Converting Langstroth frames to foundationless
There are several ways to convert your Langstroth frames to foundationless frames. The basic problem with any foundationless system—including top-bar hives—is to get the bees to build comb the way you want it. The way you want it is simple: one comb per frame, each parallel to the other, so that you can inspect and manipulate individual frames.
Now, try to convince your bees of that. Here are some ways:
- Many top-bar beekeepers run a bead of beeswax along the center of each bar. The top bars that I use have a groove in the center which I fill with beeswax. Once it hardens I just trim off the excess and place the bars in the hive. This same system can be used with the grooved type of Langstroth frame. Just fill the slot with beeswax and clean off the excess wax.
- In place of using beeswax, you can fill the slot with popsicle sticks (also called “craft sticks”) which are turned on their sides and glued in. The sticks form a ridge that serves as a guideline for the comb-building bees.
- A similar ridge can be made by using wedged top bars. You just detach the wedge, turn it on its side, and glue it in place.
- You can use a small piece of foundation as a starter strip. Cut a piece of wax foundation into one-inch ribbons across its entire length. Attach these to the frames using wedges. If you don’t have wedged top bars, you can glue them into the slot with beeswax.
- You can use old frames where the foundation has been cut out. The attachment points of the old comb tell the bees where to begin building new comb.
No matter which system you use, be sure to go all the way to the ends of each frame. If you discontinue the ridge or wax line too soon, the bees may curve the ends of the comb into an arc.
If you start a new hive with all foundationless frames, it is a good idea to check on it periodically to make sure the comb is going in the right direction. If you catch a crossover early enough (before it becomes hard and brittle) you can sometimes gently detach the miscreant part and bend it back in place.
Converting to foundationless is actually easier than starting from scratch. The easiest conversion technique is to alternate drawn frames with foundationless frames. The bees will draw the new comb parallel to the existing comb in order to maintain the proper bee space. With this method you don’t even have to make ridges or wax lines. (If you have used Randy Oliver’s drone trapping frames, you have seen how well this works.)
When you use foundationless frames, the bees will eventually connect the comb to the side and bottom bars as well, which will actually give you enough stability to use an extractor. However, extracting in this way should be limited to medium- or shallow-depth frames.