Plastic Foundation Vs Wax Foundation
Topics Beekeepers Can't Agree On!
I usually decide on my question for beekeepers at least a couple of weeks before I post it on Facebook, and my planned question for this article was no exception. March 1st, I opened the Texas Friendly Beekeepers group early that morning and to my surprise the first thing I saw was Becky Brandt Recer’s post asking: “New beeks question: Wired foundationless, plastic, or wax foundation frames? What is your preference and why?”
It was almost the exact same question I planned to ask! Since it would seem really odd to have two people ask essentially the same question back-to-back, I asked the same question only of the beekeepers in the Central Texas Beekeepers Association and Friends group and used the comments from both groups for my analysis.
All total, 21 beekeepers responded, but only 17 stated their personal preferred foundation.
By far, plastic is the preferred foundation (15 of 17). Some of the comments for plastic were more specific: heavy wax on plastic foundation; plastic foundation, heavily waxed; plastic foundation with good wax; heavy waxed plastic foundation; black plastic foundation; plastic foundation with extra wax (only black in Brood box); waxed plastic foundation; black plastic for brood & yellow or white for honey; half sheets plastic foundation; plastic foundation coated with beeswax less than 24 hours; black plastic foundation; and, black plastic foundation with extra wax.
Not just a preference for plastic, but for heavy waxed black plastic foundation.
Plastic is favored because it works well in an extractor and because it saves the valuable comb for bees to re-use. There’s also no risk of the comb falling off due a beekeeper’s inexperience in handling frames or of comb collapsing in the heat of July/August in Texas (yes, it does happen.) If you struggle with seeing eggs in cells, try using black plastic foundation. (I had never seen eggs until I switched from wired wax to black plastic.)
But for success with plastic foundation, it must have a coating of heavy wax applied because in my experience, the bees do not like plastic foundation. Without wax they will build comb on the frame, but with as little of the comb touching the plastic foundation as possible. When heavily waxed, the bees have no objection to plastic foundation.
One of the beekeepers who commented on his preferred foundation was Chris Moore, of Moore Honey Farm in Kountz, TX. When a beekeeper who has been in business since 1999 with 2,500 colonies shares how his operation does something, I stop and pay attention. Chris prefers, “… plastic foundation coated with beeswax less than 24 hours before putting on the bees. The wax will be soft and have a good aroma. They jump all over it.”
I sent an email to Chris and asked him what led him to installing freshly waxed frames as their standard practice. Chris explained that one morning after they’d rolled hot wax the previous day, he noticed the wax was still semi-soft and had a wonderful aroma - so he "stuck a few frames in hives right away." He could see the bees really loved these freshly waxed frames – unlike the frames that were rolled on a rainy day 2-3 months prior. Chris said, “… it’s not convenient at all, but now we will roll hot wax on in the morning and put them on in the afternoon.” If you DIY when it comes to waxing plastic foundation, maybe you’ll want to give this a try!
Check out Dodie Stillman's article (May 2021) on how to wax frames - title "Wonky Comb?"
I followed up with new beek Becky Brandt Recer and asked her what foundation she has decided to use. Becky told me, “I am going to try several types of foundations – beeswax covered black plastic, wired wax foundations and wire foundationless.” I think she’s made a good choice. I will check with her in the Fall and find out how each type did for her. Welcome to beekeeping Becky!
*Though the beekeepers who commented on their preferred foundation may use one type of foundation primarily, almost all who answered do not use it exclusively. Below are different foundation options and the number of beekeepers who indicated they use it.