Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames
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  1. #1
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    Default Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    I am into my second year of beekeeping, and so far my bees are doing well over their first winter. I am putting together my plan for the upcoming season, as I want to start assembling boxes and otherwise getting ready for the upcoming season in February.

    Last year I used wooden lang frames with wired wax foundation in all of my boxes. This went generally well through the season (I did hole a couple, accidentally, during inspection), but they ended up being a disaster during extraction. I had a few blow-outs, and a few tear free during uncapping - all-in-all, nearly a 3rd of my foundations need to be replaced this year. In addition, I am adding several more supers (and perhaps 2 more hives) this year.

    To avoid some of these issues I'm planning on replacing the foundation in the damaged frames with plastic-backed foundation, and I am debating on whether to use the plastic-backed foundation with wood frames in the new boxes, or whether I should just go with 1-piece all-plastic frame/foundation. The difference in price-point is pretty small (I'd save <$10 going all plastic for the new boxes), so cost isn't a factor.

    So what I am wondering is if there is a difference (in terms of how well bees draw comb, how easy it is to manage, issues down-stream, etc) all-plastic frames versus wood frames with plastic-backed foundation. I am planning on letting the hives draw out a couple of honey frames each from starter strips, for cut-comb honey, but otherwise I'm only really interested in frames suitable for extraction & winter stores.

    Thanks

    Bryan

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    Hi Bryan. Blow outs will happen but since you had so many, perhaps you should review your extraction methods. A few things that come to mind: Are all the cells fully uncapped? Are the frames/honey warm? Are frames being set properly in extractor? Are frames spinning too fast? Also, how did you secure the foundation in the frames? Did you embed the wax on wires? Did you use rods?
    As to your question about frames, I think you will find opinions on both sides. My preference is wired wax foundation. My bees, at least, prefer it. Second is wood frames/plastic foundation because I have found that the plastic frames will twist if they are stuck and they do warp slightly. J

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    I bought pre-wired foundation which was inserted into the top and bottom grooves in the frames. The only other attachment was whatever comb the bees built between the foundation and frame. I think this is where I think went wrong - there was no wire attachment to the sides of the frames, so the edges were weak - some so bad that they didn't have the strength to withstand the uncapping roller. When we had blow outs we weren't spinning very fast, and the centrifuge was well balanced. The blowouts were partial - usually from one edge of the frame to the first vertical wire (plus whatever damage the chunk that blew off did whilst rattling around the centrifuge) - again, likely because things were not attached to the sides of the frames.

    I got a PM from someone mentioning that they had issues with the all-plastic frames warping and excessive ladder comb being built on them - sounds like your experience is the same. I think I'm going to go with the plastic foundation + wood frames. Costs a tad more, but it sounds like its less problematic (and looks nicer to boot).

    thanks

    Bryan

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    There are a few things in your installation and extraction that could all be partially responsible for your experience. You definitely need cross wiring with the vertically embedded wired foundation. Some times the embedded vertical wires have a desire to take a curve due to tensions in them from coming off rolls. Some are worse than others. Cross wiring restrains this.

    Are you using radial or tangential extractor? Some tangentials have quite rudimentary cages that do not support the comb. A person can usually find some screen from cookie cooling racks etc that can be fastened inside the cage.

    Too cool as mentioned, partially crystallized, uncapping ( sometimes the woodpecker rolller does a good job, other times not; maybe temp. related. I have shelved that experiment. Speed, and the need to do two flips with tangential extractors.

    Installing and wiring wax foundation gets old after a while. If you have time to kill it can be satisfying but if your time is scarce, plastic foundation in wooden frames is a plus.

    I find the plastic frame/foundation assembly not nice to work with and more burr comb as mentioned. If time is very scarce they can serve you. Some of them do not do well in mechanized uncapping and extracting.
    Frank

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    My experience, and I will admit to being somewhat biased, is that we have not had any significant problems using plastic frames. We have never used wax foundation in honey supers, it's always been plastic frames, and we've never had a blowout during extraction in 9 years of keeping bees. For us these days, typical extraction cycle is to have two dozen boxes of honey that we extract in a day, so it's a fairly decent sample size, and our blowout count remains solidly at zero.

    As far as getting the bees to build comb, again our experience does not tally up with some of the common talk online with regards to plastic and/or foundationless etc. It has been our experience, when conditions are right, the bees will build comb on anything. When conditions are not correct, the bee wont build any comb at all. Ours is a growing apiary so getting more comb drawn is one of our focus items each year. In the case of my mating nucs, we use foundationless half size deep frames. For nucs we use deeps. For our full size colonies we use deeps in two brood boxes then mediums for honey supers, mediums are placed above an excluder as we do not want brood cocoons in honey super frames. My reason for not wanting cocoons in the honey supers is again quite different than most. I've never had an issue with wax moths storing frames that have never had brood. We often have an issue with wax moths storing frames that have had brood in them. Your mileage may vary in different climate conditions.

    The correct conditions for getting more comb drawn are fairly strait forward. A colony with a strong population of young honeybees, good forager population, and a flow running, be it a natural flow or a beekeeper provided flow (syrup). The bees will not build more comb without a perceived need for that comb, and they need the incoming carbohydrates to produce the wax. We get most of our brood frames drawn in nucs that are expanding population. Over the spring flows during the swarming time of the year, it's difficult to get honey boxes drawn out, at least in our case, the bees tend to start backfilling during heavy spring flows if they run out of room to store incoming nectar, and it tends to come in faster than they can build comb. Colonies that start to run out of storage space during spring flows tend to start swarm preparations before they start building a lot of new comb.

    Over the summer flows once we are past the swarming season, most full size colonies will draw out a box of honey frames. When we set them out into the summer yard, all get configured with a double deep, excluder, then a single medium with 9 drawn frames and left in that configuration for a week. After a week and they have started storing nectar in the medium, I place a new box with 10 new frames over the excluder, under the drawn medium. We typically get 7 or 8 of those framed drawn out thru the summer. Some colonies draw them all, some only 4 or 5 of them, but average is typically between 7 and 8. A colony that doesn't get new frames will need 3 drawn supers for storing nectar.

    A few years ago we were desperately short of drawn comb for brood boxes and I had been reading about how bees will draw foundationless frames long before touching plastic, so I did an experiment. Foundationless and plastic side by side. To make absolutely sure that the plastic and foundationless saw the exact same conditions, this was how I started the experiment.



    I later took this photo, dont remember offhand exactly how long after putting it in, but it was something like a week later.



    It doesn't show really well in the second photo, but, if you measure the amount of comb on the plastic vs the amount in the foundationless piece, there is no significant difference between the two halves. Of interest to note, this was done during spring flows, and the frame was placed in the top deep of a colony configured with two deeps and a medium, placed between 2 frames of capped brood, and it was done before we started using excluders, so there was no excluder above it. The bees stored nectar in the comb built on the foundation, and in the foundationless part they made drone comb and eventually filled it with drone brood.

    Over time we have come to some conclusions with respect to comb inventory, and frame types. Those conclusions run along this line.

    A) When conditions are right, bees will build comb on just about anything, it doesn't make a huge difference to the bees.
    B) When conditions are not right, the bees wont build comb on anything, no matter what it is.

    For us, we have settled on creating two sets of conditions for getting more comb drawn. For brood comb, we place empty new frames into an expanding brood nest of a growing colony. Full size colonies (ie double deep with all drawn frames) will tend to ignore a new frame, even if we place it dead center in the middle of the brood nest if they have enough comb for brood without more on the new frame. Mating nucs with 3 half size frames of bees will draw out a new frame in a week if there is a flow, but with no flow or feed, they wont even start a new frame. A full size nuc with 4 frames of bees will tyically draw a 5th frame with brood comb in 10 days _after_ they have gone thru first hatch and population starts to build up rapidly. A freshly started nuc will ignore the frame until the population builds up enough that they need more comb.

    A few other tidbits that we have kind of learned thru the school of knocks.

    - When placing new frames into the brood nest, foundationless the bees are not so fussy about frame spacing, they will build comb on the starter strip in most cases. When using the plastic frames and placing new brood frames in the box, it's VERY important to push the frames tightly together or they will build funky stuff. Putting a new frame in with older used drawn frames, make sure to clean propolis off the ears etc so when the frames are pushed together, they are tightly together.

    - When placing frames in the honey boxes, we no longer mix drawn and undrawn frames. If you have two drawn frames with a new undrawn in between, as often as not they will make the two drawn frames really fat and ignore the new one. We put drawn frames on in boxes of 9 frames, new frames go on with 10 to a box and those 10 are pushed tightly together.

    - If we put new frames on during a dearth, we get all sorts of bad things happening. Small bits of cross comb, pieces of comb drawn out off the foundation, etc.

    - A weak colony will not build good useable comb, it's a waste of time and effort to put a new frame into a colony not in a condition to need more comb.

    - Re the comment around warping frames. Not all frames are created equal, and it is a case of 'you get what you pay for'. When we started, we bought the expensive Mann Lake variants, the ones with the metal inserts, PF-500. Those frames are in good shape still today. A couple years later I was saving a few bucks, bought less expensive pf-100 frames. I've had trouble with those warping and the ears breaking off after a couple years in the hives. We wont buy them again, in the long run, the PF-500 are indeed cheaper. This last season we bought a case of Acorn frames because we have changed suppliers. The bees built them well and so far we haven't had problems with them, but they have not been in use long enough to attest to long term durability.

    So for us, the short summary after a long diatribe on the subject, we have no intention of using anything other than plastic frames as our apiary grows, except in mating nucs which dont use standard sizes. A big part of this decision is the time involved in building frames. Time is our most precious commodity, and after doing some side by side experiments, our conclusion is, the bees will use plastic as well as anything else, but plastic frames are a huge time saver, just take them out of the shipping box, put them in the bee box, all done. No time spent assembling, and no time wasted dealing with blowouts when extracting.

    That's my 2 cents on the subject, and, since we round to nickels in Canada these days, not even worth $0.02 anymore.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    I find the bees draw plastic frames best when put on a box at a time with one bait brood frame in the middle to get the bees working in that box. You can't just super over it, as the bees tend to just use the frames as ladders to go up to comb. Extra wax rubbed on from blocks of wax help. As with drawing comb at any time, a good flow is key.

    Great comb can be drawn when bees are expanding by placing foundation one frame at a time between two solid frames of brood. Only one frame at a time so you don't stretch your bees past what brood they can keep warm

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    Thanks for the on-going suggestions - looks like my concerns about plastic-backed foundation are unfounded, and I'm going to go that route. I've got a bunch of wax from last years blow-out, so adding a little extra to the foundation is well within reach.

    Quote Originally Posted by crofter View Post
    Are you using radial or tangential extractor? Some tangentials have quite rudimentary cages that do not support the comb.
    Tangental - it has a pretty good cage system, although I may take your idea of adding some stainless wire mesh - I have food-grade 1/2" stuff we use in some of our cheesemaking equipment that should work. That said, I don't really want to spend the time stringing and embedding additional wires, so the plastic foundation is likely the route I'll go.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    I have used Pierco combo frames for half a decade and I've never had one warp. I am careful to not allow them to lie around in the sun, however. (And as an aside, one of my students allowed one to get warped and was going to discard it. I asked for it to see if I could unwarp it. Nothing I tried - including a little clandestine baking in my oven - did anything to rectify the problem. I have concluded that warping, however it happens, is a one-way process.)

    I always give them a hand-applied overwaxing (though I know they can be bought with extra wax.). My reason for this is that I have found that relatively fresh wax seems more-attractive to the bees than older coats of extra wax. And I have noticed that even the standard coat of factory-applied wax can heat up in transit and drift away from the cell wall edges which is where you want it to be.

    However, I plan to transition away from the combo frames this summer, culling as many of them as possible. I experienced a huge surge in SHB problems last summer, which was new to me. Even my strongest hives had to work extra hard to manage them, and the beetles have a built-in hide-away in the crevices of the plastic frames. If you brushed all the bees off, sometimes dozens and dozens of SHB could be banged out of a single frame's crevices. It was ghastly. And although I didn't get the typical frame slime issues associated with a high SHB population, it was still a major stressor for my bees. I noticed that in the hives that had fewer combo frames, the frames did not protect the SHB from harassment by the bees as much.

    People keep writing that SHB are only a problem in the South, and with weak hives. That was not my experience last summer. And correcting that problem is my #1 issue for this year. I will do whatever it takes to not have a repeat.

    I will be switching to plastic foundation in wood frames, instead.

    The other small advantage of wood frames (with any kind of foundation) over the plastic ones, you can write on the top surfaces more easily, which is something I am doing more and more of. Since I no longer ever move a frame from one hive to another (EFB) those surfaces carry the colony's history on them. I did paint some marking areas on the plastic ones, but it is not as easy to use as the wood and a Sharpie.

    I will, of course, be extra-waxing the foundation close to the time I plan to use them. I haven't decided, yet, whether I prefer to wax the foundation before or after installation into a frame. I am leaning towards after simply to use the frame as a support while the wax cools, though I did some both ways last year.

    BTW, if you have tried rollering-on the extra wax and had trouble with the wax filling the cells and not staying on the edges, try using a flat foam "brush" and several very light-handed coats.

    Nancy

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    Wow, thanks for all that info Nancy. When you say a coat of new wax helps, I'm assuming that wax from the previous fall (e.g. 6-8 months old) is still "new"?

    I'm fortunate enough to live in an area free of SHB, although it has crossed the border with us an Michigan recently, so who knows how long that will last.

    B

  10. #10
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    Default

    I am a novice, but I'm not a fan of the plastic frames. Maybe it's just different in SC, but I have some plastic frames that came included in purchased nucs. I can compare them because they are side by side with wood frames with plastic foundation.

    My limited experience with them is that mine were SHB hotels. Additionally, I have melted the bottom of a couple of them with an OAV wand.

    Maybe the SHB problem is location specific.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    Quote Originally Posted by Smokeybee View Post
    Maybe the SHB problem is location specific.
    We dont have SHB where I live, so we dont consider that issue. so yes, SHB is a location specific issue.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    I do not care for the all plastic frames. I much prefer the wooden framed version with a plastic insert. I bought the plastic frames when Duraglit had the wax covering scavenged and lost its usefulness. I have found through time that the plastic frames tend to crush under the pressure of using the ear as a fulcrum for prying out the adjoining frame. You really can't repair them short of cutting the frame portion off with a tablesaw and placing into a wooden frame. They break down under UV exposure and become even more brittle. The voids in the sides of the ends allow both hive beetles and wax moths a place to hide from the bees. I find that the black plastic makes finding the correct age larvae easier too.
    Working to propagate my survivors and staying treatment free USDA Zone 7b

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    I used a few plastic frames because that is all Brush Mtn had in stock when I needed frames. They all warped. I do not care for them. I pitched all but one and I'm going to use that in a swarm trap.

    I use plastic foundation in wooden frames in cut sheets. Lauri had a thread on here somewhere with pics. Basically, the sheet is cut in 1/2 or 3rds. I use half sheets and they fill the rest quite nicely.

    This year I'm going to be switching over to foundationless frames as I've been making my own gear.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Plastic-backed foundation vs. plastic frames

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve in PA View Post

    I use plastic foundation in wooden frames in cut sheets. Lauri had a thread on here somewhere with pics. Basically, the sheet is cut in 1/2 or 3rds. I use half sheets and they fill the rest quite nicely.

    T.
    Yup, why not have the best of both worlds? I love these frames. Be sure to alternate with frames with full sheets of foundation when they are all new.

    P7020257_zpsf87c4b18.jpg

    P6290127.jpg

    P7190366.jpg

    P5230201.jpg

    P8190142.jpg

    Here is the link to that old thread about these frames:

    https://www.beesource.com/forums/sho...mes-experiment
    Lauri Miller.
    Carniolan Hybrids. Glenn, Latshaw & Wild lines.

  15. #15
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    Default

    Grozzie great post especially since I’m partial to the plastics myself haha.

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