To Foundation or Not to Foundation, that is the question. (Apologies to Bill.) With the introduction of the Langstroth Hive, using frames with foundation for the bees became standard practice. For commercial Apiarists of course the goal is to maximise honey production, so have a rugged frame that stands up to the rigors of mechanised extraction makes perfect sense. As does using foundation, sheets of beeswax with the cell matrix imprinted, also makes sense as it gives the bees a kick start in the production of honey storage cells.
However, bees don't produces all cells of equal size; drone cells are larger and brood cells are generally smaller. So is forcing the bees to build comb based on one size only actually productive or counterproductive. This is an ongoing discussion in bee keeping circles and you won't find the answer here. However I was pleasantly surprised to find some commercial bee keepers experimenting with foundationless frames.
Recently I and a few friends visited R & E Macdonald, Apiarists in Castlemaine, where Bob, the founder, spoke about foundationless frames, which he termed Stick Frames. Why Stick Frames I hear you ask ... (pause)
The first shot shows the frame makeup, with the central stick at 45 degrees to
the frame as this creates the sharp edge for the bees to work to/from. A strip
of foundation is then inserted in the top to start the bees off, similar to what
Sarah mentioned the other night.
Another beekeeper with us stressed that the bees would start drawing from a
sharp edge, so that without that strip of foundation at the top, or some such
similar, the bees would start drawing from the edge of the frame itself thus
upsetting the central placement of the comb.
Shots 2-3 show more details, shots 4-5 show a full stick frame waiting to be
They paint the top of the stick frames Blue for easy recognition, and shot 6
shows a nuc box with stick frames. Whether those frames are new needing to be
built out or have been recycled with pre-built comb I am not sure - didn't look.
This pic - http://img138.imageshack.us/img138/6480/img5306v.jpg - is from a
chap in the US using the same technique, however, rather than starting with a
sliver of foundation at the top, he installs half-sticks at 45 degrees to supply
the starting edge for the bees.