Harvesting a Foundationless Frame of Honey

While we were harvesting our last batch of honey, I realized that one of the frames we had pulled out and that the bees had filled with honey was a frame that we provided to the girls without foundation originally.  If you will recall, I experimented this year with putting a foundationless frame between two frames of capped honey to see if the girls would build their own comb in the space. 

beehive foundation

I’ve long been interested in the idea of bees being able to build their own comb–without foundation bees can create comb with cells sized to their own preference.  I had also heard my teacher, Serge Labesque, speak about why he went totally foundationless in his hives.  Wax acts as a sponge for bacteria and chemicals, and who can say what lurks in store-bought, mass-produced foundation? 

So I had tried, in my early years, to encourage such foundationless building by putting several foundationless frames in a hive box.  The results had been “artistic” but alarming–crazy wax, with super fat comb and frames, joined to one another, making it difficult if not impossible for a beekeeper to harvest honey without destroying the comb.  We had abandoned this practice thinking it was impossible with our bees. 

Then I read what Jason (over at letmbee.com) and Anita (at beverlybees.com) were doing with foundationless frames and their stories inspired me to try again.
And our teacher, Serge Lebesque, had also given us more precise instructions about going foundationless:  if you want your bees to draw out their own comb in a manageable way, you must put the foundationless frame between two frames of capped honey–otherwise, the girls will just build onto the adjacent uncapped frames and make them larger until they fill the space.

So when I saw the frame pictured above, I knew it was one that the girls had drawn out all on their own.  It was so beautiful, but fragile too!  No wires, and no-wax attaching it at all the edges.  I pondered how I was going to extract the honey–would the wax in the frame survive the spinning of our extractor or would it break apart?

It then occurred to me that I could use rubber bands to hold the comb inside the frame (as we’d done when we performed a cutout).  The rubber bands would act as a safeguard against the comb breaking apart in the extractor!  I cut the cappings off the honeycomb first before I rubberbanded the frame.

We put the frame in our 3-frame extractor, and for weight balance, we added two other frames of already-extracted comb.  We also decided we wouldn’t spin as vigorously.  We spun at a much lower speed and watched for any breakage through the clear top of the extractor.

It worked great and the comb was intact enough to give back to the bees for re-use.  We left one rubber band on (to help protect one of the fragile parts) and returned the frame to the hive.  I wonder how long it will take for the girls to chew through the rubber band and discard it at the entrance of the hive?

What have you done with your foundationless frames of honey?

Comparing Our Honey Harvests

While putting away our various honey, we noticed that the honey from our recent harvest of August 16th (from Hive 2)  looked quite different from the honey we collected on July 4th (from Hive 3).  Just for fun, we pulled out a jar from August 13, 2011 (Hive 2).  It’s quite amazing to appreciate the differences considering the hives are side by side, and the bees probably forage the same plants.

What have you noticed about the difference in color, taste, or texture in your honey?  Let me know about it.  I love hearing this kind of stuff!