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Lesser of Two Evils - Plastic or Wax Foundation?


Hive Inspection 20160602

Well, an unhappy second inspection at week four after package installation. Multiple issues encountered. I’ll keep each of these issues in a separate thread for easier future reference and to make it easier for helpful advice givers to respond.

I gave it the old college try to have Foundationless frames, but today’s inspection and resulting stress of trying to remediate cross combing to the nth degree has put me off my feed.

Which is less potentially contaminant-ridden…plastic or wax foundations?

Thank you.


G’day, I never consider wax foundation to be evil. Wax is the foundation I prefer. You have to remember that even if wax does carry minute remnants of “whatever”, the bees use the worker comb pattern to build their comb. The bees don’t really injest the foundation unless they make a hole in it. You often see holes/gaps around the edges of the frames that I believe the bees put there on purpose for air circulation. The bees can’t put those holes/gaps there with plastic foundation.


Hi Jeff,

Me too ! Used wax foundation years ago n back to using at least 50 to 60 % too in my hives. At advice to try plastic … Two of my hives are equip with that. Haven’t seen any crazy side comb in any of my five hives yet ! ( Knock on wood, as mom use to say ).

I’m sticking to what works for me. I guess natural is okay but I don’t have to time or patience to deal with that at the moment ( to each his own again as mom would often say )…

Hope alls well “Down Under”,


I am using mann lake pf-100’s plastic frames and foundation. Mainly using these as an aid to regressing my bees to natural sized bees. If I wasn’t using these plastic frames for their intended purpose I would go foundationless.


I have been using a combination of foundation and foundationless only in the brood boxes, and always checkerboard (ever 2nd frame), never two foundationless together unless one of them is already fully drawn out. By introducing foundationless slowly this way, I have had no-cross combing issues to date. As for plastic, I am not a fan, some of my beekeeping colleagues use plastic but it just seems to be more trouble than its worth, I have seen many a plastic comb where the bees have built drawn comb alongside the plastic and in the end the only option was to destroy it and start again as this wonky comb would then cause a wonky ripple effect through the hive.


Mine did this twice but I caught it both times with my weekly inspections, after the second time of scraping off the errant comb they got with the program and I haven’t seen any oddly drawn bits


we installed our hive from a large established Nuc. It came with some plastic frames. I would prefer natural wood- it just seems better. Also the wood frames are quite old- and the combs are very dark. The capped hoey combs are almost black… I was thinking to do a complete ‘Bailey Comb Change’ in early spring- however I don’t know- is this really a good idea? Would you change out old frames for new? This hive seems to have boomed- and is doing very well… better to leave well enough alone?

This is how our frames look- the first is wood- the second plastic. You can see on the wood frame the bees have left holes in the upper corners:


Your plastic is doing exceptionally well, your Nuc supplier knew what he was doing when pre-coating the wax over plastic.


This is another practice in beekeeping that depends upon where in the world one is keeping bees. There is mounting evidence that not only are neonicotinoids to blame for pollinator illness and death, their combination with coumaphos - a commercially used miticide to combat varroa in the US - impairs bees’ learning and memory, resulting in poor or erratic foraging and other behaviors crucial to health and survival.

Wax foundation produced in the US is made from commercial apiary wax, and is shown to contain significant levels of coumaphos. Pesticide and herbicide use in the US on crops, by businesses, municipalities and even by average homeowners means that even if you don’t spray, your bees are likely to come in contact with these chemicals - and bring them back to the hive - when they forage. So, even a small backyard hobbyist in the US who avoids miticide use, will be risking increasing the conditions for impairment of bee cognition - a major reason for CCD - when he or she chooses to use wax foundation.


Are the plastic foundations flat or with artificial comb?

I’ve been reading @Michael_Bush on natural cell/bee size.


I am not clear what you mean. Are you referring to whether it is just the outline of the cells or a full depth cell?


Hi Michelle, those holes are typical of the holes I was talking about. The bees put them in various places to suit themselves. With that frame full of honey: What I would do is extract the honey out of it, cut the comb out & put fresh foundation in it. It’s easy for me to say because I’ve got boxes of it. I’m not a fan of really old comb.


Hi Eva, it’s worth remembering that with wax foundation, the bees add to it. If it’s used for brood, once the first bee in every cell is born, the cocoon stays behind, giving a decent barrier between the next brood & the base of the cell. I really can’t see any problem with using wax foundation.


@JeffH yes, I can see your rationale there, and you raise a reasonable point for others to consider when making the choice.

I still wouldn’t want to deliberately add material that I know for a fact contains toxic chemicals to a creature’s living space if there’s a better alternative.


Yes. Do plastic foundations come flat and/or with full depth cell?
If flat, it circumvents your caveat about oversized cells causing larger bees that have negative health profiles.

I’m choosing plastic because if I’m reading your text correctly, purchased wax foundation has potentially more contamination?

Thank you.


Hi @Eva, Sadly I don’t see a better alternative than wax foundation. I’ve always been a bit of a radical beekeeper, doing things my own way & not necessarily going with the norm. One year I started going foundationless, which at the time, I thought was pretty radical. It only took a couple of seasons for me to realize that wax foundation was the best way to go for me.

In an ideal beekeeping world, foundationless would be perfect. However, because of SHB & other issues, that perfect beekeeping world doesn’t exist.

Even the air the bees use to dewater the honey is contaminated. People love putting beehives on inner city buildings etc. Imagine the polluted air the bees are working in to de-water the honey & air condition their hives with, especially in some of the larger cities in the world.


You have to make it work for your lifestyle for sure. At least in Oz you don’t have miticides in the wax, without nasty ol’ varroa right?

Anyway, here I am back on the forum on a Saturday night :nerd_face: …at least I was at a party earlier!


Well done Eva:) It’s Sunday morning, the 5th day of winter & winter has arrived with a vengeance:) Tonight’s the night I’m lighting my fire for the first time this year.

Your right about our wax, I reckon it would be fairly clean. Most of the wax comes from cappings from honey gathered from eucalypt forests.

Now there’s another way to look at the discussion. I never buy nucs or package bees. My question is: How many nucs do you see where the bees arrive in foundationless frames? Everything I’ve seen on this forum indicates none. My conclusion is that beekeepers that sell packages & nucs must realize that frames with foundation, plastic or wax are more efficient for them.


So strange to think of winter now! Here it’s hot & humid, with a storm coming. Still, I always look forward to lighting a fire on that first snappy night. Cheers!

Indeed, efficiency would be a big priority for anyone making a business of beekeeping. No quarrel there. Just pointing out tho - packages have no frames at all, they’re just screened boxes containing about 3lbs of bees w/a queen. So you can put them into whatever style setup you like. As a backyard hobbyist I don’t mind the extra effort of foundationless.

Even so, next hive I will do every other frame with foundation, to help keep 'em straight. It’d be worthwhile to look around for a source for uncontaminated wax ones for sure, as I know they’d be preferred to plastic by the bees.


Yes I agree Eva, I’ve had little experience with plastic, however there’s no getting away from the fact that you need to wax coat it. I guess you could do that with wax from your own bees. I’d like to see a few changes in plastic foundation. Mainly a few large holes around the edges. Mainly a larger gap on all the corners than the gaps that are already provided as well as a half round gap in the middle of each side.

I found that bees don’t take to plastic all that well in the brood, even if it’s wax coated. However wax coated plastic frames in the honey super during a honey flow, checkerboarded seemed to work well. Once they’re fully drawn, after you extract the honey, they are perfectly ready to put into the brood.