How to make starter strips
Starter strips can be used in nearly any type of hive. They are used in place of foundation in hives where you do not want to introduce chemical contamination from commercial foundation.
The purpose of starter strips is to get the bees to build comb in straight parallel lines. Bees need only a small amount of encouragement to make beekeeper-friendly comb. They are much easier to convince than you might think—nothing like teenagers.
There are dozens of videos available online of beekeepers melting wax, soaking slats of wood in water, painting multiple layers of hot wax on wet wood, peeling the wax sheets loose, cutting them in ribbons, waxing them onto top bars and on and on. All types of devices have been jury-rigged to contain and deliver hot wax, jigs have been developed to hold the frames, and salves have been concocted for beekeepers to sooth the inevitable burns. Oh my, oh my. If I had to do all that I would quit beekeeping and become a pastry chef.
In nature, bees build parallel combs in places unprepared with hot-wax and paintbrush, and I urge you to let your bees do the same. Here are four of my favorite ways to make un-waxed starter strips.
- Fill the slot in your top bar with popsicle sticks (also called “craft sticks”). You simply turn them on their sides and glue them in. The sticks form a ridge that serves as a guideline for the comb-building bees. (If you really want to, you can “glue” them in with beeswax. But an environmentally-friendly household glue is a lot easier and won’t melt and release on a hot day.)
- A similar ridge can be made by using wedged top bars. You just detach the wedge, turn it on its side, and nail it in place.
- 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.
- If you put an empty frame between two existing combs, the bees don’t need any other help. They will build the comb right where you want it--parallel to the two existing combs and equidistant from each.
If you decide to use a wooden strip, be sure to go all the way to the ends of each frame with the strip. If you discontinue the ridge line too soon, the bees may curve the ends of the comb into an arc.