What is natural comb? What is foundation? What do you mean by foundationless? It is apparent there is a lot of confusion out there surrounding this. I think this post will make things crystal clear!
Most chemically managed hives are full of nasty old comb drawn over foundation by a hive of bees in the late 1950s. This is the equivalent of offering a new swarm a walk-up tenement that hasn’t seen a cleaning crew since Ike was president. The comb is so hard the bees can’t work it to meet their current needs. It is full of pathogens, chemicals, mold spores. It is time for the beehive version of urban renovation.
Here is a photo of a standard Langstroth frame with new foundation. The hive is just starting to build on it. This is better right?
Wrong. The foundation was made by melting down old, heavily contaminated wax deemed too nasty to make into other wax products. All those old pathogens, chemicals, and mold spores are still there. It just looks cleaner. The foundation was designed in an era obsessed with bigger is better. No, not the eighties, the 1800’s. It forces the bees to build cells which are too large. This means eggs laid in these cells stay in longer, growing into large, slow Workers who fall prey to mites who think they are Drones. Bad, bad, and more bad.
Here is a photo of a standard Langstroth frame with new foundation. The hive has started building their own Natural Comb off to the side.
Why didn’t they use the foundation? Because bees hate foundation. If you give them a hive half empty and half foundation they will ignore the foundation and fill the other side full of natural comb. They often do this according to a plan only they understand and in a way which makes it impossible to harvest without destroying the hive. In this case, the bees actually built this comb in between two empty frames of foundation.
So what can we do to make the bees happy and make it easier for us to harvest the honey and remove old comb to make way for beautiful, fresh, clean wax? Easy! We use standard Langstroth frames without the foundation and a starter strip to provide a suggestion to the bees as to where to get started.
You can see the starter strip here. The strip is a pair of tongue depressors matched up and jammed into the groove intended for the foundation to pop into. I never coat the starter strip with wax because the bees can form a much stronger attachment with fresh wax on wood than to melted wax.
You can see the bees are festooning on the frame to sketch out the area where they want to start making comb. Some of the festooning bees are clinging to the bottom of the frame because I handled the frame a little too roughly and they dropped. Originally they hung almost to the bottom.
Here you can see a fresh new natural comb started and already partially filled with honey.
Here you can see they have almost filled the frame.
Here the frame is nearly full of comb, brood, and honey the bees produced. The lovely pure white wax is exactly what you want to see in a natural comb hive.
Much like the original photograph with one critical difference. The wax in this photo is fresh clean natural comb built to bee specifications. Zero chemical contamination. Zero pathogens. Zero mold spores. No residual fallout from the Trinity Tests! Just happy bees and a happy productive beekeeper.
And as far as harvesting goes? You have all options available – cut and crush, whole comb, and extraction.