Foundation or no Foundation wax is the question!

Is it best to let the Bees build their own comb in the brood box or put a wired foundation in place ?

How long is a piece of string? :wink:

There are pros and cons to each. Michael Bush has a very nice summary of the pros of foundation-less here, and I can’t say it any better than him :smile: :

The cons of foundation-less are:

  1. You have to monitor the comb carefully and regularly until it is drawn, because bees more often get creative with comb direction when it is foundation-less.
  2. Fresh comb is very fragile - you have to be careful and gentle when inspecting frames. You have to be really careful if you put it in an extractor.

The pros of using foundation include:

  1. You save the bees some energy - wax costs food (honey) to produce, so if they have starter, that is saving them some effort
  2. If it is wired, it is stronger for inspecting, and will more readily survive spinning in an extractor
  3. Bees are less prone to making curvy comb in the hive. But will still do that if they feel like it! :wink:
    The cons:
  4. Unless you make your own, you are using somebody else’s wax, which will probably have chemicals in it, and may have diseases if you are unlucky.
  5. Increases the expense of beekeeping - wired wax foundation for deep frames is about $1.40 per sheet in the US, unless you are buying in bulk

So it is up to you to decide what you want for your bees and from your bees! :slightly_smiling:

There is another thread here that you might find useful. The search function of the Forum will probably turn up even more! :blush:

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Dawn, thanks for that most informative ditty.
I think I will be putting wire into the frame and let my lady’s do their thing.

I wish I had started my answer with:

Whether 'tis Nobler in the hive to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of wired Foundation,
Or to take bees against an empty frame,
And by filling with comb: stay healthy


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I’d like to add that you can wire the frames and that will greatly strengthen them. I use fishing line.
Having said that once they have had a generation of brood in them they will be stronger.

I’m sure I read somewhere that bees actually draw their own comb faster than drawing it on foundation and it doesn’t use any more wax. If you look at the rib on bee drawn comb it is extremely thin to non-existent.

Letting bees draw their own lets them choose what bees to grow where and how to store their nectar and pollen. It is certainly better for them. I start new boxes with alternating foundation and starter strips giving the bees a guide to keep their combs straight.


I have read somewhere that bees chew up the fishing line and throw it out. Have you found that, Dee?

On another note, ff you do wire the foundation-less frames, it will be really important to make sure that your hive is level, so that the wires go through the cell bases, not the walls. Even if you don’t wire them, make sure the hive is level to give your bees the best chance of building within the frame. They cluster and dangle when making their own comb, so they build in the direction that gravity makes them hang.


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No, not at all. My hives are level.
The Flow isn’t? but at least it is slightly tilted parallel to the frames?[quote=“jape, post:8, topic:5051, full:true”]
Not to use foundations is very expencive way.
Further more, bees make much more drone combs into the hive, and it reduces the yield.

I know how to produce honey. Another thing is to keep bees as pet.

My bet would be that the bees use as much/little honey to draw their own comb as to draw foundation.
One of the most significant observations about folk with flow hives is that most of them are not existing beekeepers. They are attracted to keeping bees and not making massive quantities of honey. You won’t win that argument here :slight_smile:

Depends on what you want the bees to be? Honey producers or pollinators and bee welfare.

I let my bees build foundation first year - this year I would like a little honey for my and the bees effort.
:honeybee: :bee: :honeybee: :bee: :honeybee: :bee: :honeybee: :bee:

Here is G.M. Doolittle’s observation:
"Again, at all times of a heavy yield of honey, the bees secrete wax whether any combs are built or not; and if the sections are all supplied with foundation, and the hive filled with comb, this wax is wasted or else the foundation given is wasted; have it which way you please…To show that I am not alone in this matter regarding the waste of wax, I wish to quote from two or three of our best apiarists; the first is Prof. Cook, and no one will say that he is not good authority. he says on page 166 of the latest edition of his Manual ‘But I find upon examination that the bees, even the most aged, while gathering, in the honey season, yield up the wax scales the same as those within the hive. During the active storing of the past season, especially when comb-building was in rapid progress, I found that nearly every bee taken from the flowers contained wax scales of varying size, in the wax pockets.’
"This is my experience during “active storing,” and the wax scales are to be found on the bees just the same whether they are furnished with foundation or not; and I can arrive at no other conclusion than that arrived at by Mr. S.J. Youngman, when he says on page 108: ‘The bees secrete wax during a honey flow, whether they are building comb or not; and if they are not employed in building comb, this wax is most certainly lost.’
“Once more on page 93, of the American Apiculturist, Mr. G.W. Demaree says: ‘Observation has convinced me that swarms leave the parent colony better prepared to build comb than they ever are under other circumstances; and that if they are not allowed to utilize this accumulated force, by reason of having full sheets of foundation at hand to work out, there will necessarily be some loss; and I think that when the matter is computed, to find the loss and gain the result will show that the foundation really costs the apiarist double what he actually pays for it in cash’…Now, I have often noticed, and especially in looking back over the last year, after reading Mr. Mitchell’s “Mistaken Economy,” that swarms hived in June would fill their hives full of nice straight worker combs, and the combs would be filled with brood during the first two weeks after hiving; while a colony not casting a swarm would not make a gain of a single pound of honey; nor would a swarm having a full set of combs given them, or the frames filled with foundation, be a whit better off at the end of two weeks. Mr. P.H. Elwood has noted the same thing; thus proving that the theory that it takes 20 pounds of honey to produce one pound of comb, will not hold good in cases where bees desire comb and have free access to pollen. As most of my comb is built at this time, the reader will readily see that the combs cost me but little, save the looking after the colony once or twice while building comb, which is far cheaper than buying foundation, or fussing with a foundation mill.”–G.M. Doolittle ABJ Vol 20 No 18 pg 276

In my experience it’s not about how much of this it takes to make how much of that. The increase in yield with drawn comb is because of time. There is somewhere to put the nectar so time is not wasted during the flow building comb. In my experience the bees build foundationless much faster than they build foundation, so it wastes less time than when you give them foundation.

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Yes. That’s why I quoted one of beekeeping’s greats, because I just made it up…

A quote from another great:

“The opinion of experts once was that the production of beeswax in a colony required great quantities of nectar which, since it was turned into wax, would never be turned into honey. Until quite recently it was thought that bees could store seven pounds of honey for every pound of beeswax that they needed to manufacture for the construction of their combs–a figure which seems never to have been given any scientific basis, and which is in any case quite certainly wrong. The widespread view that if the combs were used over and over, through the use of the honey extractor, then the bees would be saved the trouble of building them and could convert the nectar thus saved into honey, was only minimally correct. A strong colony of bees will make almost as much comb honey as extracted honey on a strong honey flow. The advantage of the extractor, in increasing harvests, is that honey stored from minor flows, or gathered by the bees over many weeks of the summer, can easily be extracted, but comb honey cannot be easily produced under those conditions.”–Richard Taylor, The Comb Honey Book

The problem with most of the estimates on what it takes to make a pound of wax is they don’t take into account how much honey that pound of wax will support

From Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products, Coggshall and Morse pg 41

“A pound (0.4536 kg.) of beeswax, when made into comb, will hold 22 pounds (10 kg.) of honey. In an unsupported comb the stress on the topmost cells is the greatest; a comb one foot (30 cm.) deep supports 1320 times its own weight in honey.”

Yes. And bees have changed a lot since then…

As a new ‘BEE’ I see that there are clearly no real do or don’t do foundation and other options, its clear that it is also unhelpful to see ‘experienced’ keepers debate at length as to how correct one is over another…
So at this point I’d just like to say thank you ALL for the words of wisdom.
May the difference bee with you:confused: