Imirie on turning foundation to comb

Drawing Foundation and Proper Supering

Why do I combine drawing foundation and proper supering into a single subject? Unlike we humans, honey bees are mentally able to plan ahead, and do all their duties only when there is a need. Drawn comb is only needed for either of two reasons: cells for brood rearing, or cells to store food: nectar, honey, or pollen. In my writings over the past 40 years, time after time, I have said, “Frames of drawn comb are every beekeeper’s most valuable possession.” The secretion of bees wax by worker bees and then constructing drawn comb with that wax on the foundation surface is not only hard work, but lengthy work, and bees have to consume 8 pounds of honey to make just 1 pound of wax! Yet, year after year, beehavers and even some careless beekeepers let their drawn combs be destroyed by careless uncapping and/or extraction, handling damage, and wax moth infestation. How do you get new foundation drawn into comb?

Bees will not build foundation into comb unless there is a nectar flow going on! In the absence of a nectar flow, an informed beekeeper can “fool” the bees by making an artificial nectar flow by feeding 1:1 (1 lb. sugar in 1 pint water) sugar syrup. Nowhere in the whole United States is there a continuous nectar flow, and in most areas, the nectar flows might be only 4-8 weeks long, or even shorter like my central Maryland area. Sheets of beeswax foundation are quite often destroyed by bees if they are in place in the absence of a nectar flow; and sheets of plastic foundation are made comb-building resistant by bees walking on the plastic with “dirty” feet. Strongly, I repeat, there must be a nectar flow present to get bees to draw foundation into drawn comb, and there is no other way, regardless of what someone else has told you!

So how does a novice beekeeper get 20 or 30 frames of foundation made into drawn comb from a package of bees, or the extra frames of foundation made into drawn comb from a nuc? Never, ever, install more than one super of all 10 frames of foundation on a colony! These 10 frames (never 9) must be tightly closed together, end bar tightly touching end bar, leaving any unused space over by the sides of the super. Feed 1:1 sugar syrup, preferably using an inverted glass gallon jar over the inner cover hole. The jar lid should be drilled with very fine, 5/64″ holes (you want to feed them, not drown them). Now hear this! Feed 1:1 sugar syrup continuously, with no stops, from April to September. This is the only way that you can force the bees to build 20-30 frames of foundation into drawn comb; and if a real nectar flow occurs, the bees will stop taking the sugar syrup because they like the real nectar better, but they will still use the sugar syrup at night or a rainy day when they can’t fly. After, but not before, about 6-7 of these frames of foundation are well drawn into drawn comb, move the undrawn frames into the center and the fully drawn frames to the side, and then add a second super of foundation. Repeat this same procedure for a third or fourth super.

Summarizing: Foundation cannot be drawn without a nectar flow! It is rare that you can mix frames of foundation with drawn comb without a “mess” being made of both the foundation and the drawn comb; so you should always put 10 frames of foundation, tightly packed together, into a super. Never, never, try to draw more than one super of foundation at a time.

And, a caution: Whatever honey (and sugar syrup) that is stored in these newly drawn combs should be stored for bee feed in the winter – or kept in the freezer and used in nucs or splits the following spring.


George W. Imirie, Jr.
American Beekeeping Federation Newsletter
March/April 2004

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