The very basis of the managed bee hive, often neglected and ignored by many bee keepers, or should I say box keepers. Good bee keepers take trouble with building good comb from foundation and changing those old, damaged, and often diseased frames of black wax.

Foundation is created from clean bees wax, pressed into flat sheets each one embossed with the imprint of the cell bottom, either worker or drone sized.

showing foundation with bees
Bees on Frame

In the early days of beekeeping, the first foundation was just a sheet of wax, then came embossing or pressing the shape of the cells into the warm sheets. It was found that adding wires to the frames added some stability, to help prevent “drop out”. This was when the centre literally fell out of the frame usually on a hot day because there was nothing to hold it in.

The next logical step was to add wire to the foundation, usually, a crimped wire imbedded part way into the sheet. The ultimate result is a belt and braces effect, two wires. Firstly the frame wire is still installed, then the embedded wire, which causes a major problem, holes. When the bees start to “draw out” or form the cells they try to remove the top wire and where the wires cross dig holes in the foundation trying to remove the wires causing holes in the finished and drawn cells.

So, with this problem in mind, I would like to suggest the following solutions. If you want wire pick one or the other system, not both.
If you want to use wired frames, with all the work involved, then pick unwired foundation. This will allow you to sink your wires to a better level without causing the second wire to buckle out.

If you prefer a faster method but still a strong system, then wired foundation but with a split bottom bar which allows the wax and wires to pass through but still be supported. When the foundation is drawn there is less possibility of holes (incomplete drawing) being created along the bottom bar. Too often I see frames where the solid bottom bar does not allow the wax to hang straight in the frame, it buckles forming a ‘rumpled sock’ look at the bottom of the sheet, this, in turn, forms cells which the bees have difficulty drawing out correctly, wasted space, as it cannot be used for brood. Even honey storage becomes a problem, seems to confuse the bees who like regularity.

Another solution, one which I favour, European foundation. This gives the best of both worlds. The wire is one continuous piece and is threaded up and down across the sheet forming a W which helps to support the sheet. The loop formed at the top and bottom has a useful purpose. The top loop is used under the top wedge and nailed through it, then the bottom loop passes through the split bottom bar and is folded over. This, in my opinion, has a number of advantages, less work, good strong frames, and usually well-drawn cells.

Drone Foundation.
In the last few years, a trend has developed which I think makes things difficult for new bee keepers, the lack of drone foundation. When I was a young bee keeper most used drone foundation in the honey supers with some major advantages.

To list a few, bigger cells, less wax needed to draw the cells, more honey per super, and finally, noticeably faster extraction, it is all to do with cell size and surface viscosity. It is quite remarkable just how quickly the extraction is out of drone cells. I have never clocked it but its at least half the machine time. Of course, if you are a queen breeder then drone foundation is essential to produce the volume of drones needed for good mating.

Finally, as a Varroa treatment drone foundation is most useful. The idea is to persuade the queen to lay in the drone frame by use of a drone brood trap or even just placing it into the brood centre when the frame is sealed then the frame is removed and frozen, complete with the Varroa. The one disadvantage, if you have young queens it is sometimes difficult to persuade them to lay drone eggs, they don’t need drones around.
If you need more information on this method, please e-mail us.

We really should not leave this page without discussing some dos and donts on drawing foundation. Good cell formation and drawing to full depth is dependant on a good flow of nectar. There is absolutely no point in adding foundation to a hive in a dearth, all the bees will do is pull holes in it, using some of the foundation wax in other areas of the hive. If needs be, then feed, but only if there are no honey supers on, adulterating honey with sugar syrup is to be frowned on!

It is dangerous to good and accurate drawing to place two frames of foundation together, the bees will draw out the first frame too deep, making it difficult to use the adjacent frame. The ideal situation, wherever possible, is to add frames by interleaving the frames of foundation with frames of drawn comb. This will prevent the formation of cross frame burr comb, and also prevent oversized comb, as the frame alongside will limit the distance drawn.