Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Accelerating the Acceptance of Alternative Foundation in Honeybee Frames

I will be running a series of reports from past SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant recipients.  Most of these recipients will be presenters at the Farmers Forum on November 3-5 in Columbia MO at the National Small Farm Trade Show and Conference.

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant #FNC06-595 by Grant F.C. Gillard from Jackson, MO
Modern apiculture, in an attempt to
manage the honeybee for greater
productivity and improved health,
has adapted square boxes (hives)
with parallel slats across the top which
are called “frames.”

Objective: To explore and evaluate different approaches to frame technology used by beekeepers in an attempt to reduce costs and labor to make the practice more economically viable.

Results: Conventional beekeepers use movable wood frames to manage their bees. Pioneered in 1860, the techniques are little changed.  Unfortunately, these frames are expensive, require special tooling, are labor-intensive to assemble, and require frequent replacement because they are so susceptible to damage from a variety of sources.

Recently developed plastic frames solve some of these problems, but bees have been reluctant to accept them. This project sought to resolve those concerns.

My hives are located on a dozen farms in Cape Girardeau County. I market honey through farmers markets and a ouple of retail grocery stores.

We evaluated several types of plastic foundations for the honeybee hive, comparing them to the conventional approach, which uses a wax foundation, and evaluated management practices needed to accelerate bees’ acceptance of the plastic foundation.

Our research showed it’s almost impossible to get bees to establish hives on plastic foundations, but it is possible, with intensive management practices, to get already established hives to adapt to them. Adding more wax to the plastic foundation proved to be highly beneficial.

Many beekeepers may find the additional management challenges of getting bees to use plastic frames are not worth the eventual savings in costs, especially since most beekeepers don’t depend on it for their livelihood.

However, the benefits of plastic foundation include its reusable nature, which saves time and energy, not to mention the resources of wood and fuel to make and ship the replacement parts of the wood frames.

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