Foundationless Beekeeping: How to convert to natural beekeeping! Part II

Happy bees on natural comb.

The continuing process for changing over to foundationless hives is very simple.  Keep adding new frames to the center of the bottom box two at a time. When you add a new pair, move a pair of old contaminated foundation based frames up to the second box.

Each time, you should place the new pair of foundationless empty frames as close to the center as possible, but with at least one full frame separating the new empty frames. This will help keep the bees from getting too creative and encourage them to build the new comb parallel with the older comb.

I assume you have two deeps which is a pretty standard set up (but not exactly ideal, see next post). You will need to remove frames from the outside of the top deep and harvest the honey or wax. There should be no brood in the outside frames. Even if there is only a little honey, take the frames out  and harvest the honey and wax anyway. The goal is to get rid of the frames with foundation.

Fresh foundationless frames go in the center of the bottom box slowly pushing outwards. This means successive generations of smaller workers are building the new comb in the heart of the brood chamber.

Old foundation based frames are moved up to the center of the second box and the outside frames in the top box are removed from the hive and harvested.

Repeat every time the bees have nearly filled the last two foundationless frames you put in the bottom box.

Eventually, you will have the entire bottom box full of of foundationless comb drawn by the bees and packed full of brood, pollen, and honey.

When the bottom box is all foundationless, keep going, moving the oldest foundationless frames out of the bottom box. The oldest ones should be on the outside but if you number the frames as you put them in, it will help you keep track.

When the top box is all foundationless you can start the process in any supers you have. Add super frames to the center. Remove from the outside or move them up and out through two supers. This should be much easier since there will not be any brood in the supers.

If you haven’t already, get rid of your queen excluder. The queen should be allowed to move anywhere in the hive she wants. You can kill her by restricting her, especially in winter. If there is a frame of brood somewhere unexpected, leave it in the hive. The hive knows what it is doing. Don’t try to over control them. Long term, most new brood will probably be raised near the center of the bottom box. This is why we want the freshest smallest comb built there by the most recent generation of workers.

The goal is to move all the foundation out of the hive and harvest the honey and wax. Once it is gone, you have only pure wax and pure honey in the hive.

What is regression? Regression is what is happening when a new generation of brood raised on foundationless comb builds a new set of foundationless comb, and raises an even smaller generation of brood. Each successive set of comb will be slightly smaller than the one before, and the workers raised will be closer to the natural size found in a wild hive. Over time you are restoring the workers to their natural size. The mite resistant size. The faster, more efficient size. Don’t worry about this too much. Keep moving fresh frames into the brood chamber over a couple of years and you will regress your bees automatically.

Next time: Langstroth vs Top Bar and The best compromise in hive construction.

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