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Beekeepers are offered two types of frames – those made using wood and those made using plastic wooden. Wood is natural and has traditionally been used to make beehive frames. Advances and innovation in apiculture has led to the advent of plastic frames. You may use the two types of frames together or use only one type of frame. In this article we’ll discuss the comparison of plastic beehive frames vs wood.
Langstroth beehives have frames as one of their important beehive components. The frames are used to guide honeybees on where they should make honeycomb. Beehive frames lead bees to build comb in a straight plane. They also make harvesting of honey and beehive inspections easy. Langstroth beehive frames are easy to remove and promote better beehive hygiene.
There are two main Langstroth beehive configurations in use around the world. These are the 8-frame and 10-frame beehive sizes. They are very straightforward too; they denote the size of individual beehive boxes and the number of frames that should go into each box.
All frames in the beehive have a uniform length and width, though their depth varies from one size of beehive box to another. Deep beehive box frames have more depth that those found in medium and shallow beehive boxes. Beehive frames are used with foundation or without.
What to Consider When Choosing Beehive Frames
Making your beehive frames requires you to decide what materials should be used. The choice between plastic and wood can be tough to make without adequate information. Your targeted beehive products determine the frames you might want to go with. Wooden and plastic beehive frames have different advantages which we will discuss later. You may also opt to purchase commercial ready made beehive frames.
Before arriving at your final choice for beehive frame material, ask other beekeepers near you too. Their advice will be useful in figuring out what type of frames works best in your locality. Being in a beekeeping club helps you get easy access to beekeeper near you and their many years worth of beekeeping advice.
The factors you should consider before settling on the material your beehive frames should be made of include:
You want your beehive frames to last long. Beehive frames that are made using inferior material fall apart quickly and require costly replacement. The beehive frame should be able to withstand honey extraction and retain its integrity. It should also not lose shape when placed in the beehive for extended periods of time. The beehive frame should be made using a material that does not break during cleaning. Scraping your hive tool on the frame to remove materials such as propolis should not cause damage to a high quality frame.
Ease of use
The frames you use in your beehive should be easy to handle and work with. Beehive frames should be built in very exact measurements. Any errors in the measurements of a frame can be disastrous for you because honeybees will build comb where they should not or join frames together. This also happens if the beehive frame is not straight on some of its edges, or flat on some surfaces. Make sure that you build or buy frames that are usable in your beehives. They should be easily grasped with your hands, even when wearing gloves or with a frame gripper tool.
Ease of cleaning
Periodic cleaning of beehive frames is required. Beehive hygiene must be maintained at its best. Honeybees may build comb or seal the wrong places with propolis. A beehive frame that has cross comb on it or propolis requires cleaning. Usually, a hive tool is run along the edge or surface that needs cleaning. This is usually enough to keep all your frames clean. Other cleaning of beehive frames entails hosing down the frames with water or boiling them. Cleaning the frames in boiling water kills adult and eggs of pests and parasites of bees. It also rids the frames of bacteria and fungi that can cause problems in the beehive. The frames you use should be made of a material that allows for easy cleaning and quick drying.
Beekeeping takes weight very seriously. When working around bees in a Langstroth beehive, the weight of boxes is a major consideration. Lifting a box from the stack should be easy for the beekeepers. Beehive frames contribute a significant portion of a beehive box’s total weight and as such, heavy beehive frames add unnecessary weight to the box. Get lightweight frames that won’t lead to you getting tired out. Plastic beehive frames promise to be lightweight while not compromising on their strength. There are also great types of wood that make strong frames that are not too weighty per frame.
Use of Foundation on the frames
Some beekeepers may choose to use foundation on their beehive frames. Others prefer to let bees draw out fresh comb unguided on the beehive frames. Using foundation on beehive frames requires careful consideration of the material used to make the frames. Wooden beehive frames work well with both wax and plastic foundation. However plastic beehive frames cannot use wax foundation. Instead, they often come with plastic foundation molded in one continuous piece with the frame. Beekeepers not wanting to use plastic foundation in their beekeeping are thus left with the choice of wooden frames only.
Plastic Beehive Frames
Manufacturers of plastic beehive frames are moving towards frames molded with foundation on them. These frames come in standard Langstroth beehive frame measurements. They are for use in both brood and honey super boxes. The plastic frames are available in a variety of colors too. Plastic beehive frames promise cuts in weight and durability. They are made using a strong core of plastic and may be coated with a thin layer of wax. Bees do not build comb on plastic materials. This leads to the plastic frames having to be coated with wax on the foundation part.
Advantages of Plastic Beehive Frames
- Plastic frames often come in molded form with foundation already present. This makes the entire frame stronger and able to withstand centrifugal forces during honey extraction. You can spin the frames at a higher speed without causing separation of foundation and the frame.
- Availability of plastic frames in different colors of the foundation helps with beehive management. Black frames are great for use in brood chambers. They allow easy identification of eggs laid by the queen bee. White frames are suitable for use in honey super boxes.
- Plastic frames are in general longer lasting than wooden frames. With proper care, a plastic frame will be useful in your beekeeping operation for very many years.
- These frames come fully assembled. They are ready to be used in the beehive as soon as you take them out of the box.
- Plastic frames often come coated with wax. It allows the plastic frames to be accepted faster by bees. You can also add your layer of beeswax to plastic frames to be sure the entire surface of the foundation is covered. Some beekeepers also spray some sugar water on their plastic frames before placing them in the beehive.
- Plastic frames boast better pest and parasite control. Destructive larvae and insects that burrow through wax cannot go through the plastic frames. This helps prevent the speedy spread of the pests and parasites. It gives you more time to detect the infestation and take measures to control the pest or parasite.
Disadvantages of Plastic Beehive Frames
- Plastic beehive frames cannot be used with wax foundation. Beekeepers using plastic beehive frames in their apiaries are forced to go with plastic foundation.
- These frames cannot be used without foundation. Bees will not draw comb on plastic frames that do not have foundation.
- Cannot be boiled to harvest beeswax or to control pests and diseases of honeybees. When subjected to the high temperature, plastic frames lose their shape. They cannot be used again the beehive.
- Plastic used in making these frames is not a natural material for honeybees. Beekeepers practicing organic or natural beekeeping are not suited to use these frames that are made using a byproduct of petroleum refining.
- These frames always require waxing before bees draw comb on them. Even those that are sold with a layer of wax on them often need the beekeeper to wax them again for best results.
- Cannot be repaired or salvaged when they break. Once a plastic frame suffers damage, its usable life is over. You can only discard the frame or give it to recyclers of plastic.
Wooden Beehive Frames
Wooden frames are as old as the wooden beehive. They are the traditional frames preferred in beekeeping. Wooden beehive frames are made by the beekeeper or bought from beekeeping supplies stores. Many beekeeping equipment manufacturers have an impressive collection of wooden beehive frames they sell. When proper care is taken with wooden frames, they can last for very many years. They do not break apart when properly constructed. Wooden beehive frames can be boiled when extracting beeswax without damaging them. They do not warp or bend out of shape easily. The frames are also easy to clean using hive a scraper or hive tool.
Honeybees love working in a home made using wood and with wooden beehive components. Frames are used in the beehive where they are sheltered from the elements. They can thus be made using nearly any type of wood. The wood in the frames also helps regulate humidity in the beehive.
Advantages of Wooden Beehive Frames
- Wood is a natural material and bees love it. They easily take to wood in the beehive. Using wooden frames allows bees to settle quickly in a hive and start drawing comb on the frames. Sustainable sourced wood is a renewable resource and does very little harm to the environment. Additionally, there is very little risk of wood contaminating your beehive products.
- You can easily experiment with foundation and foundationless beekeeping. Wooden beehive frames can be used with foundation or without.
- Wooden beehive frames are versatile. They can be used with both wax and plastic foundation. Using wax foundation requires you to wire the frame and embed wire into the wax foundation sheet. Plastic foundation snaps into foundation grooves cut on the inner surfaces of the frame and stays in place.
- Beehive frames made using wood can be easily repaired and salvaged when they break. The frames can be taken apart and different pieces that are still good can be reused to make other beehive frames. Wood also has a lot of use in beekeeping. You can re-purpose the wood from damaged frames to use it elsewhere in beekeeping.
- Wooden frames can be made using nearly any type of wood. Pine and cedar are favored by beekeepers. You can also use any wood available to you to make wooden beehive frames.
Disadvantages of Wooden Beehive Frames
- Wooden beehive frames can be difficult and tedious to work with. This is often realized when you use very dense wood to make the beehive frames. They end up being too heavy in the beehive box. Some types of wood are so hard that nails and staples do not go into them easily when you are making your frames. Beekeepers should use the light wood types they can access.
- Wooden beehive frames require wiring for better comb strength. This is the process of running frame wire through the frame. Beekeepers use varying wiring patterns depending on their preferences. Wiring frames is only needed when you are using wax foundation. It adds strength to the comb that bees will draw on the frame. It can be tiring and time consuming when you are wiring the hundreds of frames needed in large beekeeping operations.
- Wood splits easily when you are making frames. With weak wood types, you may incur losses and spend inordinately long periods of time on a single task.
- May require assembly which is time-consuming. Wooden frames sold by manufacturers of beekeeping supplies may come unassembled. The beekeeper has to assemble the frames. This can become a daunting task for beginner beekeepers and even experienced beekeepers that are assembling wooden frames for their first time.
A Final Word
Beekeeping using Langstroth beehives will require you to use frames. The frames you settle on should be useful for your beekeeping and the beehive products you focus on. Beehive frame materials determine some of the equipment you buy such as for honey extraction. The material may also save you from buying some tools and equipment such as embedders which are not needed if you are using plastic frames. This breakdown of plastic beehive frames vs wood guides you in arriving at your choice. Do not compromise on durability, strength and providing a welcoming environment for your honeybee colony.
Do you prefer plastic or wooden beehive frames? Leave a comment below and let us know.