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Comb honey foundation: yes or no?

When you plan to make comb honey, you must decide whether to use foundation. A decision for or against will have a bearing on the type of comb honey you make. If you are opposed to any amount of foundation whatsoever, you will probably need to stick with cut combs, chunk honey, or Bee-O-Pacs. If you are okay with beeswax-coated plastic, you can add Hogg Half Combs to your list. If you are willing to use foundation starter strips, you can add squares, rounds, and glass jars to your options.

Comb Honey Type

Foundation Type

Basswood sections (square) Thin surplus (full sheet or starter strip)
Romanov sections (square) Thin surplus starter strip
Ross Rounds (round) Thin surplus (full sheet or starter strip)
Bee-O-Pac Embossed plastic
Hogg Half Combs Sprayed embossed plastic
Chunk honey None necessary
Glass jar Thin surplus starter strip
Cut comb None necessary

Purchased foundation, made from recycled beeswax, is known to harbor a variety of pesticides. Along with the pesticide are adjuvants such as solvents, emulsifiers, stickers, and spreaders. These adjuvants are added to the pesticide to increase its effectiveness, but they are often poisonous as well.

Together, the pesticides and adjuvants are lipophilic, meaning they will readily dissolve in fats, oils, lipids, and non-polar solvents, which is why beeswax is perfect for harboring these chemicals.

You can think of it this way: oily substances dissolve into oily substances, and non-oily substances dissolve into non-oily ones. This simple fact means your beeswax may contain lots of pesticide, while your honey has virtually none.

So-called thin surplus foundation is made especially for comb honey. It is thinner than regular foundation and it is usually made solely from wax cappings. As such, it probably has fewer contaminants than thicker or older wax, but it is not contaminant free.

Another issue with foundation is its texture. Some people feel that even thin surplus is too chewy for comb honey; others think it is entirely acceptable. Recently, something called “comb honey foundation” has come on the market. Oddly, it is thicker than thin surplus, so I don’t recommend it for comb honey. It is supposed to be easier to handle because it is thicker, but thicker defeats the purpose of thin foundation.

As you can see, there are many issues and many choices. All of the systems work, but it is up to each individual beekeeper to decide what is best for him.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

Art
Reply

I’m planning on trying out section comb honey this year so your posts are very interesting and came just in time for me. What do you use for starter strips for your sections? I remember seeing on Romanov’s page (http://www.beebehavior.com/romanov_comb_sections.php) that you can skip the strip altogether and put a bead of melted wax on the top of every section. With this approach you can use your own wax and somewhat minimize unwanted texture and amount of chemical you introduce. I guess the question would be how well it works compared to the starter strip.

Rusty
Reply

Art,

In my top-bar hive, I use a bead of wax as a starter. In my Langstroths, I use a starter strip of thin foundation about one inch wide in the section boxes. Bees are very reluctant to build in sections, but a little foundation seems to help a lot.

Julie
Reply

Thanks for this post. I was considering adding a comb honey super to my Langstroth garden hive this year, partially as a way to naturally exclude brood. I really appreciate the info.

Aram
Reply

Rusty,

When you write next blogs, can you maybe mention using deep frames for comb honey. As in use 2×4 matrix of 4″X4″ squares in each deep frame. Is that feasible, or even a good idea? Also, how checkerboarded hives figure into section honey production? I looked at Walter Kelley website, but they do not show plastic squares for section honey. Only basswood TIG pieces that you bend into shape.

Rusty
Reply

Aram,

All in good time. I’m trying to cover the basics first, then go to the individual types. None of the equipment does much good without the basics.

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