisting of 5 boxes with no frames
Both hives include top cover, inner cover, solid bottom board
One big plus for me is that the hives and frames are fully assembled. My time is very limited and I don’t have access to woodworking equipment, beyond hammers, nails and a power drill. For now, I’ll purchase assembled equipment and pay the reasonable premium for that.
Legacy Apiaries has a Facebook page so I posted on the page that I’d placed an order and that I hoped to get it by May 20, or soon thereafter. Someone quickly posted a response thanking me for the order, etc.
On Tuesday morning, May 14, I awoke to an email that the order was shipping. Thursday afternoon, May 17, I received an email that FedEx had delivered my hives to the farm address.
So I haven’t yet seen my hives but they’re at the farm and ready to take in some bees. Sort of.
If you’re keeping track, you notice that I have ordered two hives, one with frames and RiteCell™ Foundation, one with no frames. So the next question I had to resolve last weekend was what type of foundationless frames do I use. I’ll cover that question in my next post.