Complete Greenie - Questions About Foundation & Hive Body Size
Why do you prefer a plastic foundation? I have read that the bees don't take to it easily.
Also, you said you use only medium boxes. Is that enough honey for the bees to make it through the winter (we have long winters) or do you have to supplement their feed?
I prefer plastic foundation because it's so much easier to work with than pure beeswax foundation. It's also more durable and longer lasting, and it's much easier to get nice straight combs.
Plastic foundation (like Plasticell or an equivalent) can be used for years and years and years. If you have comb that is bad, or that you want to replace because it's old, you can just scrape the old comb off the plastic foundation, paint some melted beeswax on it, and it's good to go.
My experience has been that when conditions are good for comb building (a strong honey flow or the bees are being fed steadily with sugar syrup), and the bees need more comb space, they'll draw out plastic foundation as well as any other. When conditions are poor, they won't do a good job of drawing out comb on any type of foundation.
Pure beeswax foundation, though, will be prone to warp when it sits on the hive for long periods without the bees drawing it out, especially during periods of hot weather. But plastic-based foundation can sit on the hive indefinitely, and still be straight and true when the bees are ready for it.
Ask other beekeepers, and I'm sure you'll get different opinions. This is mine :)
Note: By plastic-based foundation I'm referring to foundation where the plastic is formed into the shape of the cells. There are also 'plastic based' foundations where the plastic is just a smooth sheet added for strength, and the honeycomb form is only on the beeswax applied to the plastic sheet. I don't care for that type of foundation at all.
My use of only medium depth hive bodies is just a matter of personal preference. You could use all deeps (some beekeepers do) or all shallows (some beekeepers do) or the more traditional combo of deeps and shallows (most beekeepers do).
I just prefer the uniformity of equipment, and find the medium depth to be a nice compromise between deeps and shallows. And my back's not quite as durable as it used to be (a deep hive body completely full of honey is H-E-A-V-Y!).
The size of the boxes you're using has no impact upon the amount of honey you leave to the bees for the winter. If it's traditional in your area to winter with 2 deeps, I'd use 4 mediums - it's about the same. If a deep and a shallow is traditional (which wouldn't be enough for most areas), I'd use 3 mediums.
I ALWAYS leave enough honey for the bees - assuming, of course, that conditions allowed them to produce enough honey. If there's not enough honey to go around, and somebody has to do without during the winter (me or the bees), I'm the one that goes without.
I never take honey that will leave the bees short - at least not intentionally.