Plastic Foundation, It Has It’s Place

Plastic foundation used in frames of bee hives has been an on and off hot topic for decades.  As usual, it is often presented as a false dichotomy of should use or should not.  The reality as most of us know lies in each situation in the objectives of the beekeeper and the needs of the colony.

We should know pro’s and con’s of plastic foundation and when it’s inclusion is an asset and when it’s not really contributing anything of use or actively working against objectives and/or needs.

Some colonies have been known to actively resist drawing out comb from plastic foundation.  Other times, bees seem to go right to it, working with it ideally.

Plastic foundation offers good purpose to beekeepers in that it doesn’t blow out like less supported combs can during extraction.  It also can encourage bees to draw combs neatly inside the frame structure and reduce or inhibit cross comb development.

Plastic foundation can resist or avoid “slumping” in high temperatures in a hive which essentially is a partial collapse of comb.  In that case, bees can be killed, including the queen.  “Slumping” can also lead to forage resources spilling onto the bottom board and drawing pests such as ants, wasps, SHB and more.  Plastic foundation, properly drawn out, can avoid those situations.

Plastic foundation can also work as great guides to help bees keep new combs straight.  Add to that the rapidity of drawing out cells in high need scenarios such as installing a package, swarm or trapout that needs to get established ASAP.  Having plastic foundation installed can get the queen laying eggs sooner and forage stored more rapidly.

I’ve listed some “pro’s” of plastic foundation and situations which benefit from the inclusion of it.  So what are some “con’s” of plastic foundation and not practical or ideal use situations?

Some colonies just resist drawing out plastic foundation.  Some ways to make it more appealing to bees that I know of are to heavily wax by rubbing it or applying melted beeswax onto it.  Spraying a sugar syrup on it has been effective in some cases to induce drawing out comb, but not always.

Sometimes bees will make a tremendous mess of things by drawing out wax perpendicular to the face of the frame resulting in cross-combing and difficulty in pulling frames during inspections.

There are those who say that it just isn’t “natural” for plastic foundation to be in hives.  One could argue that being in hives with removable frames isn’t natural either.  Also, bees will draw out comb from a number of parallel surfaces from other combs regardless of what is made from.  After doing countless cutouts, I have seen comb drawn on glass, wood, plastic, and metal.  Bees don’t care, as long as they have someplace to build comb.

Most plastic foundation is embossed with entirely one cell size.  There are various cell size foundation sheets that can be ordered now.  “Small cell” which is the size bees “naturally” produce under otherwise un-influenced situations, regular or common cell size which runs slightly larger and drone cell size is available as well.

Many natural beekeepers argue that bees will draw out multiple sized cells on each comb to meet various colony needs.  This is correct.  With some planning and manipulation, using at least two sizes of cells on plastic foundation can be workable.

Keep in mind, I am not necessarily arguing for or against the inclusion and use of plastic foundation in beekeeping.  I simply want to help make the decision about it’s inclusion as informed as possible.

Do I use plastic foundation as a self described “organic” beekeeper?  In some situations, yes.  Mostly to get cut outs and swarms started as soon as possible.  Occasionally to get combs started straight.  If they have good comb I can transfer of already have straight comb drawn out, then I won’t bother with foundation.  I see it as a facilitation, not a replacement or default setting.

As long as the effort is made to keep the plastic cleaned every so often to have clean wax drawn on it, it is a good tool.  Personally, I wouldn’t rely on it for every frame in every hive.  Then again, my beekeeping goals and objectives are somewhat different than the conventional beekeeper.

Bee Tech: Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

As a professional bee tech, part of my job is to bee prepared to do the job.  Whether the job is coaching a beekeeper working their hives, leading an applied beekeeping skills worker or do a live bee rescue, having the appropriate PPE on hand is important.

When we’re talking about beekeeping PPE, that includes hats, veils, jackets, gloves, eye protection, cuff straps, etc…

The primary reason to wear gear is to keep yourself calm, in control and not distracted.  The more you are able to be those things, the better you will do at keeping bees calm and perform higher quality work.

I hate to wear gear.  It makes me hot and uncomfortable.  If I find that I don’t need it, the situation doesn’t call for it, I will keep it handy but not put it on.  As it is, because I do wear it so often, I have a ventilated jacket.

Having said that, if I even suspect that there might be a call for wearing gear, I suck it up and wear the gear.  Personal comfort is important, but not at the risk of getting yourself or others hurt or bees distressed.

If nothing else anymore I almost always wear a hat and evil.  The bees seem to hate my hair.  They fly by, get tangled and sting my head.  Not fun.  So, at least that much.

Wearing cuff straps over shirt/ jacket sleeves and pants legs can be invaluable to keep bees from marching into clothing while working bees before sunrise or after sunset.  If you have no cuff straps, tucking cuffs into boots and gloves can work also

Eye protection.  This may seem redundant when wearing a veil.  However, especially when working a cut-out, debris can blow through the screen of the veil and get into your eyes.  Not a good scenario when your full attention is necessary.

Beyond the safety reasons, especially when being a professional beekeeper or technician, people have expectations as to what a “professional” they are paying (sometimes a lot of money) should look like.  As it is beekeeping related, they expect to see the hat\veil and at least a jacket.

Personally, I beelieve that making a professional appearance is important to encouraging people to take live bee removal services as a viable alternative to extermination.

Keep in mind though that most of my clients are property management companies and private business properties such as camping venues, etc… whose business insurance requirements necessitate they contract with a professional service.

You know the old saying about dressing for the job you want.  They want a professional beekeeper.  They expect to see one that they can recognize as such.

The PPE you have and use is just as valuable to you as any smoker, hive tool or hive equipment.  It can mean the difference between a positive beekeeping experience and an unsuccessful, frustrating beekeeping experience.


IPM Controls – Exclusion

As a professional “bee tech”  I am big on including Integrated Pest Management controls both in my beekeeping as well as in my bed removals.

One of the most effective and cost efficient strategies is exclusion.  That is, to prevent pest entry into the “protected” space we are working with.  There are several tactics we can implement to establish and maintain a preventative, exclusionary strategy

There are a variety of controls that are available to implement according to the different categories.

  1. Regulatory
    1. set rules about conduct and handling tools and equipment to prevent cross-contamination and spread of pests, diseases, environmental issues, etc…
  2. Environmental
    1. Introduce specific parasitic and predatory animals that control populations of pests that threaten bee hive’s.
      1. Bat houses.  Bats eat moths such as greater wax moths.
      2. Parasitic wasps.  Certain wasps can be introduced to kill pests such as Small Hive Beetle larvae that pupate in the ground around hives.
  3. Mechanical
    1. Screen mesh can block entrances yet allow ventilation.  Especially useful in preventing robbing during dearth and having to close hive entrances during transportation and seclusion during nearby pesticide applications.
  4. Chemical
    1. “Soft” chemical applications such as cedar oil in and around the hives can help as a repellent to hive pests and resist environmental conditions such as mold, mildew, etc…

These are just a few potential exclusionary tactics that can bee implemented to prevent and reduce pest populations in and around hives.  They can be implemented independently or in conjunction with others.

By working to exclude pest presence, we can reduce and perhaps eliminate the need for stronger and preventable control tactics down the line.

I hate the word treatment in beekeeping

People are getting all in a kerfuffle again about “treatment” or “no-treatment” beekeeping.

By “treatment” the general reference is to applying some type of chemical control inside a bee hive.  However, that word is also used synonamously with “manipulation” or introducing changes in a variety of ways to a bee hive.

First off, do I beelieve in implementing chemical controls into a bee hive?  The short answer is that yes, I do see a possible case scenario for introducing a chemical control into a bee hive.

The long answer is that I see a spectrum of a myriad of possibilities that don’t easily fit into a dichotomy.  It’s more like following an “if-then” flow chart the way I approach it.

In regard to use of toxic chemical pesticides being used as a control tactic….  It’s not likely for me.  I see those as a last ditch, worst case scenario that “might” be usable on a case by case approach.

I am just as likely to terminate a colony in such a situation as try to implement a toxic chemical control.  It depends on a variety of things that affect that particular hive and the apiary and environment that it’s in.

I have total and utter disregard for those who insist on making “treatment” or “no-treatment” a simple and absolute false dichotomy.

I prefer, as I think most do, to have colonies that do not need to have certain types of control tactics introduced such as toxic chemical pesticides.  I implement IPM in my overall beekeeping and apiary planning from the beginning.

I try to have the best understanding of natural bee biology and behavior so as to let the colonies tell me when they need help and then only give the help they need, nothing more, nothing less.

Playing political games of unnecessary absolutes is a waste of thinking people’s time, efforts and resources.

That’s just how this apiarist sees it.

Technically Speaking…

I am a technician.  In multiple, various ways.  Professionally, I actually am a certified computer network technician.  I was a licensed and registered pesticide applicator.  Personally, I consider myself an “amateur” scientist in that I don’t get paid to engage in research but I am actively involved in R & D and testing various methodologies, techniques, and products as related to beekeeping.

So I generally approach everything from a technician point of view.  It’s just how I roll.  Below is a pretty general and common definition of a technician, at least by Google standards.

I happen to fall into all three of these.  I maintain and operate professional equipment, I have been specifically educated and trained to apply information, techniques and concepts based on scientific research, and yes, I am a beekeeper which does indeed count as an art and a craft and yes, does require skill to be successful.

When I talk about bees and beekeeping in presentations, classes, online, or pretty much anywhere, I come at it from a technician mindset.  We employ the scientific process all the time as beekeepers, especially when including Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in our operating plan.

After spending many years as a professional technician in other fields, I come to beekeeping almost instinctively at this point using the same mindset.

As a contributor to Bee Smart beekeeping project here, I have a few purposes driving my participation.  One, I beelieve that beekeeping is generally a hobby for the vast majority of people and it should be enjoyable.  Beekeeping should bee fun.  By trying to include some entertainment, even at my own expense, I hope to help others have fun and remember some of the things we share here more because of the association of being amused while learning.

Two, I want to encourage and foster a “next step” in professional apiarist careers and services.  Time and technology marches on and as they do, so must beekeeping.  Hobby beekeeping will always be around I think but making a primary living at it must evolve.

This is where JPtheBeeman, myself and others have taken our directions to involve ourselves professionally in beekeeping but not in the conventional role as a migratory pollinator or in substantial honey production.

We encourage some folks to take some risks, bee adventurous, and do something unique that helps make everyone involved a winner.  I want to help people take that step and so have built my business on live removal and relocation services combined with skills training and education as a coach and instructor.

So, whether read my articles, posts and watch my videos and hear me on the podcasts, that’s the point where I’m coming from, a technician with a passion for bees.