Plastic Foundation Is Banned From My Apiary

Plastic Foundation Is Banned From My Apiary

It’s been a while since I have written about my “mean” hive Dandelion. My last update speaks for itself – “ERRRR!” 10 Bee Stings, Wacky Comb And A Mean HiveDespite their nasty attitude, I decided not to requeen and instead give this queen another chance.  After all, she was a great laying queen with a beautiful brood pattern and was ramping the population of this hive up fast.  Since this hive originated from a package, most of the package bees should already be dead after 6 weeks, but there could always be a few lingering behind. Perhaps they were the mean ones.  This thinking for the most part turned out to be true.  But I made another change to this hive that I had been meaning to make for a while.  I ditched the plastic foundation. Here’s the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.

After inspecting them on June 10th, I found more wacky comb on four frames. The bees were just not drawing these frames correctly at all. The wonky comb was again perpendicular to the frame and connected the two adjacent frames together. This time the bees had filled it with drone larvae.  Despite the larvae, this comb still had to go. Check out the bee carnage below.

One of four frames which were drawn with wacky comb.

You can see the larvae were opened up when I pulled the frame out of the hive.  The bees were not happy about this (that coupled with their aggressive attitude is why I am wearing gloves.)

The comb, which attached two frames together, was opened up when the frames were pulled out of the hive.

Here I am removing the final piece of wacky comb on this frame.  I had 3 more like this to fix.

Removing the last piece of wacky comb with my hive tool.

The bees were rushing to cover the exposed brood. I felt really horrible about killing them. If I had brought some foundationless frames with me to the out yard I would have put this brood in a frame for the bees to tend to. Note to self: add foundationless frames and rubber bands to your out yard kit.

Bees rushing in to cover the exposed brood.

After I finished cutting the comb, I put the hive back together.  The very next day I came back with several wired wax frames.  I removed the plastic foundation frames that were drawn incorrectly and replaced them with the wired wax frames.  Then I left the hive alone for a little over a week.

When I went back to check on them on June 20th, the bees had drawn all the wired wax frames out correctly and completely.  No more wacky comb for them!  At this point I added the second deep with 10 frames of wired wax foundation.

Before I added the second deep. Look at all the bees!

Two days later (June 22nd), I went back for a quick peak.  I wanted to see if they were up to their old tricks or if they were drawing the new comb correctly.  My intention was to pull only one frame and peak down into the hive. I was absolutely stunned by what I saw.  In two days time this hive had completely drawn out all 10 frames of wired wax foundation!  It took them 68 days (from April 14th until June 20th) to draw 6 frames of plastic foundation and 4 frames of wired wax (my other package hives on wired wax or foundationless frames had completed their first super almost 5 weeks prior).  Dandelion took 68 days for the first box on plastic foundation, yet only 2 days to draw 10 frames of wired wax foundation!

One of the wax foundation frames. Isn’t it a beauty!

Another thing I noticed, for the first time this hive was not making the mean “ERRRRRR!” sound when I went near them. Could it be they were so annoyed by the plastic foundation that it made them stressed? While this is not enough evidence to say anything conclusive, I also experienced problems last year with plastic foundation that Crocus and it’s swarm were reluctant to draw.  So reluctant in fact they overwintered in 18 frames instead of 20.

Another bit of prompting came from several beekeepers I know who are biased toward wax foundation.  One of them is Ken Warchol, Bee Whisperer and Worcester County Bee Inspector, who did a study which I believe was for the USDA, where he tested plastic foundation vs wax foundation. After that study Ken said he hates plastic foundation. In fact he called it garbage. The bees can take all summer to draw it out and if they chew the wax off of it, they will never draw it out. He advocates using wax foundation only. The bees draw it out faster and do much better on it than the plastic. You can watch a video of Ken saying this in Mass Bee Field Day 2012.

So I have decided to permanently ban plastic foundation from my apiary.  What’s in circulation now will be removed over time and replaced with wired wax or foundationless frames.  No new hives will be started on plastic foundation and the plastic foundation I have left now is going in the trash (unless one of my readers wants to come pick it up.)

Full disclosure – I never wanted to use the plastic foundation in the first place, so I may be biased here.  I was first talked into trying it by a dealer for its ease of use (personally I’d rather wire frames than cut burr comb) and it’s impenetrability by wax moths (which by the way is not true. You can see why here).  Since I am always up for experiments and excited to not have to wire frames at the time, I said “sure” then later regretted that decision.   More was purchased mistakenly last year when I asked my husband to pick up some hive set ups for me from the local dealer (now that he is a beekeeper too he knows better).  I have friends who are perfectly happy using plastic foundation.  But for me if the dealer is sold out of wired wax, I’m not settling for plastic foundation again.  My bees will get foundationless frames instead.

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

  1. “ERRRR!” 10 Bee Stings, Wacky Comb And A Mean Hive
  2. Foundationless Frames And Wacky Comb Building
  3. Wax Moths Ate My Plastic Foundation
  4. Mass Bee Field Day 2012
  5. Drawing Wax And Building Wonky Comb – Dandelion Hive Check 4-27-12