Re-working old frames can be tedious, especially if you attempt to put new foundation in them. This task is greatly simplified by switching to foundationless. The most difficult part is getting the old comb and foundation out of the frame. After that the wedge board is removed, rotated 90 degrees, and nailed back to the top bar. The majority of excess wax should be scraped from the frame, but after that it is ready to go back into a bee hive. It does NOT have to be perfectly clean.
I have hundreds of deep frames out there and only a fraction of them have foundation in them anymore. For some reason many regard the use of foundationless frames as an advanced beekeeping topic. Nothing could be further from the truth. As with everything in beekeeping there will be times that observed results may vary. I have had boxes get cross combed while using foundationless frames, but the vast majority of colonies take to them quite well. In my use of foundationless frames there are a couple of rules that when followed give good results, at least in the brood chamber.
The first rule is that all colonies with foundationless frames must be level especially ACROSS THE FRAMES. When level, the frames will be hanging perpendicular to the ground and will be plumb. Since the bees use gravity to orient their combs it is more likely to be constructed within the plane of the frame.
The second rule is that NEW boxes of foundationless frames must to be added UNDER the already occupied boxes. That’s right. All that is needed is to place a deep box with frames at the bottom of the stack of Langstroth equipment and the bees will work down through it just as if they were in a tree working down.
The third rule and one that I believe is missed by most using foundationless frames is….. frames must not be moved around within the boxes. Do not swap them out, move them around, or checkerboard them. In my observations I have noted a pattern. As the colony moves down through the cavity they make specific sized cells consistently within the nest. Normally worker sized cells are placed centrally, in the middle of the colony. In my colonies this is typically the center 4-6 frames. Frames on the periphery of the colony will generally have a much higher percentage of drone sized cells.
Several years ago when I began experimenting with foundationless frames they were placed between already drawn combs. At the time I was also more prone to move frames around inside boxes during inspections. It was noted that many times when foundationless frames were applied in this fashion a large percentage of the cells were drawb to drone size. This was particularly true when foundationless frames were installed ABOVE the brood chamber between already drawn frames.
When using foundationless frames the best method is to set-it and forget-it. Place an entire box of undrawn founationless frames UNDERneath a box that is already occupied with bees and comb. This is more similar to what they would be doing inside a tree. Typically a colony begins it’s life in the TOP of a cavity and then spends it’s lifespan working DOWN. As they work down they will centralize the worker sized cells in the middle of the box of frames and construct much of frames 1&2 as well as 9&10 in majority drone comb.
If varroa are a problem within the colony, and were more prone to laying their eggs in drone cells it would stand to reason that majority of varroa activity woulf be in these FOUR frames. This would affect a percentage of thousands of drones while allowing workers to have less pressure from the mites. This is only a hypothesis. There is a mechanism that Feral colonies are using to overcome mites, SHB, and all other bee maladies. Experimenting with foundationless frames is an example of an experiment to determine if natural nest structure could be one such mechanism.
My observations have shown that bees take to foundationless frames easily when I follow these simple rules. I DO NOT use any type of starter strip, or apply wax to foundationless frames. These activities are totally unnecessary. I feel that wiring them is also a waste of time. If the rule of applying boxes UNDERNEATH the preexisting ones is adhered to, eventually the TOP box becomes filled with capped honey and must be removed. When this comb becomes heavy with honey and begins to sag bees affix the bottom of the comb to the bottom board of the frame. I have been extracting deep foundationless frames for the last 2 years using a Maxant Chain un-capper and Radial extractor. They have extracted without failing.
The time for Spring hive manipulations quickly approaches. Have you formulated your plan for 2017 yet?
What will you experiment with this year? If foundation-less frames are on your list feel free to ask questions.