Well, my first year in beekeeping was last year. I was somewhere between idealistic and realistic. I started out with top bar hives (despite my dad's, who kept bees with my grandpa for about 20 years (20 years ago) insistence that "wouldn't box hives be easier?"). He's had every chance to say "I told you so." He hadn't until this weekend after a marathon queen finding session before we cut over a TBH.
Anyway, I was hooked on bees so decided to get a couple of Langstroth hives for future expansion with the swarms we caught last year. But I liked the idea of foundationless and truthfully, I couldn't have asked for better bees. The first couple of hives I moved into Langs I actually just dropped the top bars in and let them build them out... and they did GREAT, but mixing new foundationless frames with plain top bars had it's challenges.
Had to make a shim because the top bars were a bit too thick to fit under the inner cover:
Here is a top bar built out to full size of a deep frame. There is no more sickening feeling than going to pop one of these out and have the bar suddenly get very light as you separate the comb from it. Which is why I ended up not opening this hive after about August when these first two pictures were taken.
Here's a picture of a typical foundationless frame in this hive. This spring my dad and I hade a huge effort and cut the remaining six or seven top bar combs out, cut them to fit in deep frames, and strapped them in:
So I built up a bunch of foundationless frames, I shaved a whole bunch of end bars so I could cram 11 of them into each box. I'd be lying if I told you I had many issues with combs being built strangely. All hive stands were extremely well leveled. I made sure to stay on top of them during comb building time so that I could make sure to correct the ends if they started to curve and keep things on the straight and narrow as much as possible. I went into winter with three top bar hives and two Langstroth hives and came out with five of the five alive.
So spring comes and swarm prevention begins and I simply cannot keep these top bar hives in their freaking boxes. Short of going in and putting about five empty bars in between frames of brood (which is what I wish I'd have done in early May), I don't know what else I could have tried. I put empty bars outside the brood nest and checked often. The issue, I have come to believe, is that with the size of combs that I have in my top bar hive, the queen has the usable brood nest of approximately a ten frame medium + maybe 2-3 additional frames. And you can try to expand that all you'd like, but with a good laying queen, I really don't think that is anywhere NEAR the size they'd want. So despite opening the brood nest in the only manor I felt comfortable doing (spacing the brood nest aggressively seems unsavory, and probably only swarm preventative in the sense that it sets the colony back vs. helping them expand). So I split two top bar hives, and had one that seemed pretty content, but I think they were getting ready to go very soon.
I'd made the decision to cut over into Langs entirely this year. And in March/April/May that was great because I had three top bar hives. With the splitting I had five now, which is more work, and more waiting for queens to mate before I do the cut overs, and more time to do all of this...
We cut over one this past weekend:
I did a quick systems check on the newly formed Lang last night and peaked into the brood nest of the TBH next door as they should have a laying queen now. I'd seen a virgin in the hive on June 9th. From what I can tell it looks like she laid a good pattern of eggs on about 2-3 top bars and then laid eggs in about 6-7 swarm cells and they have a couple fresh ones, a few in between, and a couple ready to be capped within a day or so. There's not even very many bees in the hive, truthfully. They aren't cramped and they have as much comb as they'd ever want. So I put out a swarm trap instead of wasting any more energy splitting them into a hive I don't really want them in. I'm close to just shaking them into a Lang and calling it good. Crush what honey they have and turn the rest of the combs into bricks.
Meanwhile, I've got a swarm that I shook into an 11 frame foundationless deep. I'd had good success with it in my other ones, why would this one bee any different?
It has been a struggle. I don't know if it's because they built so fast because it was a pretty big swarm or what... They'd started comb on about 7 frames in just a few days. And they've built the first deep out about 80% or so with plenty of capped brood. I'll admit to being eager to get into hives and look last year, and I still greatly enjoy seeing my bees. But I'll be damned if this hive I put in my back yard isn't wearing me out with pinching combs back over and having to do so frequently. I went about 5-6 days at one point without looking and despite having all their other combs pretty much straight because of my constant intervention... they'd decided the end of this one should just turn 90 degrees instead. Pretty frustrating between the TBH that won't quit swarming/swarm preps and the foundationless deep that won't just follow the line. I was spoiled with good comb builders last year I guess. Fooled into thinking that most bees would build most their combs in this way was perhaps the worst assumption I've made to date. That isn't to say that I've had any great issues going foundationless. I've never had bees cutting across boxes the opposite way or anything like that. But that's probably because I'm dinking with them constantly to keep that from happening. I've finally been broken. I've come to the "dark side". My hives are now getting doses of plastic frames and plastic foundation. I'm done fighting the tide. I've got enough foundationless drone comb to supply half the hives in Eastern Iowa with a nice one for each side of their brood boxes courtesy of expanding the brood nest this spring without foundation.
I was assembling 100 deep frames with my dad the other day and looking at the stack leaned up against a pile of deep bodies (which all had 10 foundationless frames in them)... I started having visions (nightmares?) of how screwed up all of that volume could be on my next swarm capture, or my next split. And maybe more so than that... how many unnecessary manipulations and inspections I was going to have to make between now and winter just to make sure I could still open the dang hives up.
Four days later I got some of this in the mail and snap my first piece of foundation into a frame:
I guess you can say that I've regressed maybe... back to the things that beekeepers much smarter than I decided made their lives and operations easier many many years ago.
I say all of that simply to say this... if you think you want to go foundationless, and you want to spend freaking hours shaving down end bars by 1/16th of an inch on each side... you don't. Or at least you don't want to do that during year one. Do yourself a favor and take the advice that's on here often enough that I should have. Start with the standard stuff first and then mix in some of the moon bat stuff after you know better what you're doing.