Drawing Foundation and Proper Supering

Frame from New Queen

Why do I combine the topics of drawing foundation and proper supering? Unlike humans, honey bees possess the ability to plan ahead and undertake tasks only when necessary. Drawn comb serves two primary functions: providing cells for brood rearing and storing food such as nectar, honey, or pollen. Throughout my writings spanning four decades, I’ve emphasized that “Frames of drawn comb are every beekeeper’s most valuable possession.” The process of bees secreting wax and constructing drawn comb on foundation surfaces is laborious and time-consuming, requiring approximately 8 pounds of honey to produce just 1 pound of wax. Nevertheless, year after year, both novice beekeepers and careless practitioners risk destroying their drawn combs due to negligent uncapping, extraction mishandling, and wax moth infestation. How does one encourage the formation of new foundation into comb?

Bees will not convert foundation into comb unless a nectar flow is present. In the absence of such a flow, knowledgeable beekeepers can stimulate the bees by simulating an artificial nectar flow through the provision of 1:1 sugar syrup (1 lb. sugar in 1 pint water). Continuous nectar flows are uncommon across the United States, with many areas experiencing periods as short as 4-8 weeks, or even less, such as in central Maryland. Bees often reject sheets of beeswax foundation when there’s no nectar flow, while plastic foundation is often rendered comb-resistant by bees walking on it with “dirty” feet. It cannot be stressed enough: a nectar flow is imperative to encourage bees to draw foundation into comb; there’s simply no alternative, regardless of contrary advice.

How can a novice beekeeper convert 20 or 30 frames of foundation into drawn comb from a package of bees or additional frames from a nuc? Never install more than one super containing all 10 frames of foundation onto a colony. These frames, always 10, should be tightly arranged with end bars touching, leaving any unused space at the sides of the super. Continuously feed 1:1 sugar syrup, preferably using an inverted glass gallon jar with very fine, 5/64″ holes drilled in the lid. It’s crucial to maintain this feeding regimen uninterrupted from April to September. This is the only method to compel bees to construct 20-30 frames of foundation into drawn comb. If a genuine nectar flow occurs, bees will cease taking sugar syrup, favoring real nectar, but may still consume the syrup during periods when flying is impossible, such as at night or during rainy days. Once approximately 6-7 frames of foundation are well drawn into comb, shift the undrawn frames to the center and the fully drawn frames to the sides, then introduce a second super of foundation. Repeat this process for subsequent supers.

In summary, foundation cannot be drawn without a nectar flow. Attempting to mix frames of foundation with drawn comb often results in a messy outcome for both. Therefore, it’s advisable to consistently place 10 tightly packed frames of foundation into a super and avoid attempting to draw more than one super of foundation at a time.

A word of caution: Honey (and sugar syrup) stored in these newly drawn combs should be reserved for winter bee feed or stored in the freezer for use in nucs or splits the following spring.

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