Foundationless Frames Are Working! – Willow Hive Check 4-26-12

My new package is doing a great job drawing out the foundationless frames!

This was my first hive check of willow, after installing the package on April 14th and removing the queen cage a few days later.  I’ve been so excited to look at this hive, the waiting has been hard.  This is my first hive using foundationless frames. 

There are many reasons to go foundationless, and here are a few: the bees prefer to draw foundationless comb; they will build natural size comb instead of the size the foundation dictates; natural size comb is supposed to help control varroa mites; and the most important reason to me, natural comb drawn by the bees does not have chemical contaminants in it.  Commercial foundation contains chemicals in it from beekeepers using mite products and other pesticides in the hive.  Those pesticides accumulate in the wax that is melted down and molded into foundation or put onto plastic frames.  Foundationless frames use all or mostly wax that is made by the bees themselves, avoiding these contaminants.  These reasons and more suggest foundationless comb is healthier for the bees. 

However, I have never seen someone in person using foundationless frames in a langstroth hive with deep size frames (but you can find people online who are doing so).  When I approached several beekeepers I knew and respected, they advised me not to try it because the bees will make a mess of things and it will be too hard to extract honey without the comb falling apart.  Maybe they are right, but I really wanted to try it anyway and so this experiment began.


After I read all about foundationless frames on beesource, Linda’s Bees and Michael Bush’s website,  I took a webinar and emailed Michael Bush (who is very nice and helpful) and other people about the methods to go about using them, because there are many.  I decided to wire the frames completely and also use a wax starter strip which I cut from foundation without wire.  Wiring the frame gives the wax more strength against breakage, and the starter strips give the bees a guide for the direction to build the comb.  I wedged the strip into the top bar in the same way a full frame of wax foundation would fit inside.  This is what my frames looked like before I put them in the hive.

I was all set to start the hive with 10 frames like this, but after speaking to several other beekeepers, I instead decided to alternate between frames of foundation and foundationless frames.  This would help guide the bees toward the right direction of comb building.  Needless to say, I was both nervous and excited to see what the bees would do with the configuration I gave them.

To my amazement they are doing absolutely incredible and better than I ever expected!  They are drawing the foundationless frames correctly.  In just 12 days time, they have started working on 8 frames and just about finished 6 of them.  There is also capped brood in the hive. Since it takes 9 days to cap worker larvae, this means the queen was released and started laying after being in the hive 1-3 days. That is amazing!

Here’s what the foundationless frames look like when the bees start working on them (2 frames looked like this).

A foundationless frame the bees just started filling with wax.

Here’s what the frames look like when they are almost complete  (2 frames looked like this).

Foundationless frame almost complete.

The bees built all this wax and they have almost filled the entire frame.

There is a lot of larvae for a new package, lots of pollen, and even some capped honey.  I’m feeding them but they are not taking the syrup.  All this was built from their own collection of nectar. These bees and their queen are doing just awesome!  Here’s a picture of her majesty.

The queen. Isn’t she a beauty?

This hive is doing an amazing job building out both the foundationless frames and the foundation.  I’m so proud of them!  I can’t wait until the next inspection.

Do you use foundationless frames?  What is your method?  Let me know in the comments below.

Box Breakdown

Bottom Box – Frame 1 wired wax foundation (wwf) undrawn.  Frame 2 foundationless frame (ff) newly drawn, being filled with nectar.  Frame 3 (wwf) partially drawn, nectar and pollen.  Frame 4 (ff) nectar, capped honey, larvae, eggs, pollen.  Frame 5 (wwf) capped brood!!!! Eggs, larvae, nectar, pollen, capped honey and the queen.  Frame 6 (wwf) capped brood!!!! Eggs, larvae, nectar, pollen, capped honey.  Frames 7 (ff) nectar, larvae, eggs.  Frame 8 (wwf) nectar and pollen.  Frames 9 (ff) newly drawn.  Frame 10 (ff) undrawn.  Moved frame 9 to 10 and frame 1 undrawn foundation to 9.  Moved frame 10 to 2.  May need to super next week.

To see more detailed pictures and descriptions please view the gallery below.  Just click on a picture then scroll through the slide show by clicking on the arrows.  If you click on the picture the gallery will close.  If you are viewing this in an email or reader you may have to read this post on the website for the gallery and descriptions to display properly. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2011-2016. Anita Deeley, BeverlyBees.com. All rights reserved.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

  1. Three New Packages of Bees And Crocus Hive
  2. Picking Up The Package Bees
  3. Installing Package Bees In A Rooftop Hive Named Willow
  4. Bee Package Installation – Don’t Forget The Cork!
  5. It’s Queen Cage Removal Time!

This post was shared on the Barn Hop.

Author: Anita Deeley

Anita Deeley is a biologist and former state bee inspector who maintains 100 honey bee hives. She is the beekeeper, writer, owner and creator of BeverlyBees.com. When she is not spending time with her girls (the bees), she enjoys being a wife to her beekeeping cohort, Brian and mother to 3 little boys (the beekeepers in training). Read more about Anita here >> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Connect with Anita on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or Facebook here.

31 Comments

  1. Pretty neat huh! It is neat how they work right around the wires. It is good to see others using foundation less. When someone asks you what cell size you are using you can say, “whatever size the BEES want!” :). Nice pics as usual….

    I don’t believe the old addage that they build on foundation faster. I have seen some amazing rapidity on foundation less frames. This year I am experimenting with no starter strip. We shall see.

    Make sure to keep your hives level on the hive stand. I learned the hard way.

  2. Thanks Jason for the excellent advice! I did level the hive on the hive stand when I set it up. Let me know how your lack of starter strips works. Are you waxing the wood? Are you using the wooden frames that are angled in the middle? I’m curious how those work.

    It is really fun watching them draw out the frames. It’s worth trying foundationless just for that!

  3. Your bees are doing great! Most of my frames have foundation on them though some are just wire (but they now already have comb on them.) I am just in my second year so I am still learning. It is fun hearing how others are doing.

  4. Good to see this. We had tried before with wax starter strips, but with no success. My partner was beginning to think it couldn’t be done as the girls built out some crazy comb!!

    We put one tentative frame in between built out comb just to see if we can get the girls to draw some out. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  5. Very informative. We haven’t started with bees but I hope to add it to our homestead within the next couple of years. I just recently heard about foundation less frames. I have SO MUCH to learn. Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re welcome Missy! If you are serious about bees I recommend you take a class and get a bee mentor. Having an experienced beekeeper there to help you is the best way to learn. Good luck!

  6. We are new beekeepers this year and went foundationless using a wax starter strip. That’s a pain, though, so for the next round of frames we will be using popsicle sticks.

    We see the best results when we alternate every-other-frame: drawn out frame, foundationless frame, drawn out frame, and so on… they build ’em so fast & straight that way.

    Nice photos!

    • Thanks! These bees are doing a great job with the foundationless frames too. I’m so proud of them! I didn’t mind doing the wax starter strips in the wedge top frames, they seemed to work just fine and were easier to make than the wired wax foundation frames. But I recently found out from Jason at LetMBee that you can buy foundationless frames and you don’t even need to put wax on them at all! The bees will draw them out without waxing them or using starter strips/Popsicle sticks. That’s what I’m going to try next time. Good luck with your bees!

      • I am going to start foundationless in deep boxes..is it necessary for them to be wired? I know that would make them more sturdy, but it is my intention to leave what’s in the brood box for the bees and extract the supers.

        • I have tried both wiring and not wring deep foundationless frames and have both types of comb in my hives right now. Wiring them makes the comb stronger. I had a hive knocked over this past winter with both wireless and wired foundationless comb inside it. Every single foundationless frame that was unwired had the comb fall apart. The comb in the foundationless wired frames remained intact. So it is really up to you, but just know that wiring the frames provides the comb with an extra layer of support that unwired frames do not have. Maybe you should try a few frames both ways and see what you like better. The unwired frames are also more delicate and harder to inspect until the wax matures a bit, so you need to be gentle with them. Another thing is sometimes you may need to extract the brood frames even if you never intend to, from dead outs or a honey bound hive, so that is something to consider.

          • Thank you so much for the photos etc of foundationless frames. I am trying that with three Nucs later this spring and I was a bit nervous about the process and what it would look like in practice. I am also concerned about toxins in the wax on coated plastic foundations. The supplier of my nucs has been going frameless for a long time with great success, so it seemed do-able, but I found your photos and all of the comments to be helpful and reassuring. Thanks!

          • I use foundationless frames all the time now, both wired and wireless for deep boxes. It is much easier. Wired is stronger for the deep frames, esp in the winter if you are moving cold comb filled with honey, it helps keep it together better. You can buy foundationless frames from Walter Kelly or you can take a wedge top frame and nail in the wedge perpendicular to the top bar, creating a comb guide for the bees. This way when you recycle your frames and melt the wax you do not need to redo the comb guide. Good luck!

  7. I am so happy to see other people that are willing to try new things in order to help our bees. I also use foundationless wedge top frames without waxing, with great success. I break the wedge and nail it to make a starter strip like Michael Bush describes. I have even gone as far as just using the wedge top bars alone in my NUCs and swarm traps. I do not wire the frames and have had a few issues, but nothing that a few rubber bands around a frame can’t typically fix. My bees have tought me wood workig skills and to be creative with my troubleshooting. I’ve learned so much from books and the internet, but so much much more from the bees themselves. Thank you for your willingnes to try new ideas and for all the great pictures of your success.

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences Frank. That’s also how I do my foundationless frames now too. This way you don’t lose the starter strip and only need to set them up once, it is much easier! The bees really will teach you a lot if you are willing to listen and learn. That is one of the reasons I love beekeeping so much. Keep up the good work and happy beekeeping!

  8. I’m a new beekeeper and want to go foundationless but I’m also wondering about extraction. Have you heard of anyone using the extractor with foundationless but wired frames and having success?

  9. Thanks for this wonderful discussion.
    I am picking up two packages of Italian bees in April up here in Maine and I think I’m going to try alternating wired foundation less frames with frames containing small cell foundation. Seems like a good way to get started. Yes?

    I wonder, how did you add the wired supports for your foundationless frames? Or is there a vendor who sells them like that? I like the added stability. I think I’d feel terrible if comb fell apart on me.

  10. Thanks for the great site and information. I’m starting two new hives on foundation less and will follow your lead by putting a few frames w/ foundation to start. Nice pics, and nice looking bees!

  11. Hi Beverly;
    Thank you for such an informative site. I am taking your advice this year and mixing 1/2 foundation divided by 1/2 foundation less frames. I was wondering what your take on your idea is after the fact. From the pics, it looks like it has worked out!

  12. Hi Anita,

    Could you tell me about your decision to put WWFs in with you FFs, and how you decided to alternate them?

    Alternately, could you direct me to pages or videos that talk about this? I’m new but determined to go foundationless. The amount of information on the internet is amazing but weeding through it is tough.

    I was considering Ross Conrad’s vertical guide strips on the sides suggestion…and no full foundation at all.

    Thank you for all you share on your site. Leecia

  13. Anita, Very sorry, the answer is in your post, I had failed to read it all…

  14. I have a number of videos of my first hive which is foundationless. Why start wrong? I was told it makes things harder for a new beekeeper but so far so good. I did not use any wax at all and the bees seemed to know just what to do. The comb is a little off in places but I think they started putting comb on the one wall first then went to the frames for some reason and it made a ripple in the frame comb. They started on the east side of the box and not in the middle. I’m about 5 weeks in and it seems like the bees no longer have much honey or pollen in the brood chamber, I think its all they can do to keep up. I do have many new bees and used uncapped brood chambers…. not sure if the queen has laid more in them or not. I need to inspect better this weekend.

  15. I am a brand new beek. I bought a new hive with all foundationless frames. I bought a 4 frame nuc. The nuc had foundation. When I combined the nuc into my hive I spaced the 4 frames with foundation less frames in between. I’m worried about the bees building comb other then I’m the shape of the frames… I applied bees wax to the wedge to hopefully show the bees where to start. Is there anything else I should do? Also its only been a few days since I combined them, is it to soon to inspect? I don’t want to overly stress them while the hive is weak and growing… Any advice would be much appreciated! You can email me too or I’ll check this thread (motoluver@hotmail.com) thank you for any advice!

    • If the nuc has a laying queen it is ok to inspect, after a few days. Make sure your hive is level side to side, this will help them build the comb straight. Usually they get it right when you alternate frames, but it is not a great idea to separate the brood nest that much as it makes it harder for the bees to manage the brood. Try putting the foundationless frames between the last two drawn combs and rotate them in to be built as needed, as your would do in a top bar hive.

  16. Great article great reviews!. Last week i setup a deep super on top of brood box. I decided to try out going foundationless, my frames are wired. So i cut a strip of wax out of my extra foundations and glued strips to the top bars of the frames (10 frames). Today and i went to check the outcome of the experiment.
    Two observations:1. Bees made a couple of holes on the strips about their size.
    Any thoughts on why they made the holes?
    2.reading the q&a here i noticed i put all 10 frames of the super foundationless and did not put any reference made comb next to any. So i learned that i have give them an example or pattern close by, interchanged i read above. I saw the bees started to make comb, but they started on the bottom bar of the frames going up and a little bit diagonally.

    Just wanted to share my experience. Thanks for the good read.

    • The bees will chew holes in the wax to form it as they please. Not sure exactly why they made the holes you are referring to but it could be to allow them access. Thanks for sharing your experience! I find it helps to give them a guide by alternating drawn and foundationless frames.