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the trouble with frames

 
Quintin Holmberg
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Location: Minnesota
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instead of adopting one of the more harmful of beekeeping innovations (movable frames)

Tel ... Could you provide some reading resources to educate myself on this? I've seen plenty on the problems with foundation but this is the first time I've seen a reference to frames being downright evil.
 
tel jetson
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Quintin Holmberg wrote:Tel ... Could you provide some reading resources to educate myself on this? I've seen plenty on the problems with foundation but this is the first time I've seen a reference to frames being downright evil.


sure, I'll provide you some reading. how about right here? might seem more like indoctrination than education, though...

I think of most of frames' problems fit into two categories: space and intervention. let's start with space.

I'm guessing you've been introduced to the idea of a "bee space," no? I don't know that Lorenzo Langstroth was the first to notice that bees don't build comb in, or propolise together, spaces of between about one centimeter and six millimeters, but, to my knowledge, he was the first to deliberately incorporate gaps of that size into what would become a wildly popular beehive design. anyhow, the bee space is a pretty useful discovery that allowed the development of movable frames: if an appropriate distance exists between the outer sides of the frame and the inner walls of the hive body, the bees won't immediately glue it all together. the result: with the exception of some propolis where the frames rest on the top of the hive body, frames remain largely free of attachment to the rest of the hive and so they can be moved at will. great. that's what they're designed for, after all.

but there's some trouble with that space. most obviously, it's unused space. bees aren't wont to waste space in their hives, and for good reason. they maintain the atmosphere of a hive entirely with their own metabolism. if it's too cold, they eat honey and shiver to warm things up. if it's too hot, they eat honey and bring water in to evaporate by creating air currents with their wings. too damp or too dry? bee bodies do the work. they communicate with each other largely by scent with pheromones, which fills the interior of a hive. it's also useful to think of the atmosphere of the hive as the bees' immune system, or at the very least as an important part of it. the point: more space means more work. more work is fine with bees so long as it accomplishes some goal (clearly anthropomorphizing here, and I'll likely continue. nasty habit, I guess) of theirs. but a layer of unused space at a hive's periphery does not accomplish anything for the bees, though it certainly does for the beekeeper. so: more energy is expended.

fine. a bit more energy is expended. small price to pay for convenience, yes? if that was all, I would be inclined to agree. but, depending on local conditions, that unused space can also collect molds and moisture and provide hideyholes for honey bee pests.

why then, if it causes so much trouble, did bees develop this reluctance to build across a bee space? I would guess that in the western honey bee's evolutionary habitat, mostly tree cavities and the occasional cave, such spaces were rather rare and might even serve nicely as passageways when they did occur, so stopping them up wasn't much use. such a space certainly wouldn't be likely to have been encountered completely surrounding a cavity.

enough on space for now, what about intervention?

us humans, and maybe beekeepers especially, are curious critters. since we've now got frames that allow us to pull the entire colony apart, either one comb at a time or en masse, we're now able to satisfy some of our curiosity about just what is going on in there. so we do. and what do we find? trouble, of course, and we've got to fix it. now that we can see right inside there, we can set about correcting all that not-making-enormous-amounts-of-honey our bees have been doing. suddenly, all sorts of interventions that, if they weren't impossible before, were certainly impractical, became pretty easy to accomplish. too many drones lollygagging around and not pulling their weight? cut out the drone brood. bees making swarm cells just when you wish they would get down to making honey out of flowers? inspect weekly and cut them off. hive beetles giving you trouble? get in there and set traps for the little nasties. never mind that hive beetles are attracted to honey bee alarm pheromones. never mind that swarming is an essential part of colony life. never mind that just because it isn't immediately obvious doesn't mean that drones don't serve a purpose. never mind that inspecting for disease or pests or just out of curiosity, weakens the colony's defenses against just about any of the things beekeepers would like to avoid befalling their bees.

so, just don't do those things, right? well, maybe that's a start. trouble is, you still want those frames to be movable for harvest, right? else why did you spend so much money on them or, gods help you, time building them? well, remember our bee space? the one bees wouldn't build wax in or propolise closed? turns out that, left alone, bees aren't persuaded by bee space for very long. if frames aren't pulled out and cleaned of attachments - burr comb, brace comb, propolis - fairly frequently, it won't be long before they're well nigh impossible to separate from one another or remove from the hive body. so even if a beekeeper elects to largely leave the bees to their own devices, disruption is required if the equipment is to be in any way usable. and anyway, you're crazy. if you use frames just for ease of harvest, you're crazy. what did that radial extractor cost you? what did that uncapping knife or comb cost you? what did that smoker cost you? what did those frames cost you? how much time does it take to set all that equipment up? how much space to store it? there are certainly low-investment ways to harvest from frames, but it would be hard to convince me they're easier than harvesting top bars. I favor harvesting roughly like I imagine a bear would: pull all that lovely comb out with my paw. instead of mashing it into my face and down my gullet (though some certainly does meet that fate), I put it into a mesh bag in a sausage press. less exposure to air, so less loss and oxidation of lovely volatile aromatic and perhaps healthful compounds. less equipment. less clean-up. some folks just allow comb to drain through some sort of mesh into a bucket. not my favorite, but certainly cheap and effective.

but you want to reuse comb. that's a whole other story. I've been terribly verbose already, so I'll give it a break for now. in my defense, I've been home sick for a couple of days now, and I'm going a bit stir crazy...

in sum, I think old Lorenzo was either a bit too clever or a bit too dim. he (and others whose work he built on or copied or who came after him) understood enough about bees to invent some really exciting new equipment and methodology, but they stopped short of trying to understand the negative consequences, of which there are many.
 
Patrick Mann
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Location: Seattle, WA, USA
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Tel, what you say about intervention makes a lot of sense. I'm uncertain about the space thing: natural comb is a catenary arch, so there is a lot of unused space around the side and bottom of such combs. Why would an extra 1/4" around the periphery make such a big difference?

Something you didn't mention: natural comb is usually curved; possibly to modulate airflow through the hive. No way to emulate that with frames or movable top bars.
 
tel jetson
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well, it's a catenary arch at the bottom, at least after the hive is somewhat established and until the bottom of the cavity is reached or approached. at the sides, comb is usually attached to the wall of the cavity, though not all the way to the bottom of the comb. there are exceptions, of course. the upshot is that while there is frequently plenty of empty space in a cavity occupied by honey bees, it's below the hive, not surrounding it on all sides.

and yeah, it's also tied into the rigid conformation to flat planes of comb rather than, well, whatever the bees like. they aren't allowed to build comb in such a way as to maintain the atmosphere, including airflow, they like. they can modify the combs a bit by creating or leaving holes, but that extra jacket of open space is always there, diluting their efforts.
 
tel jetson
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also, Patrick, of the two categories I named, I would say that intervention is the more serious. and since you reminded me, I would include straight combs in that category.

bees build plenty of straight comb on their own, but never (that I know of) a complete hive of it.
 
Quintin Holmberg
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Location: Minnesota
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Thanks, Tel.
 
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