Oxford Bees


Wonky Comb

Submitted by will on Wed, 19/04/2017 - 14:16
Frames without foundation and without guides lead to wonky comb

I stopped putting foundation in my hives a while ago (see Frames without foundation). Foundation seems unnecessary to the low intervention bee keeper. Its principal benefit is to make extraction and inspection easier. I outlined in the article how shallow frames can be extracted without wired foundation. Inspection is also much the same. You just have to be slower and more gentle.

The hive still has frames, so I still want to be able to take them out. That means I need reasonably straight comb. Each frame has 2 lolly sticks which act as guides and anchors for the comb building.

The lolly stick guides have generally worked well. I've seen some very straight comb. I've also seen some wonky comb, where the colony built more slowly. I'm not sure why, although the wonky comb was in a persistently small colony whilst the straight comb was in a busy one.

I also hastily put in a super without any foundation or lolly stick guides. The result can be seen in the image. Very wonky, so that the comb is anchored to two frames. I harvested early so that I could reduce the height of Hive A. I couldn't put wonky comb in the extractor so I just cut it into slabs as comb honey.

EDIT 04/052017: Paul from my bee group tells me that bees build straighter comb when there is a consistent nectar flow. When the supply is stop-start the comb is built in stages and may be less straight and regular.

Frames without foundation

Submitted by will on Fri, 21/10/2016 - 22:02
Frames without foundation

Foundation is a layer of wax which is placed in a frame. It is printed with hexagonal cell guides. The bees build their comb from it into the spaces between the frames. As far as I know nearly everyone who uses framed hives uses foundation.

Foundation should encourage a more regular comb shape and get the bees to build the comb sooner than they might in an empty cavity. Cell width can be forced by printing the hexagons at different sizes. There's been some discussion about what the 'correct' width should be and the advantages of different sizes. I'm not going to discuss that here. The crucial advantage for harvesting beekeepers is that wired comb is supported and won't burst when spun in a radial extractor.

Foundation is produced from beeswax gathered from many hives. It's been shown that chemical contaminants (ie treatments for Varroa etc) are spread readily from foundation around the hive (citation needed). Since my hives are treatment free I wanted to exclude chemicals which could leach from foundation. I also want the bees to make comb which suits their needs.

I decided not to use foundation. The main reason was to find out whether, and how, it would work.

Bees are said to 'prefer' a sharp edge to build from. I modified my frames by nailing in 2 wide lolly sticks where the foundation would be fixed at the top of the frame (see image). The modification is very simple and requires no woodworking besides basic nailing.

The results seem good, although the sample size is very small. I've only done this for the brood area in 2 hives. The first (Hive D) is very vigorous and produced excellent, straight combs. The second (Hive B) was a much smaller nest, shaped like a ball. The outer edges of the comb bulged to form a sphere and so each layer was progressively distorted. Hive C was inconclusive because they didn't build into a cavity in the same way.

I've used these frames in Hive A in supers with good success. I've spun foundation-less and extracted honey without bursting the comb. The precaution is to spin gently on each side before spinning at full speed. This nearly doubles the time spent spinning each comb, and so it is unlikely to work for high volume extraction. I use a tangential extractor. I haven't tried this in a radial extractor.

I will continue to use frames without foundation. I'd call my experience a success even allowing for the small sample size.

Summer Harvest

Submitted by will on Mon, 27/06/2016 - 21:48
Jars and empty frames after the harvest

We took some honey off our long established Hive (A) over the weekend. It amounted to 12Kg including extracted honey and comb. As always, it tastes fantastic. It's so strong that I can't eat very much.

I use National frames but mostly without foundation. There is evidence that chemicals leach from the wax in foundation and get transported around the hive (NB: I don't have a journal article reference for that claim, so treat with care please). I wanted to avoid that.

I was nervous because I haven't often extracted without foundation. I tried to use baking trays this time to support the frames but they blocked extraction and cut into the wax. I removed them and found that the comb didn't burst. I just spun it gently. Extracting the frames twice for each side - one gentle and one vigorous spin - is effective. It does take a longer to extract though. The most dangerous part is where there is a full side on the inside.

I don't feed the bees, except occasionally with their own honey. Everything comes from local flowers. I'm very grateful to the bees.