Beekeeping 101 – Frames, Foundation, And The Bee Hive
Article by Howard Peterson
If you want to become a beekeeper, one of the most helpful tools at your disposal will be frames. Frames are basically wooden rectangles inserted inside a hive, and they are used as guides for bees to build honeycomb. They are handy because beekeepers can pull out a single frame at a time, harvest the honeycomb, and then return the frame to the hive.
There are different types of frames, but basically it comes down to those that use foundation and those that do not. Foundation is a waxy substance, arranged into sheets, upon which honey bees can build their comb. Often times it comes embossed with a hexagonal pattern, which gives the bees a natural template upon which to build the wax structures.
If frames do not have this waxy base, the bees will build their honeycombs like they do in the wild. The comb will be free hanging, and might not be as neat as honeycomb built over the hexagonal patterning. In addition, honeycomb built without foundation will often just tail off at the bottom of the comb structure, and will not always be attached on the sides to the frame.
Foundation can also come with various possibilities, such as wireframe embedded in the wax. This helps to stabilize things a little bit more, and make it less susceptible to breaking, which is more common in colder climates. Foundation is not the strongest material, so be very careful when handling it and installing it into frames. It is often purchased and shipped, but a guide or instructions should be consulted on installing it into the frames.
Foundationless frames are basically just an empty wooden frame. Some beekeepers insert wedges or popsicle sticks into the frames so that they hang down and provide a guide for bees to create the comb. This also allows the comb to have a little more sturdy base for when the beekeeper withdraws it.
If using an empty frame, be very careful when handling it as you extract the frame from the hive. If you tip the frame too far to one side, the weight of the honeycomb can cause it to break off from the frame and plop on the ground. Always keep the frame vertical, so that the comb hangs straight down.
There are proponents of both types of frames. Foundation virtually ensures straight, neat comb that is structurally strong and pleasing to the eye, which is important if the beekeeper plans on selling the honeycomb along with the honey.
However, foundation can be slightly expensive, it is fragile and requires careful handling, and some allege that the wax can contain pesticides when it comes from careless manufacturers. (This, of course, would be harmful to the bees.) And if you plan to directly eat honeycomb you harvest, you will definitely want to avoid anything containing wires in it!
Also, for those who want a more natural style of beekeeping, foundation imposes a slightly unnatural order upon the bees and does not give them as much freedom to comply with their instincts in building the hive. For beginners, we suggest using foundation for your first hive, but if you would rather have your hive as natural as possible, or you plan on several different hives, we encourage trying at least one hive with empty frames in order to see the differences and decide which is the best option for you and your bees.
About the Author
Howard Peterson has been interested in beekeeping for years. Check out his website’s free articles on honeybees beekeeping.