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

 

Author: Anita Deeley

Anita Deeley is a biologist who maintains 80 honey bee hives. She is the beekeeper, writer, owner and creator of BeverlyBees.com. When she is not spending time with her girls (the bees), she enjoys being a wife to her beekeeping cohort, Brian and mother to 3 little boys (the beekeepers in training). Read more about Anita here >> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Connect with Anita on Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or Facebook here.

21 Comments

  1. I too have had issues with plastic foundation, but found it to be due to the stingy amount of wax they coat the foundation with. If the bees decide to chew off some of the wax, all bets are off – they won’t build it up.

    I had a bunch of plastic frames (undrawn). I was able to melt some wax and add another thin coating with a paintbrush and the bees drew it out just fine.

    But I agree, wax foundation is best.

    — Steven

  2. I know other beekeepers who are fine with it too. I’d rather wire the wax and have it work the first time then recoat the foundation. You are welcome to the undrawn plastic foundation I have left if you want it. I have to count it out but I think I have 10 medium size and 4 large size left. They probably need your recoating technique though.

  3. Anita,
    I TOTALLY AGREE!!! I’m glad I never used plastic comb except those green Pierco frames as mite control, and even those I don’t use anymore. My teacher, Serge Labesque, told us that the bees just don’t like plastic, and so we just never used them.

    My first year, I was up at Mann-Lake picking up equipment during almond pollination season, and there were beekeepers coming and going. I was waiting for them to put my order together which included wax foundation. I remember one beekeeper telling me how great and easy the all-plastic hives were. He kept trying to convince me to get plastic instead. I didn’t want to, and he left thinking I was a fool.

    Fool or not, the results speak for themselves, I think. The bees are happier, and they draw out comb really quick. I’ll never do plastic!!

    Awesome post!

    • I’m glad you weren’t talked into using it. I was told by my mentor, Stan that the bees do not like it but then some other beekeepers who use it all the time in a huge operation convinced me to try it. I wish I hadn’t. I think a lot of my problems last year were from the plastic foundation – problems the bees just don’t seem to have on wax. Plus, I have eliminated plastic just about everywhere else in my life why do I want it in my beehive?

  4. I have seen much the same. There are a bunch of pictures somewhere on my Carbonite backup that show several different foundation types with both good and crazy results. Wax, heavy plastic, Duragilt, and foundationless are represented for sure.

    I have had plastic and Duragilt work, but it’s pot-luck. I am with ya. Sticking to foundationless for now at least. Gave the last plastic foundation, frames and all to a new beekeeper who said he wanted them. Not going to be in my hives.

    Yet another great post.

    • I would love to switch to all foundationless but I’m still experimenting with it for now. This is probably just the hive’s personality but my foundationless hive seems calmer and happier than the other hives. But they are slower to build up. I think they are increasing population at a more steady pace as opposed to the ones on wax foundation who go like gangbusters and then slow down and go like gangbusters again. They also have more drones around all the time as opposed to only sometimes. It’s interesting to see. I’m going to start a few more hives out on it to compare. They are also the only hive (besides the swarms I captured) who have not built queen cups so far this year.

  5. Pingback: 6 Reasons You Should Not Use Plastic Foundation in Your Beehives | Urban Farm And Beehives

  6. I’ll take all the plastic you have! All you need to do as posted elsewhere is give it a nice coating of beeswax and they’ll drawl it out just fine. Not to say the wax foundation is not great, it is. However, I’ve never never have a plastic frame “blow out” on me in an extractor. Nice thing about plastic, the comb gets old, scrape it off and you have a “new” frame……

  7. The plastic frames will work perfectly if you coat them in wax, otherwise the bees do not know what to do with them.

    • I know beekeepers do this but this is too much work for me. Now I do not use any foundation for most of my hives, I let the bees make their own. Plus I like sticking my frames in the solar wax melter when they are no longer in use, which is something you can’t do with the plastic frames.

  8. So glad to find a blog where wax foundations are used! My husband and I have disagreed in this regard with our hives (this is our first year) because no one local to us uses wax and they have all convinced him that plastic is the only way to go … so we decided to try an experiment 🙂 I have wax foundation in my hive and he has plastic in his. We shall see how they compare throughout the season. Unfortunately, all I could find locally was plain beeswax foundation (not the crimped wire kind) and I was told there was no need to wire my frames, so when we went to check on bees for the second time after hiving, a couple foundations were bowing and one had completely fallen and crumpled. We found though that the bees had already built a good amount of thick comb in that time in the now completely foundation-less frame (filling about a quarter of the frame); whereas the other hive with the plastic foundations only had a skiff of drawn out comb on about half of the foundation. I suppose it’s possible that the plastic hive may just have a slower start and eventually catch up, but it was clear that the bees were able to get a faster start with even no foundation, over the plastic foundation.

    That experience is what led me to start looking for instructions to wire my frames though. I was getting error messages when trying to reply to your post about that, and I did not see a tutorial for installing foundations, so I thought I would ask here: Is there a precise way to install the wax foundation after you’ve wired the frame? If the foundation just lies against the wires is there still risk of it falling out? And do you only use crimped wire foundations or have you also used the plain wax kind? That is what I have for my brood boxes, but will be ordering some crimped wire for my supers. Thanks!

    • It’s always great to experiment and see what you like better! Thanks for letting me know about the error, I will take a look at it and see whats going on. To install the wax foundations you weave them between the wires and then nail them in place using the wedge cleat over the crimped wire feet. I have not used the unwired foundation, but I do use a lot of foundationless frames – they are much easier, as long as you can get the bees to draw the comb correctly.

  9. I was wondering what cell size you are using in your foundation?

  10. I used plastic when I first started out. It seemed to be okay. Maybe I bought wax coated. The last 2 years they started doing the bridge comb dance like you show above.

    So I bought some wood frames and wired wax foundation. My goodness, quite a lot of time it takes me to make 20 frames. And I want to go from 6 to 12 hives. Not likely. I can reasonably make enough for 2 more hives each year.

    Then I found 2 frames in storage that were annihilated by moths. Now I get to buy more foundation, pull out nails and re-wire.

    I’m still on the fence. I like wax way better, but wax coated plastic might be the only practical way to get up to 100 hives before retirement.

    Excellent post!

  11. I swapped over to plastic frames, coated them with wax and put them in the supers on my two hives. The bees seemed to build on them no problem, and things went along well for a while.
    However, before I got the chance to harvest any honey, they were hit by small hive beetle attack. Now the queens were old, and the hives possibly under a bit of strain rebuilding on the plastic frames, but I believe the frames with their little slot openings all along the edges of the frames, gave the SHB somewhere to breed and escape the bees repelling actions.
    These slots were crammed with lava from the SHB and I think this exacerbated the attack and subsequent failure of the hives. Unless someone produces a solid plastic frame (absolutely NO cavities for SHB), I will not be interested in wasting my money again. Back to teh old way for me.

    • I still do not like or use the plastic foundation in a wooden frame. But I started using the PF100 one piece plastic frames in some of hives in the brood nest only, to regress my bees to small cell. The small cell wax foundation did not work as the bees would chew it up or mold it incorrectly. The PF100’s have those cracks you describe, but hive beetles are not too bad around here yet and I have not had a problem yet with the PF100 frames (although I still do not like plastic in my hive).

  12. In my first year I used all plastic, and it was a huge nectar year so the bees drew everything out nicely. This year was a big drought year and the bees did everything but draw out on the plastic (which I now was putting in wood frames). I will try both dipping the foundation in wax next year AND all wax foundation, and make a decision at that point. Let us hope we get more nectar in 2015 to help all that along~

  13. I have 4 new packages as of a couple weeks ago. I used a drawn frame in the center, two partially drawn combs on either side of that then alternated wax coated plastic foundation with crimp wired wax foundation frames to fill out the boxes for all four.

    I notice now two weeks later that the bees are moving ahead on the wax with wire foundation mush faster than the plastic with wax, in all 4 hives.
    In my area, most prefer wax over plastic, and many opt for foundationless. I think it depends on who the active beeks in the local clubs are mentoring people to do.

    One think that can help prevent the drone/burrs that you had on plastic is to use a hole saw to remove a couple of circles of the plastic from the frame to allow the bees to build drone comb if needed. If I can get the plastic drawn, I will use it, but if its still there in a couple of weeks, I will replace with wax/wire.

  14. I have been using the waxed plastic foundation from Mann Lake for years (Rite-Cell) and have no trouble with it. My bees build it out very quickly and after a few years of use I can scrape it off, clean it with a stiff brush and re-coat with wax by hot dipping. Occasionally I would get the Pierco foundation in Nuc hive swaps and found that with the Pierco, quite often the comb would be snaked onto the foundation. I have as of late told customers who want to buy a bee nuc from me that I no longer accept the Pierco foundation. Around here folks sell nucs by trading out full frames of bees for empty fresh frames of comb, they bring their own nuc box. It keeps the cost of the nuc down a little. Plastic frames are a big no-no for me because they give the small hive beetles too many places to hide within the edges of the frame.