Should you add beeswax to plastic foundation?

I’ve been using Pierco plastic foundation for several years with very good results.  The rigid plastic foundation snaps into a standard wooden frame very quickly, requiring no support pins or cross-wiring.  Best of all, when it’s time to replace the old comb, all you have to do is scrape off the old crud with your hive tool and you’re ready to put it back into the hive.

I’ve found, however, that the bees are reluctant to build comb on this recycled, bare-plastic foundation.  They tend to build burr comb perpendicular to the hexagonal pattern printed on the plastic.  Adding beeswax to the bare plastic is an often-cited important step when reusing older plastic foundation, or even when using brand-new, factory-waxed plastic.

The process for adding wax to the plastic foundation is very simple.  Melt some beeswax in a double-boiler, and then use a clean paintbrush to brush a thin coating onto the foundation.  It’s a messy, messy job, and it’s difficult to get a perfectly even coat.  How much wax is best?  Do the bees care?  I wanted to find out.

I prepared three identical frames, using Brushy Mountain deep, groove-top frames and factory-fresh, pre-waxed, black Pierco foundation.  The candidates are….

  • The  “Factory” frame, which contains only the thin coating of wax which is applied at the factory.
  • The “Thin” frame, which contained the thinnest-possible layer of wax I was able to apply using a paintbrush.  On this frame, only the edges of the hexagonal print contained wax – you could still see the black plastic showing through the center of the cells.
  • The “Thick” frame received a relatively thick coating of wax.  The majority of the hexagonal wells on the Pierco foundation were filled with wax, leaving an overall smooth surface.

I then inserted these frames into a deep super at positions 4,5, and 6.  Frames 1-3 and 7-9 contained traditional wax foundation as a reference.   A division board feeder was placed at position 10 and filled with 1:1 sugar syrup.  The hive body was placed on top of a healthy colony and left for 10 days.

Results:

It was not even close!   The “thick” wax was immediately accepted by the bees, drawn out, and filled with brood by the end of the test.  The “thin” comes in a close second, and the factory Pierco a distant third.  (Click the images below for a closer view.)


Warm up those double boilers (yard-sale crock pots or rice cookers work great!) and coat your plastic foundation.  Your bees will thank you.

~Eric

4 Comments

  1. Tamara
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I love the science experiment! I didnt go with plastic this first go-around…but am thankful for knowing these results!

  2. Viv Slear
    Posted July 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for conducting this experiment! That is so cool! Very enlightening, as i have just cleaned off a ton of old comb. Now i know what to do with it.

  3. Posted June 17, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    I have been struggling with the idea of abandoning plastic foundation, which has some real advantages for the beekeeper (especially the noob beekeeper), and going to wax, which would involve more work and be harder on my hands, which are beginning to get a touch of arthritis. I wondered if coating the foundation such that it appears to the bees to be all wax might do the trick…thanks for proving it does!!! I will pass this along.

  4. littlebee
    Posted March 4, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Very helpful information – answered my question exactly – thanks for the information – so now I’m off to melt some wax

2 Trackbacks

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