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I am about 50% foundationless and growing. I break off some paint sticks and glue them as guides. 1/4-3/8" guides. I try to put them between drawn frames as an additional guide. A few frames I have no guides. But they are between drawn. I personally have had no problems with any drawing issues.
We use foundationless frames in our swarm traps. We cut wedges and nail them to the top bars then rub them with bees wax. In the traps all foundationless they draw them perfectly. When we tried some foundationless in the hives last year they drew some correct, some off and it was considerably slower than drawing foundation. In my experience the bees preferred foundation over drawing their own, so we have relegated foundationless to our swarm traps only.
I use thin strips of wood cut on a table saw inserted and glued into the top groove. Inserted between drawn combs it’s straight. If all frames are together it’s straight but not always in the center of the frame. If left that way one side is drawn out very deep and the other side is very, very shallow. Makes for interesting uncapping.
I started several hives this year going foundation-less straight from the start. Although most of the comb has been straight, it hasn't necessarily been in the middle of the frames. In several cases they started building comb twice on a single frame. Its been a lot more work having to break it off and rubber-band it into place. I used the wedge as a guide, maybe it wasn't enough for them with no other guidance in a completely empty box.
If I had to do it again, I think I would start with at least several drawn frames and integrate the foundation-less ones between them, that has worked the best for me in the past.
I did wire most of my frames and they dont seem to mind building right through the wire.
Wire most of my foundationless frames (high and med). Don't wire the shallow frames. Extract just fine. Use thin slices off a 1 X ? so the slices are 3/4" wide. Break them off the length of the frame and nail them in as I would foundation. Also use tounge depressors and sometimes paint sticks. They may start the comb in more than 1 spot but it all comes together as if they started at one spot. Rarely have to correct their comb.
Usually put frameless between drawn comb or partially drawn comb. I have some colonies that actually will start on the foundationless over wax or plastic foundation.
I use popsicle sticks that I get by the bagful from the local craft store. I use Titebond Glue to glue them into the frames. The comb gets built out straight.
In my top-bar hive, the bars have a wedge attached to the underside. The comb is straight...and beautiful.
I do not use any reinforcing wires, etc. New, natural comb is a bit fragile, so I handle it pretty carefully.
The only time I've ever had a problem with comb not being straight was when I put in a new package of bees and wedged the queen cage between the frames...in 3 days I had a mess to clean up with comb going in all the wrong directions!
I wire my foundationless frames. the times I've had to work those frames, the wires have helped stabilize the new comb they've drawn. I've been amazed at how fragile week old comb without foundation is.
I cut my bars to the specific length, on the bottom side of the bar i cut a groove in the center & staying away from both end by atleast 2" to "help" avoid burr comb along the side walls. I then glue popcicle sticks along the center groove and then run a bead of melted beeswax. This feral swarm went in my OTBH may 8th and they had perfectly drawn comb on 14 bars as of yesterday! So far this way has always worked out good for me!!
The Feral Bees that i have are really small but are very hard workers, i wished i knew how to do queen rearing!
I have been using about a half inch strip of foundation showing along the top of every frame and always put the empty frames between drawn frames. They are absolutely perfect almost all the time. The bees seem to draw the foundationless ones just as fast as they did when I used foundation, if not faster. A few times I have noticed that the bees remove my top starter strip, or at least part of it, before they start. I kept finding small pieces of foundation around the front of the hive, and when I checked inside I found long strips removed. I think just a tiny quarter-inch or eighth-inch strip might be better since they still perfectly follow where the foundation was removed. I think I may stop using the starter strips since they seem to dislike them so much. I still have an average of two foundation-frames, per hive of sixteen frames, that came with my nucs. I am moving the few remaining foundation-frames toward the outer edges of the hive and I will eventually remove them completely. I find very little drone comb. I would never go back to using foundation.
With the correct management, I can get bees to draw foundationless frames straight 100% of the time. You don't even need to make a comb guide on the frame. Simply place a frame with no foundation between 2 frames of sealed brood with the correct frame spacing.
With incorrect management, I think you would be lucky if you could get any combs drawn straight. Simply use multiple empty frames side by side, with no comb guide.
It has been my experience that if I start a package of bees with 1 or 2 frames of drawn comb, and the rest of the frames foundationless with a comb guide, 95+% of the time the bees drew the combs straight. I used the wedge top bars with the wedge turned 90 degrees and tacked back in. Sometimes the combs were slightly off center and to one side of the frames, but the combs were straight.
Adding a foundationless frame between 2 brood frames is pretty much foolproof in my experience.
Thanks for all the good replies so far, and please keep them coming. I'd love to hear from everyone.
So, I really like the method of placing an empty frame between two brood frames. However, what if I want to use that frame for honey instead of brood? Is my only choice to let them draw it out and then catch it in time to move it?
I have no problem getting the bees to draw straight comb. However, after a comb collapse i modified my deep combs with a bar across the middle of the frame. Bees fill that area completely before moving down to the next area and tend to fill it out completely too. No more unattached comb at the bottom of the frame. Can be manipulated without fear of collapse. A little more work but not that much more than installing the foundation in the first place.
I have had success in getting the bees to draw straight comb with my guidance. As mentioned above putting a empty frame between two brood frames is very successful. If you put several empty frames together or a whole box of empty frames on a hive you tend to be a little less successful and requires more guidance but they still do a pretty good job most of the time that way also
However, what if I want to use that frame for honey instead of brood? Is my only choice to let them draw it out and then catch it in time to move it?
I don't understand your attachment to that particular frame. If you absolutely insist upon using that very frame in the honey super, then move it up into the honey super after the comb is drawn....or just place that frame between two frames of capped honey if you insist upon that frame being used for honey.
I just pull an outside frame and move it up into the honey super. That creates room for me to slide a foundationless frame between two brood frames.
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