As I mentioned in a previous post, there are several options for foundationless frames. The difference is mostly due to the variation in types of starter strip.
Figuring out the pros/cons of each was a bit confusing, in part because foundationless is not the current dominant paradigm, so there’s a lot of experimentation and variation in approaches that’s tied to the beekeepers’ past practices.
Here’s what I’ve learned about foundationless frame options:
- Walter T. Kelly Co. makes and sells a frame that’s specifically for foundationless approach. This is the Type F Frame. The Kelly catalog describes this frame thusly: “Foundationless Top Bar with Solid Bottom Bar: These frames have a ¼” x ¼” comb guide built into the top bar. Foundation is not used with these frames. A coating of wax on the guide will help the bees to begin drawing comb.”
- Michael Bush writes about reconfiguring a wedge top bar type of frames to create a guide. This requires removing the wedge, changing the position of the wedge, and then nailing it back into place. For beekeepers who already have wedge top bar frames, this seems like a logical approach to converting existing equipment.
- A third option is to use a ¾” wax coated starter strip with a wedge top bar frame. Brushy Mountain sells these starter strips for $.25 each. Some beekeepers will take existing plastic foundation and trim it to create their own plastic starter strips. Seems like a tool for cutting hard plastic would be necessary to do this without breaking the foundation. But maybe not. I haven’t yet worked with plastic foundation.
- A fourth option is to use a popsicle stick or paint stirrer with a grooved top bar frame. I found a lot of mentions of people doing this, but not a lot of detail on exactly how to do it. (Not that it sounds difficult but at the time I didn’t have any frames of any type to provide a frame of reference.)
For beekeepers with existing comb on frame, it’s possible to just trim away the comb except for the starter strip and use that to launch the foundationless approach. I don’t have any existing comb-on-frame so that’s not an option for me.
Once I’d researched enough to identify these options for foundationless frames, I turned to trusty Google to see if I could find reviews of the Kelly Type F Frames. Yes, I found reviews. And yes, as with everything in beekeeping, the opinions are all over the place. But most people seemed to point out that the challenge with foundationless frames is less the source of the frame than whether the hive is level and the beekeeper is keeping an eye on how the bees are building out the foundation.
In short, I found positive reviews for Kelly’s Type F frames and the neutral-to-negative were mostly focused on challenges of foundationless frames in general. I only found one or two or just said they couldn’t get good results with the Type F frames, while having good experiences with other types of foundationless frames.
So here’s what I decided…start with Kelly’s Type F frames, but be prepared to try other foundationless options and see what works best. For now, I’ve ordered 30 assembled Type F frames from Kelly to go with the 50 frames that I purchased along with one of my two Western red cedar hives.
I still need to acquire additional frames and some extra boxes, just in case my colonies take off quickly. I know I’m optimistic. But I haven’t yet shared any information about where I’ll be placing the hives and why I’m optimistic. I’ll write about that in an upcoming post.
In my next post, I’ll talk about some basic equipment I’ve selected (smoker and hive tool) and in the post after that I’ll cover the type of beekeeping “apparel” I’ll be using.
If you’re getting something from these posts, I’ll sure hope you’ll leave your comments below. And I welcome advice and guidance–although I’m committed to my approach I’m always open to exploring ideas and options.