Transitioning to Foundationless frames, as the bees intended

Drones started showing up in a big way after I put in a foundationless frame (with wooden comb guide) in the middle of my brood nest on 12/25/14.  Over the last month I completely transitioned to foundationless too – comb production is going crazy!


I have lots of healthy drones, as of about 3 weeks ago.  They’re flying, hanging around the hive, and generally being huge, impressive, lazy dude bees!

Transition to Foundationless Frames

Queen is plenty healthy too, lots of eggs and brood – i’m actually going to start making splits off this one hive for a friend – the friend who originally loaned me her gear!  Now i’m returning it to her, cleaned up, and have made all of my own!

5 Reasons for Foundationless Frames.

Ask 10 beekeepers ‘should you go foundationless?’ and you’ll get 11 opinions, here’s 5 reasons that resonate with me:

  1. Comb size – Bees will revert to their preferred sized, smaller cells over a few generations, which can make it harder for varroa to squeeze their way in.
  2. Drone comb – drones are key to bee colony reproduction through fertilizing new queens.  If your bees have good traits, your drones will help spread those good traits via their genes, and help block africanized bees etc.  If you only have worker sized cells because you only used worker foundation, your hive won’t have as many drones.
  3. Plastic Leaches Hormones – You many have heard of BPA plastics leaching hormones into food, but it turns out almost all non-BPA plastics also leach Estrogenic Active chemicals according to a 2011 University of Texas study.  Sorry flowhive, the bees knew best!
  4. Cut Comb Honey – One of the true joys of beekeeping is nibbling some cut-comb honeycomb.  With foundationless frames, you can just slice out delicious treats, directly from the frame.
  5. Bee Communication – Bees buzz and tap to literally communicate to each other through the wax foundation.  Why not make it easier on the bees to do as they please?

Comb guides to bring order and prevent foundationless frame chaos

Inserting frames with a basic comb guide across the top, between ‘mature’ frames with already straight comb is the easiest method to transition to foundationless.  I’m using the wooden wedge from a wedge top bar frame as the comb guide (It’s a deep Langstroth hive).

So far the results have been awesome!  In the brood nest in particular I’m finding the comb is coming out best.  The foundationless I have in my ‘honey’ (deep) super comes out pretty well too, but the bees did make one of the non capped honey frames’ comb wider at first, when the foundationless left a void.

They pretty much fixed it though after I reversed the honey frame.  Very happy with results so far!

My self made hives leave a tiny little bit of extra room for frames – makes it easier to make space to take out the first frame without rolling bees; this was a side effect of getting tired of sanding, rather than deliberate!

Foundationless Frames as the Bees Intended

As of last weekend, I have fully transitioned my bottom deep to foundationless.  When I removed frames from the bottom deep, I put them in a new deep super as |Comb| |F’less| |Comb|, so there’s always encouragement (or no other option but) to make nice comb!

In the last month I’ve added 2 extra deep supers, no queen excluder, and gone from 7 frames of bees, to approximately 20 in that now 3 deep hive.IMG_3646

The pic above shows the transition to foundationless (with x wire) in progress.  Other hives are 2 & 1 deep. I’m keeping the brood nest tight – rather than 9 frames in the bottom deep with gaps or ‘large comb’, I have 10, so fewer bees can keep more brood warm (read that somewhere and it’s working well for me).  I might do the 9 across trick for my ‘honey’ supers to make it easier to extract manually, it’ll be wonderful to enjoy cut comb from the foundationless frames.

Some cautions mixing foundationless frames with plastic frames

A recent inspection of a swarm rescue: I learned the hard lesson on ‘bee space’.  Had a funky frame of foundationless next to a bare plastic foundation frame.  Bees decided to build another, slightly attached comb anchored slightly to the foundation, and in a slightly shallow space off the foundationless. Ascii picture -> (‘!|.

Apparently bees don’t like using plastic foundation! Needless to say, that was a bit of a setback when I had a look at the frame and tore the comb apart…  Lesson learned was to make sure I don’t leave too big of a space between frames, and be especially diligent with wonky foundationless frames!

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