Recreating the Modified Dadant / Dadant-Blatt brood frame

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. :grinning:

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 :slight_smile: )

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.

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An inspection today was extremely promising. :astonished: A great example of the arc of honey/pollen over a huge amount of worker brood across the majority of frames.

Two of the centre frames:

The last remaining undrawn frame was shuffled in and based on the current pace should be drawn in no time.

This is awesome. You going to commercialize the RBK Unreals at all? I for one would be super keen to try them out here next year.

It wasn’t my original intention, I had 40 end bars laser cut (not the most economical method) to have enough for a brood box and a set to cycle out to try the theory.

Thicknessing of the end bars is an expensive part of the process which I need to address. The thickness has to be exact so the end bars interface correctly with the Alliance top/bottom bars.

I am planning to cut some other frames i’ve drawn up based on Georges de Layens’ work, so may get some more Unreal frames cut at the same time if they continue to show promise :smiley:

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Carried out another inspection today with a plan of adding the super. It was a little overcast in the afternoon so the photos are a little darker.

Looking down into the top of the brood box after opening. Nice distribution of bees across all frames and all frames now drawn.

Inspection of frames shows a large coverage of brood across remaining frames after the shuffle.

Showing frame with section of uncapped larvae (click to enlarge)

With the inspection complete, a queen excluder with top entrance was added.

New Ideal super with 10 frames of foundation was added.

With the entire hive now three Ideal boxes high.

Note: At this stage, no stickies have been added to the super to encourage the bees up through the excluder. If the crowding in the brood box isn’t enough to move them up by the next inspection, some stickies will be swapped in.

With the requirement for hive mats becoming increasingly obvious…

… a Mercer Mat was added for good measure. This hive mat design is described on the ACT Beekeepers website here (Mercer Mat).

I will be posting more specific details on the hive mat creation in an upcoming thread, but thought it would be worth mentioning now as part of this hives progress.

Photo showing gap at the edge (perimeter) of the mat.

Hole in centre of hive mat.

Another minor update on progress over the weekend. This hive is now getting to the point that the number of flying bees is steadily increasing so was a good time to re-inspect. The brood pattern was still dense (sorry no photos of brood frames) but as predicted there was little interest in the super above the excluder.

The question of why the bees won't move into the super is very common and their reluctance is often blamed on the queen excluder. I have found that giving the bees some incentive/purpose to move up is generally all that is necessary to improve this situation.

One method is to move or ‘cycle’ frames from the brood nest up above the super, being careful to leave the queen below. This encourages nurse bees up into the super to care for the brood. When using this method, some care must be taken to ensure the brood in the frame(s) moved above the excluder don’t chill. You will also at some point need to release any drones that hatch above the excluder as they will not be able to pass back down unless you have an additional entrance above the excluder.

Another method often suggested by C.C Miller for section supers (comb honey) is to use ‘bait supers’ or ‘bait comb’ to encourage the bees up. When using traditional frames for this process, combs provided can be ‘stickies’ (comb that has had honey and been extracted) or partially capped honey frames stored from a previous season or frames from another super. I have used this method in previous seasons with success and chose to use it again as I also had a super overflowing that needed some additional space created.

I removed three of the frames from the untouched super and transferred them into spare box. Note that the spare box is WSP depth to create additional space under the transported frames when placed on a flat surface.

Three partially capped frames were removed from the centre of the donor super.
Showing the frames adjacent to the three removed frames, also almost completely capped.

The remaining frames were then spaced to interleave the three frames with foundation

The three removed frames were then transported back added back to the Modified Dadant / Unreal hive super

Interleaved in the same way as the donor super

As a final precaution, the top entrance was blocked to ensure the honey frames aren’t exposed before the bees move up into the super.

In case there was any doubt about the efficacy of the ‘bait super’ or ‘bait comb’ method of encouraging bees up in to the super, here are some photos taken six days after the photo of the empty super above.

No bees were ever moved/placed above the queen excluder, only the partially capped donor frames with no bees.

Bees crowding in the super, between frames, under hive mat

Drawn frame that was foundation less than a week ago (inserted between bait frames)

Bees in the super between frames and on the face of one of the frames from the donor hive

Of the 10 frames, the three donor frames are now almost fully capped, and four of the other frames (that neighboured the donor frames) are now almost fully drawn. Three outer frames remain partially drawn or foundation.

Another seven days have passed, and the drawn frames are now starting to be capped.

Cells ‘closing in’ in the top quarter of the frame.

A frame at the centre of the hive that was between two donor/bait frames.

This is the last frame in the super to be fully drawn. It has now been moved in from the edge of the super.

Some of the frames in the super were shuffled/rotated to move fully capped frames out to the sides (frame at bottom of photo specifically).

The top entrance still hasn’t been re-opened, but a makeshift landing/alighting board was added to keep the grass down and streamline the landings. The second lower entrance has also now been opened (still closed in the below photo)

With three days interrupted by rain over the last week there wasn’t an expectation of a completely full super when inspecting today… then the first frame pulled looked like this.

This frame had the most uncapped cells in the super.

There was only a small amount of burr comb built down from the bottom of the frames to the excluder, so the bees hadn’t started backfilling all remaining space just yet.

An additional Ideal super was assembled with half sheets of foundation and Hoffman end bars.

As the new frames to be added are foundation (not stickies) the same ‘bait frame’ approach was taken, with four of the frames in the existing super replaced with foundation frames (photo of existing super).

These four frames were then moved up into the new super that was added on top (photo of new super)

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Another week of great honey flow and the bait frames moved up into the top super have done their job (with a little help from some flowering gums), with all foundation fully drawn. Frame ‘3’ in the images below is from the outside edge of the top super.

There has also been a huge increase in propolis in the last week which can be seen along the top of the frames. This is also visible on/through the hive mat… which I unfortunately didn’t take a shot of this week.

It's time to admit one of the minor down sides of using Ideal frames.. if you have multiple hives and there is a honey flow on.. you need a constant supply! :sweat_smile:

Hopefully there is enough space in the super to make it through another week :smiley:
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Sorry there hasn’t been an update, last weekend was spent extracting :grin:

With the top super completely full it was time to extract rather than add another super. The frames were extracted using an 8 Ideal frame extractor from Lega Italy, so 16 Ideal frames were removed from the supers (two supers with 20 frames total at this stage).

Here is a sample of the capped frames that were pulled from the supers

There were three frames of the 20 that were not fully capped, this is an example of a partially capped frame:

The partially capped frames were consolidated into the lower super and back filled with six new frames with foundation (marked with 201712 in the below photo).

An idler wheel was used instead of a hot knife to uncap as the experience has been a lot less mess and it removed the need to catch/drain cappings… the idler wheel is also less likely to burn :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

After being rolled thoroughly, the perforations in the caps are obvious. The idler wheel is the same width as an ideal frame, so rolling is straightforward.

If the idler wheel starts to build up cappings, rolling can start to damage the comb in the frames. Care should be taken to remove wax build up from the wheel regularly (about every 7-8 Ideal frames). In the below photo, the buildup on the roller has ripped the cappings off the comb at the top of the frame.

Once the comb was uncapped/perforated, eight frames were placed in the extractor.

When spinning frames in a tangential extractor it pays to use the following process

  • Initial rotation at half speed (side one)
  • Flip frames
  • Rotation at full speed (side two)
  • Flip frames
  • Final rotation at full speed (side one)

If the initial rotation is carried out at full speed the weight of the full cells of honey on the ‘back’ of the frame can start pushing the comb out of the frame (off the wire) towards the outside of the extractor.

The frames after the above extraction process:

Using an idler wheel _will_ result in more wax through the initially extracted honey. This wax doesn't make it into the final product, but can slow down the filtering process. If there are issues with filters clogging, filter through a coarse filter to reduce the amount of wax debris building up in the fine filter.
10 of the frames were returned to the hive in a super, and the remaining six of the 16 extracted were frozen for reuse later
The honey was gravity strained through a single fine filter for approximately 24 hours to remove the wax debris.
The finished product... more than 16kg of honey:

An update for the 10 stickies that were placed back on top of the hive immediately after extraction (single super full).

A week later you can see that all the ripped cappings from the idler wheel and signs of extraction have been repaired and the bees are rapidly refilling the frames.

Many of the cells are close to full with areas of the frames already filled and re-capped

Two weeks later and the frames are closing up rapidly

Three weeks later and the frames are looking almost ready to extract again with only a few frames not fully capped

This is a well documented description of the unreal Hoffman frame. Also a good example of honey flow management and what I am to expect next season with my hives.

I have a lot of work to do to prepare for next years spring.

Note I haven’t tasted my own honey yet as I have been building my hive up.

I had a couple of people mention at the local meeting that they are following this thread, so apologies for running late with an update.

Two weeks ago I took another 16 frames out for extraction and backfilled with stickies. Instead of returning one super to the hive, I placed two supers of stickies/foundation back.

The hive is now five Ideal boxes high total. The bottom two boxes hold the ‘Unreal’ depth frames, and there are now three Ideal depth supers on top, above the excluder.

Opening the hive over the weekend just gone shows the bees aren’t having too much trouble filling the increased number of frames

Harvesting again from this hive. With more than 32kg’s already taken from the hive I have taken another 18 frames to extract over this weekend.

I have had some follow up questions about the process to remove the frames for extraction which I haven’t detailed previously, so I thought I would document my basic process.

After smoking/opening the hive lid, I first look down between the top bars of the frames in the super to see if the comb is fully capped. A quick glance will generally give you an indication of the progress of the frames. When looking at the top of the frames you can determine if they are fully capped and can avoid disturbing/removing the frames unnecessarily if they aren’t ready.

In the case of the Unreal hive for this extraction, there were no fully capped frames in the top super, but the bees were working in the super. Rather than pull the frames separately, I removed the complete super and placed it on the overturned lid (which provides space under the super on the ground). You can see this super at the right of the below photos.

Looking at the second super down I could see that the majority of the frames were capped by looking between the top bars. I removed each of these frames one by one and after confirming that the removed frame was fully capped, brushed the bees off and moved the frame to the box to be extracted.

After determining all frames in this super were capped, the end result of removing frames was an empty super sitting on the hive.

I then removed the empty super and placed it to the side.

After cleaning up the burr comb on the top bars, I repeated the process and worked through the frames in the next super down, finding that eight of the frames in this super were ready for extraction. These eight frames were placed in the box for extraction and the super was then removed (with two remaining frames) to reveal the excluder.

As this point some housekeeping was undertaken to clean up the burr comb on the excluder.

With the burr comb on the excluder removed, the 12 frames that weren’t ready for extraction were interleaved with stickies from the freezer (ie. one sticky, one existing frame) to make up two supers (20 frames total). So the net result of the process was the following.

  1. 18 fully capped frames were removed for extraction
  2. 12 not completely capped frames were retained as they were not ready for extraction
  3. Eight stickies were used to bring the 12 remaining frames up to two full supers (20 frames)
  4. The hive was reduced from three supers to two until the extraction is completed

Sorry I didn’t have more photos of this part of the process, taking photos while removing frames can slow the process and increase the chance of robbing. :slightly_smiling_face:

I’ve just had a chance to read this post. It’s an excellent resource with the logical and step-by-step description added with photos.
Thanks so much for this education tool.

Spring is here again, so I thought I would detail the first inspection of the season to show how the hive has changed over the last 11 months.

Going into winter I left the 12 partially capped ideal frames and 8 stickies in the supers and they were partially filled again before the season was out. As an additional experiment, I left the queen excluder on this hive, with the top entrance remaining closed.

On Saturday the weather was finally warm enough (although a little windy) to carry out the first inspection of the season. This inspection was to confirm that the queen had made it out through winter, and that the colony has maintained numbers and is starting to build up with the nectar/pollen starting to come in.

Removing the lid and hive mat revealed a strong number of bees in the centre of the top super. The hive mat had done its job and kept the burr/bridge to a minimum.

Down between the bars you can see bees clustered. (a little dark sorry)

The top super was still largely full, but not capped. The lower super was lighter, probably around 25% full of honey. Working down through the supers (with both supers removed), the number of bees increases as you approach the brood box (a good sign). Once again there is a minimal amount of burr comb build up on the excluder.

Removing the queen excluder revealed a ‘waffle’ like effect caused by the bees building comb in the small gap between the top bars and the excluder.

This was quickly and easily cleaned up with the hive tool.

Removing brood frames revealed some great results, with a huge amount of uncapped, capped and recently hatched worker brood. The drone brood is still kept to an absolute minimum (top and bottom edges) due to the full width foundation that was used to begin the frames.

An example of some of the frames:

Full coverage of worker brood, with some pollen/bee bread backfilling the honey arc above the brood that was depleted over winter. Impressively, newer capped brood (lighter yellow) is at the top left of frame in the space that was originally filled with honey. Very limited drone comb at the top of the frame (around 20 cells) and the bottom edge/right corner of the frame.

Full frame of bees (bees were shaken off before photo). Large amount of older worker comb (which is now darkened) with a very small amount of drone comb across the top of the frame, and the centre bottom. Although the photo doesn’t show it, this frame was filled with eggs and uncapped brood.

A frame that may raise some concern with new beekeepers due to its ‘shotgun’ pattern through the brood. In this case, all uncapped sections through the brood are either pollen or uncapped brood. Once again, the lighter yellow capped brood now replaces the honey arc that was there leading into winter. A large concentration of bee bead at the top/centre of frame. The uncapped drone grubs at the top of the frame are due to the drone comb bridging between frames and being damaged when the frames were manipulated (separated). A very limited amount of drone comb at the left and bottom of the frame.

A close up of the above frame showing the concentration of beed bread/pollen and uncapped brood in the spaces between capped cells. To the observant beekeepers, the perforated cap is where a ropiness/AFB test was carried out (with no issues).

In summary, the brood looked extremely strong with huge number ready to hatch. The primary concerns requiring action were that it appeared the queen had ‘laid out’ the entire 10 frame brood box (of deeper Unreal frames!), so even with the increase in brood space… and solid brood frames… space may be an issue. The only other concern was the build up of pollen/bee bread in the brood chamber which is common leading in to Spring. Although it’s expected in brood frames, it can quickly turn as returning bees backfill the brood frames with pollen before the queen lays, resulting in ‘pollen locked/bound’ frames.

With the pending boom in bee numbers I decided to add back two supers to give the new additions to the colony some space to move. Although not directly alleviating the issue with brood space, it does provide space for bees to move up to avoid congesting the brood box. To encourage pollen to be placed outside the brood box, I opened the top entry for the first time. Although this is just a theory (based on my experience), having pollen placed in the super is a better short term issue than further congesting brood space.

After the last inspection above I also added two supers back on to take advantage or the rapid build up that looks imminent from the brood frames.

I added eight new frames that were foundation, and ‘checkered’ them with 12 frames (extracted stickies) that were frozen over winter to make up two full boxes of ideal frames.

I only added eight new frames as I prefer to only add foundation frames between existing fully drawn frames to ensure that they are drawn straight. I also avoid adding the new frames at each end of the box as I have found the frames added at the edge will need rotation in future as the outside edge is rarely drawn completely.

The two new supers were ‘under-supered’, so installed under the existing supers above the excluder. The hive as it stands now going in to the season:

From top to bottom:

  • Mercer mat / lid
  • Overwintered super (nearly completely full/capped)
  • Overwintered super (~30% full/capped)
  • New super with 6 stickies + 4 foundation frames
  • New super with 6 stickies + 4 foundation frames
  • Queen excluder with top entrance open
  • 2 x Ideal boxes = unreal brood frames

Because the last update was a week late, you can see the progress on these frames straight away (overnight success).

The eight new foundation frames are being drawn consistently and are all about 50% drawn. Note the colour difference with the freshly drawn comb compared to the ‘repaired’ stickies.

The stickies were cleaned up rapidly with all of the cappings removed by the bees, ready to be used again

The stickies in the lower of the two added supers were already being back filled with nectar (across the top and to the left side in the below photo) which is great to see so early in the season :grinning:

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