Adapting to foundationless frames in a National hive

Will uses National hives in Oxford, and has successfully been adapting them to low-intervention beekeeping principles. He writes about his successes and learning experiences on his blog, Oxford Bees. It is a good guide to how to start blending natural beekeeping principles into conventional hive types –

  • he harvests excess honey, but
  • he does not treat for varroa
  • his frames are foundationless, a simple adaptation using lollipop sticks in the slots where foundation normally fits, giving a guide edge for the bees to build comb from.

The significance of foundationless comb

Foundationless comb from one of Will’s hives

Foundation is bought from manufacturers who make it from recycled beeswax – it is not fresh, clean wax which can only be guaranteed if your bees make it themselves. Pesticide residues and trace toxins used by some beekeepers such as miticides and, occasionally, antibiotics tend to be readily absorbed into the wax. These accumulate over repeated wax re-use, and are re-introduced to hives through foundation. There’s also a theoretical possibility that some pathogens could survive the melting and pressing process.

A more subtle problem occurred in France, Belgium and Holland last year when a foundation manufacturer bought wax from China which had been mixed with stearin, a cheap wax used in soap manufacture. This is poisonous to brood, leading to a “shot brood” pattern resembling foul brood, and led to massive problems for many beekeepers.

Foundation is pressed in a set cell size, but bees’ natural behaviour is to build a mix of cell sizes – typically 20% drone-sized cells. Whilst conventional beekeepers try to minimise these as they believe drones are unproductive, ironically culling drones just makes the bees more determined to restore their natural sex ratio and diverts resources from honey production (and of course fewer drones in the area isn’t good if you have queens you need mated).

Oxford Bees can be viewed at

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