Wax Foundation Contains High Levels of Pesticides

Go foundationless - avoid high levels of pesticides in wax foundation

 

Beeswax is naturally porous and soaks up chemical residues like a sponge.  Since the majority of commercial beeswax comes from hives treated with various pesticides, the chemicals inevitably end up in the wax. Other pesticide and fungicide residues found in wax can come from tainted nectar and pollen that the bees bring back from treated crops like almonds and corn.  This pesticide-laced wax is in turn processed and pressed to produce wax foundation sheets, which the majority of Langstroth beekeepers use in their hives.  A University of Pennsylvania study tested wax foundation sheets from six commercial suppliers and two private sources and found 27 different pesticides in the wax.  Some of the chemicals like fluvalinate and coumpahos, which are used to kill mites, were found at remarkably high levels. Even though these pesticides are intended to target mites, they will also inadvertently kill a certain percentage of honeybee brood because of their toxicity.

Alone, these high levels of pesticides found in most hives may not kill a colony, but combined with all of the other stresses on bees including varroa mites and viruses, it can increase the chances the bees will not thrive or survive.  The pesticides are neurotoxicants that impair a bee’s immune system, learning, and memory, which all add up to shorten the average lifespan of the bees in a colony.  Let’s say an average Summertime worker bee can live for 6 weeks. If more and more of the bees in the colony start to get lost on their flights and never make it back or if some of the bees are immunocompromised because they developed in a cell with high levels of pesticides and live 1-2 weeks shorter or a few more brood never develop and die in their cells, what begins to happen to the colony? The population slowly dwindles over time and come Fall or Winter, the colony is not strong or large enough to survive. A slow dwindling of a honey bee colony is hard for a beekeeper to detect, especially a beekeeper that does not do regular inspections. A beekeeper may notice less bees after each inspection, but it may not be alarming enough to warrant more proactive measures. A beekeeper’s primary goal is to keep a colony alive. At the individual worker bee level, this means trying to extend the average lifespan of each bee so that you have a mixture of different-aged bees doing different essential tasks (cleaning and grooming, nursing, foraging for pollen, nectar, propolis). Therefore, eliminating a factor that can cause a shortened bee lifespan like wax foundation sheets can help the overall health of your colony.

Go foundationless - avoid high levels of pesticides in wax foundation
Our Wild Bunch Bees top bars have comb guides that are dipped in wax that comes from our chemical-free apiary. Will you find pesticides in them? Maybe some that gets absorbed from the nectar and pollen the bees forage, but certainly not the amount or variety you will find in wax foundation sheets. Plus, it’s just a thin line of wax to let the bees know where to start drawing out their comb.

 

What can you do to wean yourself from wax foundation sheets? It’s simple, go foundationless and don’t wrap your bees in a blanket of pesticides. Obviously, for top bar beekeepers this is an easy proposition because we don’t use foundation sheets.  For Langstroth beekeepers, there are various ways to fashion a wooden comb guide at the top of a frame to let the bees draw out straight comb. Even using a small, 1 inch strip of foundation sheet at the top of the frame instead of a full sheet could help reduce the overall amount of pesticides in a hive. You can also include the metal wire supports to help keep everything stable during honey extraction.  Going foundationless can be a gradual process.  By putting in a few foundationless frames in between your frames of drawn out comb and replacing old comb over time, you will eventually have less and less pesticide residue in your comb. The drawback of going foundationless is that the bees can draw out comb crooked or make some comb bulge out into adjacent comb from time to time. This behavior largely depends on how good the top bar or foundationless Langstroth frame you have fashioned or bought is.  We believe our Wild Bunch top bars with side supports and long, protruding wax-dipped comb guides are the best at keeping comb straight and preventing it from collapsing.  

Top Bar Hive Nucs for sale from chemical-free, winter-surviving stock
Our Wild Bunch top bars. The bees will eventually attach the wax to the side supports.
Foundationless Langstroth Frame
Foundationless Langstroth frames with wire supports

 

What’s another benefit of going foundationless? You save money. It is recommended that beekeepers take out old comb that is over 3 years old to reduce the gradual buildup of chemicals and diseases in the hive. Langstroth beekeepers will also lose some frames of comb in the honey extraction process and from the selling of nucs to customers. To get new comb, Langstroth beekeepers will have to buy new sheets of wax foundation. The cost of one sheet averages $1.50 minus shipping. Over time, not having to buy these sheets can save you some money.

Stepping back, you may be asking how does one simply throw out old comb, especially when it might have eggs, larvae, or capped brood in it. I may be like some of you, who are loathe to throw away so much precious brood. To avoid having brood in my old comb when I go to throw it away, I simply keep adding empty top bars into the brood area at the front of my hive, which the bees will eventually draw out. This gradually moves the older comb back to the middle and back of my top bar hive. In this area, the bees usually raise the drone brood or put in capped honey. When they start doing this, I can take this comb out without feeling remorse as killing some drone brood is good for mite control. If the old comb is filled with capped honey, I will extract this for my own consumption. 

Please share some of your top bar or foundationless frame creations with me on Instagram (@wildbunchfarm).

Get chemical-free wax with our top bar hives
It’s usually time to replace comb when it gets dark brown to black in color. The darker comb in this picture may have 1-2 years left before I replace them.

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