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Plastic Vs. Wood Beekeeping Frames: What Is Best?

When you’ve been a beekeeper for a while, you tend to develop and learn your preferences. But when you’re a new beekeeper, you might not know which materials might be the best to start with. Are you pondering between plastic and wooden beekeeping frames?

You have two options when choosing the material for your beehive’s frame: plastic and wood. Wooden frames make a natural and traditional frame for your bees, and plastic is an innovation. There is no better one, but it is important and up to you to make an educated choice as the beekeeper.

Choosing the frames for your hives is only one of the many decisions you will have to make when you buy your first hive or if you are looking to upgrade your existing ones. Stay reading for the best and foremost information when choosing beehive frames, starting at the basics.

Why You Should Replace Your Beekeeping Frames

You might be wondering whether plastic or wooden beehive frames are best because you have lost your honey bee colony each year. This is extremely common, and one solution could be as simple as changing your frames and foundation, as your beehive frames are the key to having a healthy hive.

There are two categories for your frames and foundation in your hives. Firstly, you get your year-round frames and foundation that can be found in the brood box (deep super) and then the medium super used for the winter feeding of your colony. In the colder parts of the world, there may be a deep super or two medium supers that will provide and feed the colony with food during the cold and long winter months.

Secondly, honey supers can come in all three sizes (deep, medium, and shallow.) These specific frames are used for no more than four months out of the year and are then stored in a dry room until the next year.

When it comes to your year-round frames and foundation, the main thing is that these materials see a lot of traffic during your average season. This is because the worker bees are storing nectar and pollen inside of these foundation cells. The bees will also deposit propolis around the frame.

It is almost unnecessary to add that when your honey bees forage for nectar and pollen, they will encounter traces of poisonous man-made chemicals. The good news is that these traces will not kill or harm the foraging honey bee as they transport the honey or pollen back to the hive.

As time passes, these traces of chemicals are presented on the comb, and after at least five years, the chemical traces become a toxic environment inside the hives.

When You Should Replace Your Beekeeping Frames

A good rule to live by is to begin replacing your frames and foundation at year four and only replace half of the frames. It is a good idea to checkerboard your frames. The term checkerboard means to replace every other frame. By checkerboarding, your colony will not be stressed out when they notice that their frames have no wax left.

It is essential to know that it is suggested that you feed your bees a 1:1 sugar water ratio when exchanging out the frames and foundation. The sugar water ratio will assist your colony in making more wax to comb out the new frames.

Once the first round of foundation and frames has been combed out, you can return to your hive and replace the remaining old frames and foundation. Then, start the process with sugar water all over again.

Choosing The Type Of Material For Your Beehive Frames

Although some beekeepers use a mix of both plastic and wooden beehive frames, and some are slowly transitioning to plastic, most experienced beekeepers prefer one or the other. There are some important factors that should be considered before you settle on a specific type of material.

It will benefit you as a beekeeper if the frame is easy to work with. An erroneously measured frame will let your bees build the honeycomb where it shouldn’t be joined. Also, it is only logical that you will want your beehive frame to last a long time. Inferior or unfit material will break or crack when you clean your hive, and the repair or replacement can be expensive.

It is important to note that you will have to clean your beehive at regular intervals, and the frame you pick should be easy to clean. Some frames may require special tools to scrape away propolis, while other frames may only require boiling or hosing with water.

Lastly, you will need to bear in mind that the inserted frames will need to be lifted regularly, so they should be light enough to handle yet sturdy enough to withstand being moved around.

Advantages Of Wooden Beehive Frames

  • Wood is natural and bee-friendly. Your bees will adjust in wooden frames easily. Sustainably sourced woods are readily available and are not only eco-friendly but are also renewable. It is important to remember that it is a natural and renewable resource as long as the wood is sustainably produced!
  • Wooden beehive frames are easy to repair when it gets damaged. If you use wooden beehive frames and it breaks, you can reuse the broken wood pieces to make another beehive frame.
  • Wooden beehive frames are versatile and can be used with both wax and plastic foundations. Plastic foundation fits into the grooves, which are cut on the inner surface of the frame to stay in place. On the other hand, Wax foundation will require a bit more crafting and will need to be embedded in the wax foundation sheet after you have wired it.
  • Wood to make beehives can be found easily. Almost any type of wood will work, as it is a sturdy material.
  • You can make your own wooden frames. Wooden frames can be purchased from beekeeping suppliers, but you can save money by making them yourself!
  • Zero chance of contamination. While several studies show this doesn’t happen, some beekeepers still tend to be concerned about the risk of plastic leaching into their honey products- when used with wax foundation; there is little to no risk of the frame contaminating your honey.
  • Wooden frames are easy to clean. You can simply scrape them clean and reuse them.
  • When making the smart choice of using wooden beekeeping frames, you can experiment with both foundation and foundationless beekeeping.

Disadvantages Of Wooden Beehive Frames

  • If the wood you decide to use is weak, it will split easily when you are making the frame. This will cost you both money and time.
  • If the wood you use is dense, your beehive may be too heavy to carry. Other types of wood might be too hard for staples and nails to go in when making the frames. Also, lifting a super will ten wooden frames, each filled with honey, can be nearly impossible!
  • Wooden frames can be inconsistent. Although it is handy to make your own wooden frames, you can also end up with a less consistent result. Homemade frames may be harder to slot into your hive and pull out for inspections.
  • Some wooden frames may require assembly. Several wooden beehive frames need to be assembled before usage, and most need to be strung with sire to strengthen the comb. Unless you buy the frames already strung, this can be a tricky and time-consuming process.
  • Not as tough. While wooden frames will last you for a while, the wood will eventually rot because of weather circumstances, and your frames will rot and warp in the middle, under the weight of the honeycomb. Rotting frames in your hive can cause a mess and be time-consuming and expensive to change every couple of years continually.
  • Consider the overall price of your wooden beehive frames. Although wooden frames are usually cheaper in kit set form, you need to consider the time you will need to assemble them, as well as the cost of the foundation sheet. This generally means that they are the more expensive option over plastic frames, especially if you buy them pre-waxed.

 Advantages Of Plastic Beehive Frames

  • Plastic beehive frames are available in different colors. Different colors can come in handy when you are an organized beekeeper. White frames are great for honey, while black is perfect for brood chambers and will make it easier for you to identify eggs.
  • Plastic beehive frames are pre-coated with wax, which will help your bees to accept them quickly. Several beekeepers even add an extra layer of wax to ensure that the foundation is completely covered with wax.
  • Plastic frames are much more durable when compared to wooden beehive frames. Because plastic can not split or rot, it can last for many years if you look after them properly. Unlike wooden frames, they don’t need to be repaired or replaced as frequently.
  • Plastic frames are much better for parasite and pest control. Insects and larvae are unable to get through the plastic frames, which ultimately keeps them from spreading. These insects can burrow through beeswax and wood but can’t make it through the plastic. This means, if an invasion does occur, you will have more time to detect and treat before it spreads throughout your whole hive!
  • Plastic frames come pre-assembled. Mostly, plastic frames come fully assembled, with a built-in molded plastic foundation. Some even come sprayed with wax, thus encouraging the bees to build on the plastic. They are ready to use fresh out of the box!
  • Plastic frames are light and manageable. Plastic frames tend to be much lighter and easier to manage than wooden beehive frames. They are mass-produced to a standard size, so they will always fit into your hive box perfectly!
  • Plastic frames can be the cheaper option. As already mentioned as one of the advantages, plastic frames do not require assembly and can be purchased with a light coating of beeswax. This can make them a much lower cost option versus buying or making kit set frames or buying wooden frames with a foundation sheet.

Disadvantages Of Plastic Beehive Frames

  • You will need a foundation to use plastic frames. Bees don’t make comb on plastic frames that don’t have a foundation.
  • Plastic is not organic and will not be suitable for organic styles of beekeeping.
  • Plastic frames are unrepairable. Once they break, you will not be able to fix them. This isn’t a factor to worry too much about, though, as plastic beehive frames are very durable and will not break easily!
  • Plastic beekeeping frames are non-traditional materials. Plastic frames can sometimes take a little more time for your bees to get used to, and they will usually need some encouragement to build on the foundation. Purchasing pre-waxed or coating new plastic frames with a thin layer of wax will greatly improve uptake in your hive!
  • Consider the environment. Due to wax and propolis contamination of the plastic, recycling your beehive frames is not possible yer. However, as mentioned, plastic is extremely durable, and it is not uncommon for frames to last more than ten years. When cleaned of old comb, plastic frames can often be reused without the need for disposal, which greatly increases their service life and value for money!

Why Clean Your Beehive Frames?

Every beekeeper should know that good hygiene is a key factor in beekeeping. In your beehive, the frames are one of the most important items that should be cleaned. Both experienced and beginner beekeepers should know exactly how to clean their beehive frames.

By knowing how to clean your frames correctly, you can reuse the frames in your beehives with little to no risk of spreading pests and diseases. If you do not clean your frames correctly, it would be best to destroy them using fire. These are usually the frames that have highly contagious diseases of bee colonies, such as foulbrood.

It is also essential to clean your beehive frames when deciding to move them between your honeybee colonies. Some of your colonies may appear healthy at first glance but may, in fact, harbor disease-causing organisms that could affect a weaker colony.

You should never put off cleaning your beehive frames for any reason, especially if you plan to use them in one of your other colonies. It is best to schedule and carry out your beehive frame cleaning as soon as possible after harvesting honey.

This will give your frames adequate time to dry before the next use. Also, you will be able to repair any damaged frames or replace those that are unable to be reused, all this done in time before the honey flow season.

Did you know that you can actually clean your beehive frames in any season of the year? It is, however, easier and smarter to clean your frames in winter. It would be beneficial to clean out your frames in winter mornings when your bees are not flying. You can clean your frames at any selected and comfortable location, such as your backyard or garden shed. Cleaning often involves the use of heat and chemicals. This will help to remove all the wax from your frames. It will also kill any pests, parasites, and micro-organisms in their various life stages.

How To Clean Wooden Beehive Frames

Wooden beehive frames are the most used by beekeepers. They can be used repeatedly and withstand harsh treatment during the cleaning and drying process. Wooden beehive frames are generally easily cleaned by boiling them in hot water. You could even add some chemicals to your water to achieve specific cleaning objectives that you may be aiming at.

Cut out any comb containing honey after removing your wooden frames from your selected beehive to harvest honey. If there is honey on the frames, you may give it to the bees. Once this is done, you can then start the cleaning process of your frames:

Step-By-Step Instructions:

  1. Cleaning your wooden beehive frames efficiently starts with scraping off propolis. You can do this by using a hive tool. Pay more attention to the joints while at the same time taking care not to pry the joints loose.
  • Some beekeepers prefer to remove the wire from the frames before cleaning. This is, however, entirely up to you. Wired frames keep their shape even with cleaning in hot water. Additionally, slackened frame wires can easily be tightened once the frames are dry.
  • Dip the wooden beehive frames into hot boiling water for about two minutes. This will help to remove the beeswax and will kill most disease-causing organisms. If your boiler is not big enough, you can boil one half of the frame, turn it, and then boil the second half. Some large beekeeping operations have huge boilers that can take several frames at once. You may also add washing soda to the water in which you are boiling your bee frames. It will soften the water and will give you a higher quality wax.
  • Once your wooden beehive frames gas been in the boiler for two minutes, you may lift them out and shake all the excess wax and water back into your boiler. It would help if you then placed the frame somewhere where it will be able to dry out quickly.
  • Wooden frames do not generally get distorted after this treatment and are highly beneficial!

How To Clean Plastic Beehive Frames

Plastic beehive frames are durable and can be used for long periods. They have fewer maintenance requirements when compared to wooden frames. Beekeepers using plastic frames should know how to clean them in order to get the best life and performance. The cleaning is done periodically to remove excess wax and propolis and ensure the best possible hive hygiene.

By cleaning your plastic frames, you will ultimately provide your colony with better chances of survival. It also allows you to harvest beeswax. Cleaning plastic beehive frames is done in three major ways:

Method 1: A Warm Place With Wax Moths

Step-By Step-Instructions:

1.      The first common method beekeepers use to clean their plastic frames is simply putting them in a warm place. You can put the frames in a box and let wax moths eat at the frames from spring to autumn.

The moths will not damage the frames, but they will eat most of the wax. This, however, takes time, so you will need to have purchased some extra frames to use during this period.

2.      After the wax moths have eaten the wax from the frames, you can remove the sticky webbing they leave behind on the plastic beehive frames.

3.      Wash your frames with water. You could even add a small amount of caustic soda or washing soda to the water you are using.

4.      Leaving your plastic beehive frames out in a warm place for a while will also help remove some wax from the frames. The wax will get soft due to the heat and will melt off the frames.

5.      You may collect the wax if you prefer. Once the wax has melted from the plastic frames, your frames are ready to be reused!

When using this method to clean your plastic beehive frames, it is very important to watch their temperature. If the temperatures rise to significantly high levels, your plastic frames may warp and lose their shape.

Method 2: Water Blasting

Step By Step Instructions:

1.      Place your plastic beehive frames outside, and blast them with water at high pressure for a few minutes on each side.

2.      Let them dry in the sun

Water blasting is the second most popular method to clean your plastic beehive frames. It is extremely effective in cleaning and will clean your frames without regard to the temperature of the water used.

Both warm and cold water will do the trick, but you should never use boiling hot water, as it will melt the plastic.

Method 3: Freezing

Step By Step Instructions:

1.      Leave your plastic beehive frames out during the winter in the cold, or you can place them in a freezer if you have one big enough.

2.      Check them regularly to make sure that your frames are not touching each other, as they will freeze together.

3.      Defrost your frames.

4.      After the frames have defrosted, you may then wash them with water with a small amount of caustic soda or washing soda.

Freezing plastic beehive frames is a method of cleaning that more beekeepers should explore. Cold frozen wax tends to flake off plastic. It will fall off easily since the chemical makeup of plastic and wax does not allow for the formation of strong bonds.

Conclusion

As you can see, it is as important to choose your type of beehive frames as it is to clean them, change them, and know why. During a general study, researchers found that beekeepers with several hives find plastic frames to be the better long-term investment as the upkeep and replacement costs are greatly reduced.

The choice between plastic and wooden beehive frames can be tough to make without adequate information. As you can see, both plastic and wooden frames have their advantages and disadvantages, and at the end of the day, you have the choice to pick the material you think will best suit your needs. And remember, you can always change your mind!

Before making your final choice for beehive frame material, it would be best to ask other beekeepers near you! Their advice will be useful in figuring out what frames will work best in your locality. Being in a beekeeping club will also help you get easy access to beekeepers close to you and their many years’ worth of beekeeping advice!

Jaco Stander

My name is Jaco Stander. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa. I’m a registered beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development in South Africa. Registration number WC808. I live on a small holding where I keep my 16 beehives. Taking care of bees is a very rewarding feeling, contributing to keep our bee colonies growing and thriving, and as a bonus, enjoying that sweet pure raw honey!

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