Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How To Make Starter Strips for Bee Hive Frames

At the last minute, I've decided to make wax starter strips for my bees instead of installing pre-made wax foundation in the frames. After reading Fruitless Fall, I've been convinced to be brave and try a more natural way of beekeeping, allowing the bees to do what they would naturally do if they were unattended in the wild.


Let's face it... God designed these marvelous creatures to know exactly what their needs are in terms of cell size and who am I to redirect that to fit a commercial form? On their own, they will draw a smaller cell which seems to resist the Varroa mites much better. Yes, I'll have to do some things differently as a result of my decision, but since I'm new at this, now is the time to learn. Better to train rather than have to retrain, right?



Since I waited until the day my bees were scheduled to arrive to do this, I did not have any "pure" beeswax to use for this project (in other words, beeswax that was sure to be chemical free). However, I did have the wax foundation that I had originally purchased, so I decided to improvise and use that for the starter strips. 





I began by inserting a paint stir stick in the groove at the top of each frame. 




One stir stick is not long enough, so I had to cut another section to fit. 




You want it to stretch all the way across your frame. Others have commented that they have to sand down their sticks a bit to fit, but I found that my worked perfectly. In fact, some were just a bit loose. Not to worry, the next step takes care of anything that might fall out.





Next, I broke up some of the original foundation into small pieces after removing the inset wires.





I used a mason jar and stuck it in the oven on 170 degrees which was as low as my oven would go. 




The wax melts at around 160 degrees, so this worked well, but it cooled too quickly. I tried setting the jar in a pot of water on the stove and that was much better, but finally, I picked up a cheap small pot that I'll use only for this purpose. I placed the wax directly in this pot and kept it on the lowest setting on my stove top and it worked the best.


Taking a small paint brush, I dipped it into the melted wax and painted a strip onto the stir stick and underneath side of the frame. 






It quickly cooled and hardened enough to keep any stir sticks in place while providing a wax foundation for the bees to begin drawing their comb. 




According to Bush Farms, "Bees need some kind of guide to get them to draw straight comb. Any beekeeper has seen them skip the foundation and build combs between or out from the face of the comb, so we know that sometimes they ignore those clues. But a simple clue like a beveled top bar or a strip of wax or wood or even a drawn comb on each side of an empty frame will work most of the time." I'm thinking my bees are wonderfully bright and will do so accordingly! I can hardly wait to see!


I thought that if I used this method I would have to crush and strain to get the honey out, but apparently, you can still put the frames in an extractor. Just start slow and build up speed when more of the honey is out of the comb. Either way, it should be good if they build up enough honey. 


Beekeeping is so fascinating. It really is amazing to watch these creatures up close and observe their ways. How Rowan Jacobson could write Fruitless Fall and not see God's hand in it is beyond me. It's apparent in every step of the process that a wise and orderly Creator made bees to testify of Him in all that they do!



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