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

Old and new frames

I started out beekeeping on my own just the way I learned growing up. With foundation. I had heard the old saws:

  1. “It takes twenty pounds of honey to make a pound of wax”
  2. “You can’t extract if you don’t have foundation”
  3. “You will end up with a hive full of drones”
  4. “The bees like foundation better”
  5. and my favorite “There are no wild (feral) swarms anymore”.

Guess what gentle reader, you could fertilize a square mile with that crap. This is pure propaganda, most of it silly, when you actually think about it. All designed to sell foundation and chemicals Monsanto Style.

  1. You hear this a lot, but where is the science to back it up? Actual observation indicates bees will build and fill empty frames with just starter strips faster than refilling empty foundation. The empty gaps in the hive throw the bees into a production frenzy.
  2. You can extract AND you can also cut and crush, which is much more practical for a small scale beekeeper. Given the value of wax these days you might prefer to cut and crush even on a large scale commercial operation. Not to mention extractors are really expensive!
  3. A hive full of drones would die off in a season and that clearly isn’t happening with feral swarms.
  4. This is so silly it beggars the imagination. Why would bees like something artificial and full of chemicals better than what they make themselves? Foundation is made from the worst grade of available wax, stuff that is too nasty and too contaminated with chemicals to make any other beeswax products with. Contaminated foundation is also linked to poor Drone and Queen fertility.
  5. This is just an outright lie. I find feral hives all the time. I can’t be the only one who notices wild hives everywhere. Feral hives I have personally observed to last multiple seasons without any human intervention.

The conventional beekeeper from whom I purchased my first swarm kept telling me about all these chemicals I needed to dump into the hive if I didn’t want my bees to die. I wasn’t really happy with this process, but she was insistent if I didn’t use chemicals, soon I wouldn’t have bees. After a disappointing first year where the bees filled the first box but wouldn’t move into the supers, or second box full of empty foundation, I started reading.

I found out that a brave and scattered few were out there raising bees without chemicals. These pioneers reported their hives were thriving when chemical-intensive hives were dying at every turn. What were they doing differently? Aside from refusing to put chemicals in their hives, they were taking the foundation out of their hives. Bees raised on natural comb were mite free. They were more productive. They exhibited hygienic behaviors which purge the hive of pests. They were cheap to raise. This sounded like the beekeeping of my childhood only without the foundation!

So how did I convert to foundationless hives? Two frames at a time.

I pulled two frames from the brood chamber and moved them up into the empty box above which the hive had previously ignored. I replaced them with new empty foundationless frames with two tongue depressors jammed into the foundation groove (seen as a dark strip in the comb at the top of the first photo). I didn’t bother to coat them with wax, nor was there any glue involved. Bees make a much stronger attachment on their own than melted wax will provide. The starter strip is there only to suggest to them the place to get started.

I placed the new frames in between two old frames, and because I only opened up two gaps in the brood chamber, the bees had to build straight to match the filled frames on either side. I also needed to level the hive very carefully, side to side, so the bees festooning on the empty frames to outline the new comb would hang straight down. A slight slope toward the front keeps water out of the hive and does not interfere with this behavior.

This killed two birds with one stone. The bees crossed the gap into the upper box and started filling it with honey. They had to go up to care for the brood which had been moved up there, and once the gap was crossed they stayed. They also started new brood in the two empty gaps below.

After that the process was easy. Every time I opened the hive, I moved old frames with foundation up and stuck new foundationless frames in the bottom box. The goal is for the whole hive to be foundation free but at the very least all brood areas (usually the bottom two boxes) need to be without foundation.

Next time: More about what happens next to get the foundation completely out of the hive, regression (what the heck is that?), and Langstroth vs Top Bar.



21 Comments on “Foundationless Beekeeping: How to convert to natural beekeeping! Part I

  1. Hi Kevin, does your dad teach top bar hives at all? We’re just starting some hives here and we have the conventional set up but would eventually love to add a TBH.

    • Hi Becca,
      While my Father does teach beekeeping. He has yet to embrace foundationless chemical free beekeeping. Which is sort of the point of this post here where I attempt to convince him otherwise. Stay tuned for more discussions about why I have chosen Langstroth Hives vs other available choices like top bar.

      • Kevin, this comment is actually three years old. 🙂 We have a TBH these days just haven’t started using it yet. 🙂

        • I have found a number of older comments that I had replied to through the website that never showed up Becca. I am just responding to them in case anyone had more questions. I didn’t want anybody to think I had ignored them.

  2. Pingback: Converting Langstroth frames to foundationless | My Easy BeeKeeping

  3. Pingback: 3 reasons to go foundationless in your Langstroth beehive | Runamuk Acres

  4. Hello, Im getting a couple of beehives this year and I’m really excited about it. My problem is that ALL of the articles Ive found discuss switching from foundations to foundationLESS. I want to START foundationless. Can you point in the right direction on where to learn about how to go about doing so?

  5. Thank you for your blog! I hope I have not blown it. In an effort to go foundationless, when I added a new honey super I alternated built out wax foundation with foundationless frames. This was last week. I tried to do a little visit today to check on things but the guards were pinging my veil as soon as I took the cover off. It’s a bit cloudy and cool today but my other colonies were non-agressive. I will try to do a visit again when the weather improves.

  6. Wow, it is SO REFRESHING to see you speak openly and also help others who WANT to go foundationless. Most books I have read are constantly brainwashing us to go conventional….I really enjoyed your article. I am a new beekeeper for the reason in helping, not interfering, and provide pollination for our native plants while having the privilege to be so close & in touch with the bees….I truly want to catch the feral bees we have here, but do not know how to go about capturing swarms yet. thanks again.

  7. Great info Kevin! I am new to this beekeeping. Captured a swarm in our yard in May 2016, so only a month or so ago! I have a conventional hive and people have been advising me to do this or that and check for mites, medicate, feed etc. I want to go ALL natural. Just ordered a cedar medium honey box and 10 foundationless frames for the final addition. Not certain I will harvest the honey.

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