How to Install Beeswax Foundation
Inside many new beehives, you will find frames filled with beeswax foundation. Some beekeepers use plastic foundation but beeswax is still widely used. In fact, your first beekeeping experience may be learning how to install beeswax foundation.
The purpose of foundation is to give the bees a guide for building honeycomb. Do the bees need our help? Haven’t they been building honeycomb for millions of years? Yes, but we want them to build straight comb on removable frames and this is where foundation can help.
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Beeswax is a remarkable product. Made by the wax glands of worker bees, it provides structure the the brood nest. It also absorbs many substances inside the hive. Propolis, honey and pollen stored in honeycomb cells causes staining. Some chemicals brought into the hive from the outside world will be absorbed in the wax. Even we beekeepers contribute to the contamination by the used of various products for mite control.
A beekeeper is practicing good beehive management by replacing the beeswax foundation periodically. Experts disagree on optimal comb replacement schedule but every 5 years is a good rule of thumb.
Remove Old Comb From Brood Frames
Old brood frames can hold some really gnarly looking honeycomb.
The wax will be very dark, maybe completely black. As generations of brood (baby bees) emerge, they leave behind pupal cocoons. These cocoons reduce the size of the honeycomb cells as time goes by.
Perhaps some pests, such as wax moths, have damaged parts of the comb. Do you see any webbing ? This is a sign of wax moth infestation. Small Hive Beetles are also attracted to old brood combs that have contained pollen.
But the worst issue with old comb is the tendency to absorb chemical compounds from the environment and hive management.
Let’s get that gnarly comb out of there and reuse the wooden brood frame.
Removing Wooden Wedge From Top of Frame
A wooden “wedge” is normally used to install beeswax foundation. The wedge fits under the top bar. So, lets repeat the process in reverse.
Use your hive tool to gently pry the wedge loose from the underside of the top bar. You can also use a flat screwdriver if you prefer.
By taking your time and loosening the bar a little at a time all the way across, you can remove it from the frame without breaking it!
If you do break the wedge, don’t panic. You can still reuse the parts of the wedge when installing your new beeswax foundation.
When the wedge is loose, you will still have a little wax left to remove from the frame.
But first, use your hive tool to scrape the old comb from the wedge bar.
What to do with the old wax? You may be tempted to attempt harvesting usable wax from it. This could be accomplished by using a solar melter or melting with comb in a pot with added water. Be advised that it will REALLY smell bad during the processing phase.
Personally, I don’t think old comb is worth the effort. It is a very messy job and sometimes the wax harvested is dark and unattractive. But you may want to experience it – at least once. LOL
Clean Off Excess Wax & Propolis
Before you install a fresh sheet of beeswax, you will want to clean off the wooden frame.
Use your hive tool to scrape away all the excess wax and propolis from all surfaces of the frame. Doing this on the inside and outside of the frame makes foundation installation easier.
Clean Out The Bottom Bar
It is important to pay special attention to the bottom bar of your frame. If you have a “split bottom bar”, if it easy to clean away any debris with your hive tool.
If your beehive has a “grooved bottom bar” that is solid with a small groove, cleaning will require a bit more effort. Failure to clean the bottom bar may cause your new beeswax foundation to not fit properly.
When I install beeswax foundation, I flip my frame upside down. Why? Because the sheets of foundation are reinforced with embedded wires. Small wire hooks are at the top of the sheet. The wedge bar is used to fasten the hooks to the top bar.
Be sure that the wire hooks are laying firmly against the top bar. Then you can attach the wedge bar to the underside of the top bar with a staple gun or small nails. The wire hooks will be “wedged” in between the 2 pieces of wood.
The foundation is attached to the top of the frame. Now we want to gently push the bottom of the sheet into the bottom bar.
This can be a bit frustrating so take your time and dont give up. I use my hive tool to push the little wires into the bottom bar slot.
Old Frame With New Installed Beeswax Foundation
The goal is to install the beeswax foundation so that it hangs straight. The top is secured using the hooks and wedge bar. The bottom of the foundation is held in place by the bottom bar.
Many beekeepers no longer use vertical “cross wiring” but you can if you wish. As the bees “draw comb” and build up wax on the sheet, it will become more sturdily attached to the wood frame.