When Bees Won’t Draw Out Comb on Plastic Foundation

I’ve always heard about how honey bees won’t draw comb on plastic foundation, but I didn’t experience it in a big way until this summer. I had three nucs set up in deeps that I wanted to expand into medium supers because I want to try on the all-medium-super beekeeping game and see if I like it because I know I don’t like lifting 40kg deeps full of honey (about 100 pounds). If I was a seniorish citizen with back, hip or leg problems, or just a regular human being who wasn’t in the mood for any heavy lifting in their beekeeping, I’d consider switching to all shallow supers. For now, though, I’ll see how it goes with mediums.

Waxless plastic foundation and a foundationless section the bees had no problem building on.



I bought 100 sheets of medium plastic foundation and my bees wouldn’t go near the damn stuff. They just did not want to work on it. I heard from another beekeeper who had the same foundation and had the same problem. The bees wouldn’t build comb on the plastic foundation — probably because the foundation didn’t have any wax on it.

Quality foundation is dipped in wax. Super duper quality foundation in doubled-dipped in wax. The wax encourages the bees to build comb on it (spraying the foundation with sugar syrup can help a little bit too, but it’s all for naught without wax). No wax causes them to ignore it for as long as they can. Even the over-hyped “rite cell” plastic foundation that has deeper cells imprinted on it so the bees won’t have to draw out as much wax — if it’s not dipped in beeswax, the bees are usually reluctant to build on it. They will eventually, maybe, but “eventually” is often too late for beekeepers in Newfoundland whose bees don’t have much time to build comb before winter sets in.

I would have been better off (that is, my bees would have been better off) if I’d started with foundationless frames this summer and thrown the plastic foundation in the garbage. That, or I should have painted my plastic foundation with an extra coating of clean beeswax, except I didn’t have any beeswax, so what are ya gonna do?

7 thoughts on “When Bees Won’t Draw Out Comb on Plastic Foundation

  1. Why did you buy plastic rather than beeswax foundation? I don’t see the appeal of the plastic and it seems the bees don’t either! Is it cheaper?

  2. Thanks for the extra tidbit! I find they like the black foundation better too( easier for me to read what’s going on in the comb too) but I have purchased yellow foundation and now the woodless black frame/foundation combination as an experiment , haven’t used it yet , ….next year.
    I’m interested in how the mediums work out for you …I’m finding the weight getting cumbersome.

  3. First year keeper here and I experienced the very same thing. In 2 hives with medium deep supers intended for honey…not a single cell of wax was drawn out. Very disappointing. My foundations were wax dipped rite cell. 3/4 of the way through the summer…one of the crowned heads in the community offered that we new keepers should have used regular deep supers with down out brames we could buy at the beginning of the season. I may try this next summer, if I make it through winter.

  4. Emily — I don’t know many people who use wax foundation in NL. I suppose it’s not used commercially because it doesn’t hold up well in extractors — maybe? Most people probably use plastic foundation because that’s how we saw it done here. I also don’t think wax foundation was an option when I started. I don’t remember ever seeing it for sale until recently. It’s just never caught on.

    I would (and will) switch to it if it holds up well in an extractor. My extractor seems to destroy deep frames with wired wax foundation. I don’t know about the mediums. But if medium wax foundation can handle my extractor, I’m all for it.

    I’ve never enjoyed using plastic foundation, or any foundation. I began beekeeping with foundationless frames, and only stopped because I kept getting a high population of drones and little or no honey harvest from my foundationless colonies. But wax foundation might be a good middle ground.

    Sheree — It will probably take at least a year to see how the all-medium hives work out. Right now I’ve got 3 hives with a deep and 2 mediums on top. The deeps should be empty by spring, at which point the plan is to remove them and add more mediums to complete the all-medium hives — and then hope for the best. We’ll see how the half-deep / half-medium hives do this winter first.

    John — You described “medium deep supers.” Do you mean medium supers? Deeps are big boxes, mediums are middle sized boxes, shallows are the small thin boxes — that’s how I read it. If your mediums are being used as honey supers, if you’re in a cold climate like NL, a honey harvest doesn’t usually happen in the first summer. It usually takes a year to build up a strong colony. If it survives its first winter and comes out strong the next spring, you’re off to the races

  5. It’s funny, it’s the other way round in the UK – pure wax foundation is the standard stuff used, plastic is rare. As long as it’s wired I’ve not known it be a problem in extractors, it’s usually reused year after year. However most people tend to use honey frames of one size here – approx 341 x 127mm – I don’t know how that compares to your deep/medium/shallow sizes.

  6. The standard frame in North America for a medium box is 19 inches (482mm) x 6.5 inches (165mm). A deep frame is 19 x 9.5 inches (241mm). My deep frames without plastic foundation don’t hold up well to extractors. I’ve had the comb from foundationless medium frames fly to pieces too.

    I’d like to get rid of foundation completely, wax or plastic. Though, again, if wired wax foundation holds up to an extractor, I’m in.

    Emily — I read your blog on a regular basis, by the way. I don’t comment much, but I’m listening.

    And a word about the Metric system and the confusion that is Canada. I love the Metric system and the Celsius temperature scale. They make sense to me. But poor old Canada didn’t make the switch until 1971 and there are just too many dinosaurs unable to get with the programme. So we’ve got a couple generations of Canadians who mix it all up — and I’m one of them.

    I measure weight in pounds. I don’t know anyone who knows how much they weight in KG. Kilograms should be automatic, but it’s not. The same with height. I know my height in feet and inches. No clue what it is in centimetres or metres.

    However, I have no clue about the Fahrenheit scale. It absolutely makes no sense to me. I’m 100% Celsius. Speed is in Kilometres, not miles, though the standard speed limit in Canada in 100km/h, which I know is close to the American speed limit of 55km/h. To make it even more confusing, I know miles of distance better than I know KM of distance. I know acres better than I know hectares.

    I measure liquids in litres, though most canned goods and alcoholic beverages are better know in pints and fluid oz, not millilitres or litres.

    It’s a mess. I love it when I meet people from the UK and Europe who have none of this confusion. Metric all the way. It all fits. It makes perfect sense (especially for scientific research).

    We have the US influencing us in too many ways, including all those measurements and all our software defaulting to “American English.” Poor confused Canada can’t decide on how to spell colour — with a U or without the U. Both are acceptable, though I spell it with a U. It’s a losing battle. American English will take over the world eventually, because it does follow the law of verbal laziness that influences the development of all written language, but for now, I’m fighting it by using UK English in everything I write.

    I just wish we’d get our measurements sorted out.

  7. Ah ok, so your standard honey frames are quite a bit bigger than ours. That must be why your wired wax foundation doesn’t do well in extractors. I’d expect the foundationless to disintegrate.

    Thanks for reading my blog :) I’m as bad as you when it comes to measurements – weight in pounds (except when it comes to cooking, then I use grams). And height in feet and inches, but other stuff in cms and mms. All messed up. Spellings at least I’m not confused on! Thanks for using the old fashioned UK English.

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