One thing that may become obvious when i’m posting photos of supers is that I prefer Ideal depth frames which are far shallower than a standard Langstroth frame.
An example here:
There are several reasons why I prefer this depth of frame for honey supers, including the fact that they take less time for the bees to fully cap, the frames themselves are extremely easy to manipulate / carry when full of honey, they are simple to uncap in a single pass and most four frames extractors will take eight Ideal frames easily.
The other major benefit is the total weight of the super. When an Ideal super is full with honey it is far easier to lift/remove from the hive than a full depth super. Some have addressed the weight of the super by reducing the frame count to eight from ten, but this then sacrifices brood space to lighten the supers (as both become eight frames wide). To then counter the reduced brood space a second brood box is often added which results in managing brood across two stacked brood boxes.
Unfortunately, Using Ideal frames isn’t a perfect solution (as much as I hate to admit it). An often repeated mantra through old beekeeping literature goes along the lines of “one size in the apiary”, which is to say that mixing sizes of frames/boxes makes managing hives more difficult as an additional variable (frame/box size) has to be accounted for.
A practical example of mixed frame sizes causing an issue is the process of ‘cycling out’ old brood frames. If you have a full depth brood box and an Ideal super, you can’t easily ‘cycle out’ the brood frame by placing it in the super above the excluder because it physically won’t fit. One workaround for this is to ensure that two Ideal supers are placed above the excluder and the full depth frame can then hang down into the lower super. This unfortunately isn’t perfect as the bee space from the bottom of the full depth frame is incorrect so the bees will quickly build burr comb off the bottom (see diagram below of space below full depth frame).
To try and resolve this issue in my own apiary I decided to develop a deeper frame which would be the depth of two stacked Ideal frames. Although this doesn’t completely solve the “one size in the apiary” problem, it goes some way to solving the problem as the Ideal boxes can be used for the entire hive with the two lowest Ideal boxes used to house the deeper frames. I dubbed these deeper frames ‘Unreal’ frames, not because of anything specifically incredible about them, but because ‘Unreal’ sounded like ‘Ideal’… except bigger.
The following is an illustration of the Unreal frame concept. This CAD drawing shows an Unreal frame, two stacked Ideal frames (with standard bee space between top/bottom of each frame) and and standard full depth Langstroth frame on the end.
The basic idea with this frame was to standardise on (Ideal) box size in the apiary, provide an easy way to ‘cycle out’ brood frames (by using two Ideal supers) and to also increase the brood size without resorting to two boxes for brood.
The concept of increasing the brood space is often discussed in historical literature and one advocate for larger brood frames (among other things) was C.P. Dadant. In his 1920 publication ‘Dadant System Of Beekeeping’, Dadant discusses a frame of almost identical dimensions (3mm deeper) which is an adaptation of his standard Dadant frame depth to the Langstroth top bar length, this frame is referred to as the ‘Modified Dadant’ or the ‘Dadant-Blatt’ frame/hive.
The following diagram from page 44 of this publication shows the comparison of standard Full Depth Langstroth frame to the ‘Modified Dadant’ frame.
Encouraged by the fact that an extremely prominent historical beekeeper had succeeded with this approach before (and also concluding nothing was new in beekeeping), I assembled the end bars that I had cut last season when experimenting with different frame spacing (another area C.P Dadant focused on).
Laser cut Unreal end bar compared to Full Depth and Ideal end bars.
Unreal frame in two Ideal box configuration.
Comparison of Unreal frame to two Ideal frames in two Ideal box configuration showing identical total height (ie. top bar and bottom bars align).
Comparison of Unreal, Full Depth and Ideal frames in two Ideal box configuration (similar to CAD concept drawing above)
After dry fitting the frames to confirm dimensions, the next step was to assemble the frames and build a hive. As the frames were too large for both my wiring jigs, it took a little longer than standard Langstroth frames.
Ten frames assembled to make up the brood box.
Frame wired. Maintaining wire tension across the entire frame was a little more difficult (note the additional wire).
The next issue was finding foundation for the frame. The following shows a standard Full Depth foundation sheet in an Unreal frame not extending to the lowest wire.
Wanting to avoid as much potential drone comb in the brood box as possible, I opted for using two sheets of foundation placed vertically and cut to the correct height. With a bit of manipulation the sheets almost line up in the middle (will see what impact this has on the comb in future
The completed frames were then placed into two ideal boxes ready for a new colony.
With the number of swarm calls this season, it wasn’t too long until there was a call for a good sized swarm in a location that was easy to access with the assembled hive.
The swarm was fed sugar syrup via the top feeder in the hive and checked one week later. You can see a solid deposit of pollen below the excess stored sugar syrup. What’s encouraging is that the join in foundation has all but disappeared and the bees are rapidly drawing the full frame.
I will have more updates on the progress of the hive soon.