Pressure washing plastic combs

How do you clean plastic combs and reuse them? Wooden frames you melt the wax from and boil. Try to do that with plastic combs and they woun’t fit in the box or anywhere else.

HögttryckPlast1 After scraping the sides of the dirty combs with a knife they were put in supers.

I got some tips how to do. I scraped the comb sides with a knife. Then I hanged the combs in a box. When the bees had stopped flying in the autumn i put these boxes outside without cover for the rain, snow, frost and sun on work them. It makes the wax and cocoon remnants to decay somewhat.

When the spring and flying time for the bees approach I used the pressure washer and the combs became not as new, but not far from.

HögttryckPlast2 When spring is close, before the bees start flying regularly it’s time for pressure washing, with excellent result.

A locally adapted Varroa resistant bee stock

Reid Hives

Richard Reid in a Virgina rural area in the US began with bees 1973. Beekeeping was simple, almost only it consisted of putting on and removing supers.

By 1995 all of his bees died due to the Varroa mite. He didn’t like drugs and didn’t use any in his colonies. A package bee colony he bought also died, after only two months. He couldn’t take more, dropped the bees, and devoted himself entirely to his construction business.



After a number of years, he discovered that a few swarms had settled in a few stacks of supers. He went and looked at these wild bees sometimes and saw that they lived on. They lived and swarmed for 12 years unattended. After a few years he was encouraged and decided in 2008 to give beekeeping a chance again.

Reid feral12 One of the feral swarms settled in his stacks of supers.

There are no big farms nearby (thus not so much of agriculture chemicals) and some smaller beekeepers were at least 3 km (2 miles) away from his bees. So the conditions for healthy beekeeping was good.


Come back

He took care of the two feral swarms and began to expand the number of colonies using these, VSH, and Russian lines. He decided again not to use any kind of chemicals against Varroa. He didn’t buy any package bees or colonies from other areas (well, none at all). He multiplied his own colonies.

Reid SwarmtrapBox He also catches some swarms.
He bought however queens from different places which he believed to have resistance characteristics, VSH Carnica, Russian bees, and survivor bees from different places. He never monitored mite levels in his colonies.
Annual losses since 2008 have been between 10-15%, except after the winter of 2012-13 when 40% died. Each year, he had seen some wingless bees in some colonies. After the winter with the big losses he hasn’t seen any wingless bees. He has since bought fewer queens from outside and bred most from his own.
Every year he breeds from several “lines”, now about 18 of them. Queens are mated in his home yard. He makes many splits every year. Some of these get pupae of those he breeds. Some splits rear queens themselves.

Reid queen One of his queens.



2015 he wintered 75 production colonies and 105 nucs. 30 of the colonies are kept in the vicinity of his home yard. There he keeps 17 of them. The nucs are also kept close in the home yard.

Reid Hives&Nucs Some of his nucs and production colonies in his home yard.

He has altogether nine apiaries. He wants to have at least 10 colonies in each apiary, but he hasn’t reached that goal yet for most of them. He is now aiming to increase his number of production colonies to 100 and the nucs to 150, as well as an additional 2 apiaries.
Regarding cell size, the great majority of brood frames in his colonies are Mann Lakes standard plastic frame with plastic foundation. ( The cell size on those are 4.95 mm. The rest of the frames in the honey boxes have a larger cell size. Some frames are started without a foundation. The intention is that the bees will build some drone comb there. He wants to flood the area with desired drones. But bees are also building fine worker brood in some of these frames, especially in the nucs.


Selling nucs, queens and honey

He split the nucs in the spring and sells one part with the queen, saves the rest to build up a new nuc. It’s usually used for a mating nuc or nuc production depending on the season.

Reid Brood One of the worker brood frames built by the bees without the help of a foundation.

He usually has a very good spring flow that will carry the colonies through the rest of the year, but there’s usually a dearth in the summer, which means the nucs may need to be fed sugar syrup to prepare for winter. 2015 he had so much spring honey production, he only had to feed about 20% of the nucs for winter.

He says that now he has enough resources so he can share honey between production hives and nucs. Thus he feeds less. He usually only feeds a handful of production hives (mostly new ones) to prepare for winter. The production colonies go through winter on large supplies of honey. Quite often he has extracted honey in April. You can say he uses his colonies as a honey storage.


Richard Reid’s locally adapted Varroa-resistant bee stock

• There are at least 3 km to apiaries with other bee colonies than of his stock.
• The area where he lives is not a highly developed agricultural area, so there is not so much agricultural chemicals there as can be the case in many other areas.
• He started with bees which had a degree of varroa resistance.
• In most brood combs, he uses small cell size.
• He doesn’t bring in colonies (such as packages) from outside the area with his bees.
• He splits nucs (with new queens from his breeder queens) to make more nucs, which later become production colonies or bees for sale. He also splits a few of the smaller, less productive, production colonies to create new nucs.

• He doesn’t requeen on a regular schedule. He has some colonies with queens finishing their 3rd and 4th season.
• The bad colonies die or have their queens replaced.
• He breeds after queens from many different lines each year.
• He tries each year just a few queens from other breeders.


Encouragement to all beekeepers

Richard Reid is one of several beekeepers who has managed to breed a varroa resistant locally adapted bee stock. Let us be encouraged by that and despite what some other beekeepers of all kinds say, that this is not possible. How can one be so ignorant to what others achieve? Make use of what you can of the experiences of Richard Reid.
When he started, he hadn’t many bee colonies, so even if you have few colonies you can do something.

Perhaps your circumstances are such that it is good to monitor mite levels in your colonies. There are various methods, for example the Bee Shaker (

Don’t take it as a failure if you choose to use pesticides at times. Each of us decides what is appropriate for ourselves and our bees, in consultation with the laws of your country. A treatment that doesn’t involve any chemicals at all is to remove all capped brood (worker and drone brood) twice, a week apart. It is effective, weakens the bee population as well though, but not the health of the bees. The bad colonies get new queens as soon as possible.

Next season will always be better!

Cell size affects water content

I started taking down my bees to small cell size 15 years ago. 10 years ago I had combs with 4.9 mm, 5.1 mm and 5.4 mm cell size in the supers. At one time I did some measurements of moisture content in honey from the capped cells in supers.

The supers were square sized for 12-frame Shallows. Single walled wood, not very thick to keep the weight down. Almost all my supers are like that. I measured moisture content in honey from cells close to the top of the frame, in the middle. When comparing the different cell sizes in the same box it was done from two frames, comb sides next to each other.

What I found then was that the moisture content in the center of the box was 1% lower than from the outer combs. This was the case when all combs in the super had the same cell size. I speculated that this was due, at least partly, to the fact that the uninsulated walls of the super made the temperature vary more in the super during day and night, especially close to the walls. During nights water drops could well be formed on the outer frames. And the honey could thus take up more moisture.

The moisture content was then 1% lower in cell size 5.1 than in 5.4. And it was 1% lower in 4.9 compared to 5.1.

The moisture content was so low in the smaller cell sizes that I became braver to harvest combs that were not fully capped. I started harvesting whole boxes even if the outer combs was not fully covered or even 2/3 covered. Sometimes outer combs were and also are today only capped at the top. Shallow frames are low, 137 mm, so it will not be as large area of ​​non-capped honey compared to a higher frame where only uppermost part of the honey is covered.

Water content in my honey is usually around 16-17%, rarely above 18%, sometimes below 16%. Before I used small cell size, moisture content was often around 18%, even though I tried to harvest only capped honey.

Project with plastic frames and insulated boxes

This year (preparations began last year) we (I and two others) started a project to test a number of different things (will probably come back with a report). The project uses insulated plastic foam supers for 10-frame Medium frames (159 mm high). All frames are supposed to be plastic with plastic foundation. Two different cell sizes are used, 4.95 mm and 5.5 mm. Thus a group of colonies have only 4.95 and another group 5.5. Not all combs are completely that way in all colonies. Next year it will.
Vettenhalt Yellow plastic frames with 4.95 mm cellsize and black with 5.5 mm.

Low moisture Heather honey

This year cell sizes were somewhat mixed for different reasons, especially in supers. So when I harvested a number of supers with well capped Heather honey combs with different cell sizes in the same super I took the opportunity to measure the moisture content again in a similar way as 10 years ago.

This time, I could compare 4.95 with 5.5. And 5.3 with 5.5 (I had some plastic frames with cell size 5.3 also for a certain reason I will come back to in the report to come).
The notes I had from the test 10 years ago I have not found. But I found those I made this year. They are seen in the table.


4.95 mm 5.3 mm 5.5 mm capped honey

uncapped honey


16.0% 17.0% X
2 16.5% 17.5% X
3 16.0% 16.2% X
4 17.0% 17.3% X
5 15.9% 16.0% X


Similarities and differences

The tendency that smaller cell sizes means less moisture in the honey holds. But the differences between cell sizes are smaller this time. Another difference is that the difference between the middle frames and the outer ones in supers with the same cell size was not found now with well insulated supers.

The difference between the cell sizes are greatest when 5.3 and 4.95 are compared. The difference between 5.3 and 5.5 was not as big (not per 0.1 mm cell size either).
The moisture content was for me surprisingly low considering that it was almost pure heather honey in the combs checked. Usually Heather honey has higher moisture content, probably due to it’s gathered late in season when temperature difference between day and night is bigger. But it was unusually warm in August this year when the Heather was in bloom and remperature was not very low in nights.

When trying to understand the results I think it helps being aware that when bee colonies build their own combs without the help of foundation many have observed they build (when they are adapted after a period of perhaps several years) mostly between about 4.7 and 5.1 mm cell size in the brood nest and 5.2-5.5 (approximately) in honey area.

When the bees have collected a lot of honey for the winter period, most of the empty cells are small. When spring comes the first brood is reared in small cells. Low moisture honey is closest to brood then. Is that of any importance for the bees? Later in season some brood is reared in slightly larger cells as well. Towards the end of the season the queen lays almost only in small cells again.

MT-colony conclusion

I have shared the performance of this colony which had almost a box of plastic small cell frames and natural positioning of these frames (as the uppermost broodbox). Which also had a tough experience with mice living in the bottom box during winter.

It gave top crop the first crop of winter rape, dandelions and some raspberry. It showed no wingless bees this year early on as it did last year. But it had an old queen. So the colony decided to shift it’s queen and did. Now they showed a few wingless bees. I concluded that was due to the declining amount of open brood to enter for the mites, son inte last brood of the old queen there was enough concentration of mites to develop some wingless bees. But to be consistent with my way of working I gave the colony 9 grams (two pieces) of thymol dish pieces. Next time no wingless bees.

My impression is that the colony is not performing less good with plastic small cell and natural positioning. Thus the conclusion is that plastic small cell frames are not negative for the bees, neither what I call natural positioning. If any of these configurations are positive is difficult to say. An overall smaller mite pressure in the apiary and the area could be the explanation. Due to epigenetic changes that have improved the bees, or/and conventional selection has done its job with the genepool in the apiary/area. Also plastic small cell frames and natural positioning may have contributed. At least plastic small cell may have good influence as there are more cells for each comb, thus faster buildup.

First crop from the multitest colony

Last year I gave almost a whole box of plastic frames 4.95 mm cellsize with natural positioning,

This colony was a very nice colony, but needed some thymol as it came up with some wingless bees. It gave an average crop though. It wintered with the plastic in natural positioning as the upper third box full of honey. This was one of the few colonies I forgot to give the entrance reducer before winter so mice had created havoc in the bottom box. This seemed not to have set back the colony very much, unusual I would say. I thought about that:

March 30 this year it looked very nice,

MT-colony combs In the uppermost super the combs were capped almost to the sides.

In June I harvested the first crop. It gave the highest crop in that apiary, together with one other colony, mostly from winter rape and dandelions. Both difficult crops if you wait too long before harvesting. They both form crystals quickly and have a very low water content making the honey viscous. All four boxes above the excluder was harvested – 60 kg (132 pounds). No signs of varroa or virus, no wingless bees and no thymol given. Out of 9 colonies in that apiary 6 have needed some thymol, up till now.

MT-colony board All the four supers above the excluder were harvested

A very good sign is the relatively clean piece of hardboard (0.5×0.5 meter, 20×20 inch) in front of the colony. Reading the hardboard is very informative about what’s happening in the colony. A few cleaned out drone pupae, a few dead drones and worker bees.

Multitest colony prepare to boom

MT-colony 30Mars

You know the MT-colony – testing natural positioning, plastic frames,  mostly honey as winter store, and a mouse nest…

A couple of days ago, about 12°C (52F) and sunny, still no fresh high value pollen (some from early blooming trees). I was visiting this apiary taking care of the fistsize colony mentioned in an earlier post. It was robbed and had just a few bees of their own left. Shook off the bees and took home the boxes to sort the frames, some for the solar wax melter, some with food to give to others and those nice looking empty drawn combs for increase later on.

The colony was heavy of stores and warm. The queen is laying good now preparing for the early flow…

Plastic positioning and the mouse

You remember the previous post about the “multiple test”(MT)-colony, natural positioning, plastic frames, a mouse (or mice), mild winter and what a good condition this colony came out with now in spring. I’ve been thinking about it.

Mild winter

Yes the mild winter has contributed to the good condition. But what about varroa and viruses? Mild winter doesn’t help if you have too much of both in a colony. I would say maybe the contrary, or at least questionable. A lot of varroa triggers extensive brooding, to kind of replace the affected sick brood resulting in a bad rat race.

But less treatment

In fact one of the colonies in the apiary died during winter due to what looked like virus problems, in spite of some more treatment than the good colony got. And another colony which hadn’t received any treatment last year because it didn’t need it, it seemed, no DWV-bees, strong and healthy look – came out with fist size cluster and asking for survival until fresh pollen and steady temp around 60F (15C). We’ll see.

And this good colony got less Varroa treatment 2013 compared to 2012, actually half – at the most only a tenth compared to non-selected bees for Varroa resistance. With the same queen 2012 and 2013.

 Weaker varroa pressure

Now I think in spite of the dead colony and the one with the fistsize cluster, the average Varroa pressure, total amount of mites in the apiary, was less in 2013 compared to 2012. In fact I think this is the case in all my apiaries. Because I used in average about half the amount of thymol I used in 2012. This good colony I’m talking about specifically now got the average amount, 5 grams. Also, only 50% of the colonies going into winter had been treated during 2013, compared to 80% 2012. And, this spring winter die off will be less than 5% compared to more than 15% last spring.

The Varroa pressure I think is lower due to better Varroa resistance in average in my stock, also in this apiary. The least good ones are showing up every spring, either they die in spite of treatment, or they show up weak and get treatment and later their queens are shifted.

 Epigenetics and social learning

Also, from other beekeepers experiences, after about 5 years, mite pressure becomes weaker without any obvious reason. Probably some kind of epigenetic adaption (genes turned on and others turned off) is taking place that takes about 5 years from the first time the mites created problems. This spring is the fifth since the mites gave big problems the first time in all my apiaries.

This adaption to the presence of the mite and fighting it probably also involves social learning. Bees learning to handle the mite and pass this knowledge on to other bees in the hive ( Therefore it’s important not only to propagate good resistant bee colonies by making new queens from it, but also by making new bee colonies from it, including worker bees that can pass their knowledge to new generations of bees.


 Uniform small cells

From the dead colonies through these diffcult years with Varroa I have harvested quite some badly drawn small cellsize combs. With too many patches of drone comb, and too many patches of bigger sometimes irregular “worker” cells. Good they have been culled.

These plastic frames with plastic foundation with cellsize about 4.95 from Mann Lake ( that was used in the bigger part of the third (the uppermost) broodbox in the MT-colony at least didn’t have a big negative impact on the colony health. Plastic haters might draw such a conclusion right away. Now, I’m not a plastic lover. I don’t like using plastic. That’s because in general it isn’t degradable in nature. That’s what I want, degradable plastic. But here it is in our world and I tried it.

These plastic frames might even have contributed to the good health of the MT-colony. 10% more cells per comb, still quicker build up. No drone patches (BUT there should be drone patches here and there in the brood area to catch the mites that are there), no patches of bigger and irregular “worker” cells. No wavy combs (I use no wiring in my wax combs). No big bridges of hindrance of wood for the queen between brood boxes.

So I plan to try some more plastic frames from Mann Lake in brood boxes. But there should be a good balance between plastic and wooden frames as long as I will be using the plastic.

Natural positioning, plastic frames and a mouse

Mousehome1b The bottom box with the cozy home of the mouse. To the right the two upper boxes full of bees, waiting for return on top of the bottom one.

You know there is a front and a back, and up and down, and sideways, on combs and foundation. Ever seen the Y at the bottom of the cells? The side of the comb with upside down Y:s is said to appear towards the middle of the bee cluster, when the bees build their own home of combs. When Y is facing up, or down, the cells have tips pointing upwards and downwards. Are tips pointing sideways (and not parallel sides sideways) Y at the cell bottoms (hold the comb or foundation against the light and it’s easier to see) is facing right or left. Such combs is said to appear sometimes in the middle of the cluster of naturally drawn combs.

To place combsides with Y pointing downwards towards the middle of the box (easiest marking new combs with foundation on the toplist) is said to be beneficial for the bees – where they sit in the box, development, harmony, etc. Anyway I couldn’t figure out that it could be possible to be negative for the bees. So I started to mark new combs last year and had the intention to test natural positioning. But it turned out I seldom put on a whole box of foundation. I did though on one hive, almost. And it happened to be mostly plastic frames with plastic foundation from Mann Lake, with cell size slightly bigger than 4.9 mm. I tested Mann Lake’s standard plastic frames and foundation last year too. And this hive turned out to be the one receiving highest number of plastic frames for testing.

So this hive became a testhive for both plastic frames and natural positioning. A bad test actually. Just using one colony and for two parameters. Anyway, had the colony died or dwindeled or turned out to develop weird in any way it had pointed to negative effects for at least one of the tested two parameters.

At best one could say now that it would be interesting to continue the tests, with both parameters. Because the outcome seems to be positive. It turned out to be a hard test concerning overwintering. Not though because of hard weather. The winter before (2012-13) was colder and longer and the colony came out weaker from winter than this spring 2014. 2012 it was treated against Varroa with 10 grams of thymol in total and nothing else (two pieces of dish cloth with 5 grams each).

The colony came out of winter in a weaker state 2013 so the bottom box was culled and a new third box for brood was added when it was time for that (12 frames of shallow size, 448 x 137 mm). This box mostly consisted of plastic frames and foundation, but with a few drawn combs in the middle of the box. And the sides of the combs with Y facing downwards was pointing inwards to the middle of the box. Honey production was average 2013. 2013 the colony was treated with only 5 grams of thymol, with the same queen, half the amount compared to 2012. (Now this amount of thymol is low compared to recommended amounts for bees in general, at least 10 times more would be normal.)

The colony was wintered on three shallow boxes (12 frames) full of bees with 25 kg of honey (>50 pounds) and 10 kg of sugar (>20 pounds). It came out of winter (March 1) as strong as it went into it and heavy of food. Though I had forgotten to put on the entrance reducer so that a mouse had made it comfortable for itself as its winter house, both warm and food nearby, cozy. The bees hadn’t had their cleansing flight yet, confined to the hive since middle of November. The cleansing day came March 9.

After cleaning the bottom box from eaten empty frames and the cozy remnants of the mouse March 1 I returned two weeks later and the colony was happy, and no bee droppings on the front of the hive, still full of bees out to the sides also in the top box. With so much honey in the stores for long winters like ours it’s not unusual with bee droppings on the front of the hive.


So what’s the cause of the good standard of the colony this spring:

  1. the mild winter,
  2. natural positioning in the upper third box, or
  3. the plastic frames in the upper third box
  4. – maybe all three of these parameters?

The art of beekeeping

EccentricHive HIve of


Of course it’s more natural for bees to build their own combs. But is it the best for bees and beekeepers? There’s been a lot of discussion about natural beekeeping. First let us be clear. Natural beekeeping is an unnatural expression. Any kind of beekeeping by a beekeeper is not natural, for bees anyway. When that is said we have to say there are different grades of naturalness in beekeeping.


Natural enough

I want, and the eccentric beekeeper wants enough naturalness to be able to call our beekeeping natural, or rather natural enough for the bees and thus also for me as a beekeeper.

Even if a bee colony in a hollow tree never will be beneficial for the commercial beekeeper to make him make a living of beekeeping, it certainly will help us understand how close to its natural way of living we can design our way of keeping bees. I’m convinced such an approach will help the small scale as well as the large scale beekeeper – and the bees.

But where do we meet in design, the bees and me? Well, we have to begin living together and we have to find out by learning to listen to the bees and find out what I really need to make a living, small scale and large scale.

Foundationless frames where the bees draw their own combs may well be a good choice. Before wax foundation was invented all beekeepers used it, one way or the other. Langstroth for example.



Today I don’t do it. For a couple of reasons. First, my first goal is to achive bees that can  handle the varroa mite on their own. Until they do, I have decided I want to help them with the cellsize they naturally draw in the core of their broodnest, around 4.9 mm. At my latitude maybe somewhat bigger. I may be wrong, I may be right: whichever It seems my bees may today be developing true resistance, not only tolerance.

The eccentric beekeeper in Indiana, America has decided to arrive at foundationless frames, after taking down his bees to small cellsize. Check out his website:


Mann Lakes 4.9 plastic foundation(frame) cut to fit into small Warré frames.



The bees have usually no problems drawing the foundation correct and use it readily, whichever bees you use.


He uses the standard plastic frame from Mann Lake Ltd to take whichever bees to small cellsize. Then he lets them loose. Some of them even draw 4.7.


Foundationless frames given to the bees, below the other combs, after they have made use of the plastic frames.



Cellsize on the long foundationless frames – 4.7 mm. Pictures supplied by the eccentric beekeeper.

Quick and cheap to small cellsize


Do you want to regress your bees back down to a more natural cellsize in the broodnest? It can take some time and sometimes it’s a little bit tricky. Most often they fail to directly from what’s been most common for years now, about 5.4 mm, or 54 mm over 10 cells over the parallel sides. Down to what’s often talked about – 4.9 mm. There are many different stories. Without mentioning any other way down I go directly to the very quick and thus the cheapest way.

Mann Lake Ltd – –  has a standard frame, their cheapest plastic frame, a good sturdy frame, in yellow or black, in full depth Langstroth or medium size. It happens to be below 5.0 mm, almost 4.9 cellsize. And its cell walls are high enough to be very difficult for the bees to override. So – take your ordinary package bees or whatever bees and give them waxed PF100 (Full depth) or PF120 (Medium). They will follow the pattern and draw nice 4.9 (almost) combs. Anyway I havn’t heard of anyone who has failed yet. After a couple of broodcycles you can add wax foundation if you want to, or use foundationless frames if you want to try that. This beekeeper did that – – he used glued popsickle sticks as starters for the bees to draw comb.


You can use a mold to make your own foundation of 4.9, buy it –  – or make your own mold – – or buy a roller mill –

You can buy wax foundation from Dadant – – another good source is Biredskapsfabriken in Sweden with low residue wax –

If you live closer to Sweden than Mann Lake Ltd, you can buy their plastiv frames from here –

Another good reason for using plastic frames or foundationless is that you can be sure the wax is (almost) residue free. Chemical residues can be problem if it it’s more than just a little. One of parameters behind the complex that kills our bees.