Cultures as varied as Greece, Egypt and Israel kept bees in ancient times. Nowadays declining bee populations have sparked interest in beekeeping. Traditionally, beekeepers encouraged bees to store their honey in rectangular frames embossed with a honeycomb pattern and enclosed with wooden bars on all sides. Newer plastic models are gaining interest due to their durability and ease of use. However, bees seem less keen to produce honey on plastic frames.
Wooden frames are the most common. These frames require assembly and usually fit 10 to a box. Wooden bars fit around a plastic or beeswax sheet printed with a honeycomb design. This provides the bees with a base pattern on which to build the wax honeycomb that will hold the honey. Wooden frames can be expensive and finicky to assemble. Beekeepers may need to attach the bars to the frame with wires, pins or hooks. Older frames tend to warp, split or fall apart, which can endanger the honey harvest.
In contrast to wooden frames, plastic frames are cheaper and more convenient. They come pre-made and can be slotted right into their boxes. Plastic will not break or splinter. They last much longer than wooden frames and resist mould, rot and moths. However, the plastic frames are not as rigid as wooden frames, and the weight of the honey can bend the frame.
The major downside to using plastic frames is that bees seem to prefer wooden frames. Beekeepers who have used wooden frames for years report that switching to plastic frames confuses bees and causes them to crowd back onto the remaining wooden frames. When confronted with plastic frames, bees may swarm to a different location rather than landing and building honeycomb on plastic frames. Hives that combine wooden and plastic frames find that bees view plastic frames as "overflow space" for when the wooden frames are at full capacity.
Beekeepers determined to enjoy the ease and convenience of plastic frames can take several steps to make plastic more palatable to bees. Plastic frames coated in beeswax seem more natural to the bees. Be sure to feed the bees plenty of syrup in new plastic frames to encourage them to draw (start to establish honeycombs).
Reinforced Wooden Frames
In an attempt to make wooden frames less cumbersome to assemble and maintain, some beekeeping suppliers have developed wooden frames. These frames are pre-assembled and can be unwrapped and dropped right into their slots in the hive box. Their reinforced corners and protective paint improves durability and longevity. However, pre-assembled frames allow the beekeeper less flexibility in choosing the frame foundation.
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