Following a recent enquiry about frame spacing and also in view of our enforced confinement due to Covid-19, it occurred to me that others may find my response of interest. Given that beekeepers’ are a very individualistic bunch, I have no doubt that some of you will have your own thoughts on the subject and I would welcome any positive contributions to the debate!
Please feel free to engage therefore, and if you also have any other subjects you have an opinion on and would like to write a short article for inclusion, please let me know!
For what it’s worth, this is my take on the subject of frames and frame spacing, and for the sake of simplicity, I have limited my views to SN1, SN4 and Manley frames.
There are essentially two situations when you use super frames:
- Above a brood box, as part of the brood chamber to create a ‘brood and a half’ configuration in order to give the queen more room to lay. In that situation, the answer is quite simple. You would choose a super with runners (rather than castellations) and have either 11 x SN4 (Hoffman frames) which are self-spacing, plus a dummy board (in the same way as the main brood box which uses DN4 (Hoffman)frames, plus a dummy board). Or 11 x SN1 frames, with plastic end spacers, plus a dummy board.
- In a super for honey production. Things here, can get a little more complicated depending on what you want to achieve. Essentially, if you are starting with foundation, then you may want to use 11 frames initially, to get the bees to draw out the foundation, gradually increasing the gaps to 9 frames in order to get the ideal depth of comb. If you try and start with 9 frames of foundation, it will be drawn out unevenly and difficult to uncap. So, why not use 11 frames then, I hear you say! Well, 11 frames of comb can be awkward to uncap, because the comb is narrow and more or less level with the wooden frame. Some would say it is also wasteful, as 9 frames would have wider comb with more honey carrying capacity and you are of course saving on 2 frames per super. On the downside, I find in practice that trying to get the spacing from 11 to 9 frames when drawing out, is time consuming and depending on your inspection timing, not guaranteed. There is however a compromise, which I personally prefer.
- In supers, use either self-spacing Manley frames; or SN1 frames with either 10 frame castellated spacers, or a mixture of small and large plastic end spacers, on runners. The latter is a little fiddly and sticky in practice, so I prefer to use 10 frame castellated spacers in dedicated honey supers. With Manley frames ,you are essentially doing the same thing, as they are self-spacing 10 frames per super and have wide side bars for their full length, as they were designed for transportation during the season to keep them from rattling about. They are more expensive than SN1 frames however and as I use SN1s in ‘brood and a half’ brood box configurations, I prefer to stick to that. Basically, I use DN4 frames for all the deep brood boxes and SN1 frames for all the super boxes, whether as part of the brood box or as a honey gathering super. This gives me flexibility and also means I am standardising my equipment which makes life a lot simpler, especially if you have more than a couple of hives. I have also found that if I alternate a drawn frame of comb with a frame of foundation in a 10 frame super, it will draw out the foundation perfectly well and the depth of the comb makes uncapping easy.
As I said, that is my personal take on the subject and all I can tell you is that it is simple, works for me and the bees don’t seem to mind!
In conclusion, I now use the following as my basic approach to frames and spacing.
- 11 x DN4 (Hoffman) self-spacing frames on runners for the main brood box, plus a dummy board
- 11 x SN1 frames on runners in super boxes (plus a super dummy board if you have one), for ‘Brood and a half’ configurations, with small plastic end spacers
- 10 x SN1 frames on 10 frame castellated spacers, for your dedicated honey supers
A useful tip just came in from Alan Johnson……..
“When I use a Maisemore poly nuc, I put large frame spacers on the outside frames. The frames then sit snugly and the bees use the outside faces of the frames, useful when room is getting a little tight.”