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  1. #1
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    Default Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Hello,

    I like to post thought provoking posts so I ask those pro and against, what is the surge in interest for foundationless that I have seen online in the last few years all about? From my own perspective I used either wired wax or plastic coated with wax foundation.

    These are if I understand it correctly the benefits of foundationless and why I dont see the justification.

    1. Less contaminants in the hive--yes it is true that even wax from the cleanest foundation maker will have some contaminants in it I remember a study where Jennifer Berry had alot of trouble sourcing pure clean wax for a foundation experiment. However, these contaminants are minute and even if you have the bees draw out their own wax, bee meds and and other contaminates usually find their way into any hive from the outside world from robbing and fruit spraying etc.

    2. It is more natural---Listen I hate to tell everyone but beekeeping is by definition not natural. Sticking insects in a painted box when and where we want is not natural at all from the get--go. That combined with the parasites like mites that we introduced to the environment make the whole environment the bees have lived in for millions of years not natural.


    3. Less work than putting in all that foundation. Perhaps if the bees draw out all the frames correctly, but more often than not alot of initial adjustments are needed which you do not need to do with foundation. Plus for newbees learning for the first time learning to open the hive and observe the bees can be overwhelming enough let alone messing with the combs. And in terms of work for the bees it will take around 8 pounds of wasted honey for one pound of wax (yes I know this number is subject to debate) just to get them to draw out the whole frame and so I would like to give them any boost I can. Plus with new beekeepers you need to idenifty if the bees are drawing alot of drone comb which bees accustomed to worker cell foundation seem to love to do--whole frames of it at first until they feel they have enough for the hive.

    4. I want natural comb cell size--yes this is good but the first comb your package bees draw out will probably be large cell anyway as the bees are not regressed--so now you need to cut out that comb after a few rounds of brood and make them build it all out again-setting them back further--at least with small cell foundation the bees will get a head start on doing all of their work again!

    That is what I thought of so far let me know what you all think for and against!
    Last edited by xcugat; 06-06-2012 at 09:02 PM.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    We're new beekeepers and this topic is very interesting to me.

    1. Yes, less contaminants to start with and yes, the bees will eventually bring some into the hive. From there, it seems that the less we have, the better. Right?

    2. I've had that same philosophical argument in my head... Bee"keeping" is not natural, but we are attempting to provide the most "natural" environment possible. AFAIK, no bees look for trees that have wired foundation in them.

    3. For us, it's actually the same amount of work as we've been putting in 1" strips of cut comb foundation as a starter guide. I spent almost 2 years taking classes, visiting other hives and reading about bees before bringing in our own hives. I'm quite comfortable trimming comb and manipulating things as needed. I've found way more drone cells on the wired foundation than on the foundation-less frames. Having not measured cell width sizes in my hives, I'm not sure what the minute differences are.

    4. My understanding was that without being forced into a particular cell size, the bees can be more hygienic by creating cell sizes that don't allow pests to occupy with the larvae. Yes, that may set them back a little but our primary goal is more, healthy bees. So, the delay can be compensated for with a little feeding and not expecting a large honey harvest.

    On a side note, I love the look of the 'natural' comb when I open our hives. Hopefully this thread stirs the pot a bit and we get some interesting info.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Thanks for the reply funny farm--
    On answer 3 did you not see sections of all drone comb on the foundationless frames?--I know bees will chew and fit in the drones as needed on the foundation frames, but I my foundationless experience (I have tried it) I got alot more big all drone comb areas.

    to answer 4 you need to get a piece of comb and measure the cell size--I would bet it is not much smaller than foundation because the bees were not regressed and are larger themselves. If so your goal is not being reached as the cells are still big and big means more room more mites in the cells (if small cell actually helps but that is a separate topic for discussion other than this thread)

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    For foundation

    1. I don't think the plastic contaiminates the honey any more that the pesticides that are being used withing a mile of the hive.

    2. For this I just agree with OP, nothing we are doing is natural. Is stealing thier storage natural?

    3. It takes me an extra 10 sec(?) to add a plastic foundation in the center as I'm nailing it all up. If you are that worried about time...

    4. The size of the bees aren't the same as they were 500 years ago, so natural size? People have measured the size that the bees draw out normally and that is what the size is based on, so this is the normal size, we are just trying to make sure they don't add extra stuff, like drone cells, in the middle of everything else.

    For foundationless - People do like cut comb though and I do go foundationless for that. It is kind of fun to chew on wax for a while.
    Disclaimer: I know enough to know I don't know anything yet.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    3... Not that I have found. On the foundation frames, there will be spots of 4 or 5 drone cells but no large sections. On the foundation-less they are spotty. Due to the type of bees, possibly? We started with Buckfast bees but re-queened with BeeWeaver queens.

    4... Tomorrow, I will cut out a small section during inspection and measure. I'm not expecting it to be much smaller but I would think that with the size of bees and the size of pests, that .1mm or even .05mm could make a difference.

    Is there another thread on small-cell already? That's interesting to me too, but then again it steps away from "natural".

    In response to MrHappy, you're right, I highly doubt the plastic foundation adds any contaminants at all. Today's plastic technology is pretty good especially since people are more aware of chemicals leeching out of them. And heck yeah to chewing some comb. I was 'forced' to sample some the other day when trimming a bit of comb.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    The two main ideas behind foundationless beekeeping are that all commerical wax, since it's coming out of existing hives, often treated with large amounts of miticides, is fairly badly contaminated with not only miticides by also various external things like chorothalonil (and other fungicides) at levels that may be detrimental to bees, and that the "standard" cell size was chosen to make larger than normal bees with the idea (unproven, I might add) that larger bees forage more.

    The contamination issue could be significant, more so if you use standard miticides in you hives, or use thin surplus foundation for comb honey. The cell size issue is different, there is some evidence that smaller cells (hence shorter development time) means far fewer varroa mites. The jury is out on that, and you can get small cell foundation and "regress" you bees the easy way, too.

    Drawbacks are that bees don't always read beekeeping books and fail to make nice, flat comb in the empty frames (swarms are the worst since they are in a huge hurry, but other bees will also sometimes simply refuse to build comb in the frames) and there is no guide for cell size and the bees will often make drone brood cells.

    Of course, the hive need drones, and I am of the opinion that you can control the drone brood by giving them an empty frame outside where you want the brood nest to be for them to fill with drone comb. In my hive last here where I experimented, they made about 30% of the foundationless frames drones, with the remainder being normal brood cell size. You might have to move them around a bit to get a brood nest without drone cells, but they only built large amounts of it in the outer frames.

    Peter

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Let me see if I get this right. Foundationless frames so you get( Natural? ) sized cells that help reduce Varroa reproduction. Then you get 30% drone comb. Varroa prefer to reproduce in drone comb. So you are building a Varroa factory. Sounds like a dog chasing its tail.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    The modern beehive and most that goes with it was invented over 150 years ago. Hundreds of authors have written hundreds of books and hundreds of inventors have had 150 years to improve upon it. So there is little new for the current beekeepers promoting themselves as authorities with which to fill their websites, books and lecture series. So they come up with things contrary to everyday teachings to make themselves sound like novel innovators. Even though there are billions of queen excluders in service they condemn them. Even though bees build different cell sizes in all hives and in different climate zones they promote one cell size as salvation. Some promote not using a modern hive but a hive dating back to antiquity. Others seem to be able to keep bees with no interference with medications. Small cell, natural cell, and foundationless are just some of this decades catch words and hype. Whether there is any truth to their advantages is for all of us to find out as we sort out who to believe and who not to believe.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Hives manage their drone comb quite systematically. Perhaps people are seeing more drone comb right now because it is drone breeding season and all the new people trying foundationless for their first time due to reading about supposed benefits all winter are just seeing this for the first time. Wait till you have that foundationless comb in there for a couple of years and see what the numbers are and decide. Most hives balance to about 17% drone comb. But then again after a few years you have contaminated wax again due to pesticides being brought into the hive so go figure. It is a dog chasing its tail.
    Raising Vermont Bees one mistake at a time.
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Let's see, advantages of foundationless over foundation that haven't been mentioned...

    I wouldn't call foundationless a more productive method. However, it was the primary method in Langs until foundation was introduced.

    Foundationless allows for crush and strain honey production. Which could be a good thing if you don't want to buy a regular extractor. Why spend the money on an extractor if all that you want is enough honey for yourself?

    I haven't heard anyone bring up the microflora and microclimate issue. There's likely a real difference between the microflora found on the foundationless vs comb with foundation. Although, quite frankly, I can't recall any studies showing this to be the case.

    Having more variation in the comb likely changes the 'weather' on the frames as well. Once again, I can't recall any studies on that either.

    The main reason for using foundationless, as reported by others, is that it allows for hive survival in treatment free hives (similar to claims made for small cell), without the need for small cell foundation.

    That's a pretty good reason for using natural comb if you are a treatment free beekeeper.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Quote Originally Posted by odfrank View Post
    Small cell, natural cell, and foundationless are just some of this decades catch words and hype. Whether there is any truth to their advantages is for all of us to find out as we sort out who to believe and who not to believe.
    Cut to the chase and find out for yourself. That's the surest way to sort things out.
    Regards, Barry

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    WLC
    For crush and strain or cut comb you are correct foundationless works a treat.
    But.....
    What do you mean by the 'weather' on the frames???

    As for the survival of treatment free hives, the problem I have is that several posters are comparing foundationless to small cell foundation which is not really accurate-- In either case the comb will need to be removed several times to achieve the said goal of bee regression to have them small enough to make small cell comb.
    IF you are not removing the comb and regressing the bees you are not achieving anything as the bees are the same size (or only slightly smaller) I would say that at least if you are planning on doing this correctly which is a bit involved at least the foundation gives the bees a head start.

    As a general note (and one of the reasons I started the discussion)
    Alot of newbees do not realize these extra steps involved and just jump into foundationless and do not understand the why behind what they are doing--I am a big believer in if you cannot explain somethings design or purpose well enough to explain it to someone else logically perhaps you need more reading or understanding on the subject in question.
    Last edited by xcugat; 06-06-2012 at 09:01 PM.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Quote Originally Posted by psfred View Post
    The two main ideas behind foundationless beekeeping are
    hmmm, we started using foundationless frames before we had ever heard of wax contamination or anything about cell size.

    deknow

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Quote Originally Posted by xcugat View Post
    ...in a mindless fashion and do not understand the why behind what they are doing--I am a big believer in if you cannot explain somethings design or purpose well enough to explain it to someone else logically perhaps you need more reading or understanding on the subject in question.
    ...do you think most newbees (or even longtime beekeepers) that use foundation understand it's purpose well enough to explain it? ...and get it right? ...if not...should they not use foundation?

    deknow

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Quote Originally Posted by odfrank View Post
    The modern beehive and most that goes with it was invented over 150 years ago. Hundreds of authors have written hundreds of books and hundreds of inventors have had 150 years to improve upon it. So there is little new for the current beekeepers promoting themselves as authorities with which to fill their websites, books and lecture series.
    The modern beehive is built around beespace. Rarely have I read, in any of the (not hundreds, but certainly several tens) beekeeping books I've read a good description of bee space.

    Care to quote a good one? (description/definition of bee space)

    deknow

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Beekeeping was foundationless until the 1920s when foundation became widely available. People had been experimenting with it for decades, but until inexpensive roller presses became common, most people used empty frames.

    Being a scientist, I'm somewhat perplexed that there is so little science applied at the practical beekeeping level -- there seems to be a significant dearth of theoretical investigation into the daily activities in hive management, and as a result, there is quite a bit of hands-on experience passed on by any number of people (and books) that may or may not apply in any given situation.

    For instance, the discussion about queen excluders -- to my knowledge, that particular subject has been flogged half to death for the last century at least -- I would assume as soon as someone invented a reliable one. I'm equally certain that there is no significant theoretical research on whether they increase, decrease, or have no effect on production.

    One should be careful to separate opinion from verifiable scientific theory, it helps quite a bit to keep the noise down. Bee hives are highly individual, just like people, and also respond differently in different conditions, so what works well for any given beekeeper in a particular situation may or may not work for someone else somewhere else.

    Old fashioned beekeeping got knocked sideways with the recent arrival of both tracheal mites and varroa mites, and the increasing pesticide loadings aren't helping a bit. My grandfather kept bees for something like 40 years and never had anything result in a die-off of any kind. He did lose a couple hives over the years to AFB, but nothing remotely like deadouts due to varroa that we have all seen.

    Most people, I think, would welcome a management system that would greatly reduce or eliminate the use of heavy duty pesticides inside the hive, hence the interest in different management techniques, small cell bees, and foundationless beekeeping. It's not bashing tradition, it's looking for a way of managing problems that doesn't rely on chemicals that are highly poisonous to people and fairly toxic to the bees, too. A better way is to breed bees that handle the mites in particular better, but we have a very very small genetic pool to work with. The European honey bee was brought over here in fairly small numbers only a couple centuries ago, and all the bees we have (including the africanized bees) are descended from a very small number of genetic lines -- in the case of the africanized bees, literally six queens. Europe has it better than we do, as they still have a fairly large native population, but even there the loss of habitat has shrunk the gene pool considerably.

    I have found that wired and cross wired foundation, while considerably more fiddlesome than foundationless frames, give very reliable comb production. Not perfect, but at least I don't have to worry about slumped foundation that ends up in bowed combs that are a hassle to move around, they won't blow out in the extractor as easily, and partially drawn frames are not so fragile they are hard to inspect. I do use a few foundationless frames because it's nice to have drone comb where I want it and not in the honey supers or between boxes. We shall see how that goes -- the bees are quite capable of making their own comb and foundation is an expense that for me is no problem, I don't have that many hives and don't anticipate making money from them, but for others it can be a problem.

    There are many systems of beekeeping, and most of them are fairly to very successful. Use what works for you and don't abuse people who do something different that works well for them, we can all learn from what other's experience. There are, as most of us know very well, no hard and fast rules in beekeeping.

    Peter

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Thank you Peter thats the kind of answer I wanted for this thread--I like to hear people's direct experience or at least reasoning behind an idea--I have no problem with foundationless (despite being the devils advocate in this thread!) I just want some reasons people go with it other than just because someone else told them to either some personal experience or study or any facts of interest. This is especially for the new beekeepers, who can be very impressionable and get alot from this forum but need background information.

    Deknow-- I dont expect anyone to be a scholar or an Entomologist here (though there probably are some) what I mean is at least with foundation you are going with the norm, and easy to use and teach system which is very helpful for new beekeepers who have enough on their plate rather than be alternative for no particular reason.
    As for the foundation purposes as I understand it (since you asked)
    foundation serves as a support for bees to build their comb on which can be quite helpful as new comb is rather soft and very pliable to the point of sagging or falling off the frame especially on a hot day. It also aids in reducing the overall amount of beewax needed to produce comb and thus saves on wax which saves alot of honey consumption. It also promotes the creation of more worker bees in the hive as the foundation is all worker sized cell--yes the bees will chew and make drone comb on frames or in the spaces at the edge of the frame but ususally the amount of drones overall is less than without comb (this is the one that is certainly subject to debate but it is one of the reasons foundation was made originally)
    Last edited by xcugat; 06-06-2012 at 08:59 PM.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    Ok
    This is really delicious topic! I have to disclaim that I am amateur bee-enthusiast who prefer to study the subject before doing anything. Being a scientist by profession, I studied a LOT of books, search the Internet.... regarding the bees and beekeepers. And what I discover? There are few discoveries: (1) all information is very controversial - it looks like every beekeeper has his/her strong opinion on everything; (2) Many beekeepers of 21 century actually is using approaches, hardware and "technology" of 17 century, amusing! (3) Major beekeeping technologies were developed BEFORE Varroa Mites and other diseases become an issue, nevertheless, many beekeepers still use outdated approach(es) and so on...

    Foundation is just a small part of the problem. The bigger problem is why bees in US are dying? It distilled down to couple of "improvements" in beekeeping, which made beekeeping "an industry": re-use of comb and centrifugal honey extraction (mechanization - requires standardized approach); implementation of the "bee space" (crowded space in current beehive design - easy disease spread within the hive)); concentration of beehives in small areas (easy disease spread, Varroa etc); seasonal massive movements of bees for pollination (stress, spread diseases, "single-use" beehives) etc. And of coarse, massive use of pesticides is a huge problem (I do not blame on beekeepers). Foundation problem is related to re-use of comb and centrifugal extraction. For centrifuge, comb needs to be strong, thus - foundation. Additional benefit was that comb may be re-used in beehive, so bees will produce more honey not spending time/energy on building the new comb. Also, human being was thinking that it is possible to dictate to bees by implementing fixed size patterns in the foundation.

    Well, 100 years later, we discovered that bees actually are doing much better if we do not dictate them what to do... there are MASSIVE amount of information indicating that bees in healthy environment ALWAYS prefer foundationless frames if there is a choice. Also, apparently, they build a new comb much quicker on foundationless frames than on the frames with foundation... Also - apparently, bees DO like to build the comb without foundation - numerous studies indicated that bees are relaxed when build the comb (no foundation). Opposite is also true - bees are stressed out when forced to build a comb on the foundation...

    1. Less contaminants in the hive-- the problem is that when comb (wax) is recycled and returned into the hive many times, pesticides and other chemicals have accumulated in the wax and at some point becomes toxic. On foundationless - there is no accumulation because wax used only once and then happily burned in form of Christmas candles!

    2. It is more natural-- it is more natural in the sense that bees have a flexibility to built what they needed. You do not put a stick inside the tree to make it grow straight, right? I actually think that beehive even in modern shape is quite natural - it is basically just a "vessel" for bees. What is unnatural is an environment around the beehive -machinery, pollution, monoculture, concrete etc ... Building a comb - what is more natural? If it is not natural, than, what is natural in our life?

    3. TB is the way to go, than, yes, it is much less work to build the "frame", i.e. TB. I do not see any advantage of using classical frame in foundationless approach. It is sort of half-solution... Langs design needs to be re-stylish to accommodate TBs for more natural beekeeping.

    4. I want natural comb cell size-- see my emotional statement above - bees do like to build the comb and they will do it right! My bees without any foundation are filling up 3rd super now and they are 6 boxes tall - this is the pay for letting them to do what they like to do! Drones - they ARE essential part of colony even if you don't think so. In my limited experience, I had no issue with drone cells - few cells here and few cells there, not big deal. My bee-instructor suggested to eat cupped drones, since it is good protein... so, some "stuff" goes into my honey, this is why I claim my honey is 102% natural!

    The major issue here is that industry needs simple and profitable solutions. But bees are wild animals, they are not domesticated. Imposing on them strict rules, keeping them crowded, feeding them pesticides and food-substitutes, treating them with nasty chemicals - all made them unhappy, stressed and as a result - vulnerable to the diseases and eventually - die ...

    Note: I had no intention to criticize anybody or be disrespectful. I just sincerely concern about the fate of bees in this unfriendly (to bees) environment we created for them.
    Last edited by cerezha; 06-06-2012 at 10:01 PM.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    "What do you mean by the 'weather' on the frames???"

    xcugat:

    There's likely a significant difference between heat and moisture characterisitcs in a foundationless hive vs a hive with foundation. I don't know what they are however.

    "...there are MASSIVE amount of information indicating that bees in healthy environment ALWAYS prefer foundationless frames if there is a choice."

    cerezha:

    Maybe you could give an example or two of any studies that show the above. I'm not aware of any.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Can someone please explain the Foundationless hype to me?

    would think just not having to buy foundation, would be one of the major benefits to going foundationless.

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