Before I get started, I want to say upfront what my gut instinct is… “Let the bees do what they want to do unless someone tells me I am headed for disaster”.
Back in March I received by 4 frame nucleus. This is my first and only hive. Except for the 4 frames that came in the nucleus, all of my new frames are foundation-less and wire-less. My plan was to fit 9 frames in my 8 frame brood box because @Michael_Bush indicated the bees prefer that spacing for brood boxes. My plan was to have two 8-frame brood boxes (with 9 frames in each) and add the flow super as a 3rd box.
Fast forward to today. My bottom box is full, but I can only fit 7 frames. The 3 outermost frames in the bottom box were filled with comb by the bees (without any foundation or wire guides). The 2nd brood box has 3 frames full of comb (also without foundation or wire guides). They have started on a 4th frame. At this rate both boxes should be full of comb by winter, I might even get lucky and be able to add the flow super in fall (I doubt it though).
The idea of having 9 frames in the bottom 8 frame box was dead on arrival because the 4 frames I received in the nucleus were already too large.
The bees are making the outer frames very wide. My guess is they are wide because those frames are being used to store honey. In the brood box the innermost 4 frame’s comb do not exceed the width of the top bar of the frame, the outermost frame comb is probably 15% wider. And in the top brood box with the 3 filled out frames have comb that is quite wide, probably 20-30% wider than the comb that came with the nucleus.
I spaced the frames in the 2nd brook box frames close together 30mm center to center hoping to enable the bees to make comb that they preferred. But, I guess since they needed the frames for honey, the 3 frames were much larger than 30mm center to center and thus, the bees installed the comb “off center”. By “off center”, I mean the comb sticks out one side of the frame but not the other (see drawing).
- Other than being off-center, the newly looks great and the spacing between the comb looks good. I have decided to ditch my plan to fit 9 in an 8 frame for now and am going to space the remaining frames to match the spacing that the bees chose in the first 3 frames (which I estimate to be 50mm center to center). Am I doing the right thing?
- Should I worry about the off-center frames? They seem structurally stable.
- If the bees pick different comb widths based off of their intended use, how do you go back after the fact and take a frame that was created to be used for honey stores and slim it down so that it can be used to replace an old brood frame?
- Doing foundationless frames made one of the benefits of foundation obvious. Foundation forces the bees to make a certain space work, without foundation, the bees have more flexibility. What are recommended ways to encourage the bees to make proper frames? Dummy boards on both sides of an empty frame? Only put empty frames between 2 filled out frames?
- I kind of like the idea of letting the bees pick how wide to make their comb. But, if I do that, I will have frames with a wide variety of comb width, how is someone supposed to manage that? Do I have to worry about the bees drawing too much honey store comb and not enough brood comb? What are ya’lls thoughts?