We've just had a season of beekeeping under very different circumstances and are going into a winter season that already seems to have missed out on autumn!
I've finally found some time to reflectect on the highs and lows of the last six months and, on a positive note, I would like to share some of the highlights.
At the beginning of the season I had the opportunity to trial some plastic foundation. We are all aware of the downsides of plastic, but this was not single use. I liked the idea that during a period of dearth the new foundation wouldn't be rendered useless by being so badly drawn and full of holes. The wax could just be scraped off and the frame returned to the hive for a second attempt.
Trialing plastic super foundation was something that I thought would be a waste of time as down here in Cornwall wet weather often interrupts a splendid nectar flow, which is the perfect time to get fresh foundation drawn out. Therefore I thought the bees would make a start on drawing the cells out, only to have the nectar stop coming in and without the frenzied activity of good foraging the frames would only be partially drawn as they'd notice it was plastic.
How wrong I was! As it was a trial I thought I would do as I was instructed but also - as I wont - I'd do my own thing. My Langstroth hives were ready for their next lot of supers at the end of May so I put the plastic foundation boxes directly on top of the brood box to maximise the heat and volume of bees. Each box held only plastic foundation as per the instructions, apart from one which I interspersed with drawn wax frames.
Within a month all the boxes, including the interspersed box, had been drawn beautifully and partially filled and capped. There's nothing like the sight of a brand new frame of filled and capped honey. I'm really disappointed that our local Association has no honey show this year as I would have been entering a couple of frames ready for extraction! A number of the frames weighed between 5.5 and 6 lbs.
To summarize, I think the success was due to a number of factors. Polystyrene hives retained the heat so the intake calories were converted to wax instead of being depleted by maintaining the temperature of the nest. Langstroth hives hold a greater capacity of bees so it stands to reason the workforce is greater and as we all remember, at the start of the season the weather was glorious, long sunny days without nectar-evaporating winds and nectar-diluting rain. Everything was in the bees favour to do a perfect job, whether that be in boxes with all plastic foundation or in boxes interspersed with drawn wax frames.
Reading the condition of the bees in the hives, working with our usually unsettled weather patterns and following best advice from equipment suppliers will help get the maximum return from your bees. In this case I was lucky to get all the comb drawn but if the bees had been up against bad weather then the interspersed foundation would have probably have ended up a mess of brace comb and the plastic foundation not touched.
I certainly wouldn't hesitate to use plastic foundation in supers again!