Monday, December 28, 2009

Priming Foundation

Honey bees build their own nest from beeswax that the young bees secrete from glands on the lower side of their abdomen. The beeswax is secreted in small flakes, and these are worked into six-sided cells of honeycomb by the worker bees using their mouthparts. The beeswax is produced by young worker bees when the bees eat honey. The bees must consume about one pound of honey to produce one ounce of beeswax. To produce this pound of honey, or an ounce of beeswax, the bees must visit about two million flowers and fly a combined distance of 55 thousand miles. That’s more than twice the distance around the earth at the equator. Building honey comb is, therefore, quite costly to the bee in time and resources consumed. The bees will readily build their comb on beeswax foundation. Foundation is the mid-rib of the honey comb, and it was one of the great beekeeping developments of the mid-1800s.

Beekeepers now have available foundation made of beeswax or of plastic. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The honey bees strictly prefer to build comb on natural beeswax foundation. If frames of both types are placed in a hive, the bees will use the beeswax and ignore the plastic. Some colonies build comb on plastic foundation in spotty, erratic patterns. This can be corrected by priming or painting the plastic foundation with melted beeswax. The beeswax can be melted in a double boiler and added to the plastic foundation with a paint brush or roller. The bees will use this layer of beeswax to start drawing out the honey comb cells. The beekeeper’s work doesn’t need to be too neat; the bees will correct it. At Peace Bee Farm we use our own chemical-free beeswax, saved from our honey harvest, as a major part of our integrated pest management program. We prefer the durable plastic foundation because, unlike beeswax foundation, it can easily be cleaned of old comb and reused.

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