Welcome to our Farm Update #2. We want to use this section to share pictures and videos of the updates we discuss in the Sow Edible Permaculture Podcast. Todays update is from Episode 2, where we introduce our new Bull Mastiff puppy, discuss hive splits and our decision to switch to foundationless hives, and processing honey in our new Fruit Press.
Is she not the cutest puppy you have ever seen??? We think so. We are all in love with this 9 week old (25lb!) bundle of cuteness. After a lot of research, the Bull Mastiff breed seems to be the best match for our family criteria. These large dogs are known for being a perfect balance of protection and kid-friendly family dog. They are nick-named “Gentle Giants” due to their large massive stature yet sweet and loving personalities to their families. They do not back down to threatening animals or people. This gives us the double protection from wild animals or intruders. On the flip side, Bull Mastiff’s are very smart and with proper training and socializing (something we are doing a lot of right now) they can safely be around friends, extended family, other pets, and livestock. In the short amount of time we have had her, all these characteristics ring true. I am amazed at how she stays right with us as we walk around the farm or yard. She doesn’t leave us and run into the woods to investigate which I would expect most puppies especially to do. She is great with the ducks that waddle around us as she basically ignores them and goes on with her business. She likes to run and play with the kids but will also lay down right in the middle of them playing and just watch them. She might just be the perfect dog (smile).
Hive Splits and Going Foundationless
We made the decision to switch our hives over to Foundationless frames last year when we moved our bees to the farm. This last week we went through those hives to do a quick check up on them and see which ones needed splits, which ones had honey to harvest, and most of all to see how those foundationless frames were doing!
For those that are unfamiliar with foundationless frames, let me give you a very brief explanation. Inside a hive box (and yes there are different types which we will discuss another time), there are frames that the bees build wax comb and store their honey or their brood in. This wax is the honey comb that you see floating around inside honey jars sometimes or the comb that people use to make wax candles or other bee wax products. Most people in the beekeeping world buy frames that have a thin layer of beeswax that has been stamped with the shapes of honey comb. The idea in doing this is that it gives the bees a template to use as they draw out their own comb on top of it and therefore basically gives them a head start by creating less work for them. While this may be true, there are a lot of very successful beekeepers who do not put any template (foundation) in their frames. Instead the beekeeper allows the bees to do what they do naturally in the wild and build out their own comb in the hive. This is called a foundationless hive.
So why did we go Foundationless?? It was a simple decision for us once we understood where the foundation came from and how it effected the overall health of the hive. You see, the foundation (stamped template) that is in the frames is a collection of beeswax from all different beekeepers that sell it back to the bee equipment distributors. This means that the beeswax is a mix from hives that have been treated with a variety of antibiotics, pesticides, or any other chemicals any beekeeper decided to use on their hives. When I first began beekeeping I was very surprised to learn that you could even treat a beehive with such things, but yes, many people do. After even more research we learned that even after the melting down of these wax mixtures and the process it goes through to come out as a fresh stamped foundation, traces of these chemicals are still found inside the foundation. Even worse is that the wax that the bees draw out from these foundations (meaning the wax that the bees themselves make and add to these stamped wax forms) were found to have the same traces of chemicals inside of it. In the bee world the wax is called the lungs of the hive. It plays a very important role for the health and wellbeing of the bees. It also is the protective shell that holds the honey that we all love to eat. So when a farm like us that uses organic practices which includes never treating our bees with any antibiotics or other chemicals, puts foundation frames in our hives, we are basically contaminating our bees and all by products (honey and wax). For us, this was not acceptable.
Another very important reason to make the switch is found in the cell size of the comb. The printed template on the foundation is printed with a set cell size for the bee to follow. This size is not the size that your bees would create if they created the comb all on their own. This is important because the cell size protects the bees from Varroa mite infestation (a parasitic mite that attacks honeybees). Varroa mites are a major problem among beekeepers and will wipe out a hive very quickly. Like many things we see on the farm, mother nature has a simple cure for this problem. Let the bees be bees.
There are many people that are saying goodbye to foundation for all sorts of reasons, and they are finding that foundationless frames to be extremely successful. Michael Bush has a great book out called “The Practical Beekeeper, keeping bees naturally”. He has lots of information about foundationless frames on his beekeeping website as well.
Switching over to foundationless takes time, there is a step by step process that you have to go through to slowly introduce more foundationless frames into the hive. So far, we are finding the transition to be working well. We started out the season with 6 monster hives. After all our splits this week we ended up with 10 hives.
We harvested our first batch of honey this week with our NEW press. As discussed in Episode 2 of the Sow Edible Permaculture Podcast, we needed an affordable way to process our honey. We read where many people especially in Europe had great success by using a fruit press to process their honey. So this is what we decided to try out and it was a huge success. Not only was it quick and easy, but the cost was extremely minimal. After a couple hours of processing we ended up with almost 50 lbs of honey! YUM!
So do you have any experience with Foundationless Beekeeping? How do you extract your Honey? Please feel free to comment below with any questions or thoughts, we would love to hear from you!