Saturday, July 3, 2021

How to get bees to draw out honey comb - painting / rolling on some extra wax

When we first started beekeeping we started with 1 hive, then expanded to 4, then to 7, to 20, up to 40, down to 30, up to 70, doubling to 140, and now running generally 250+. hives all year round.

One of the main things every beekeeper will struggle with initially is getting foundation drawn out, this in order to either expand the brood nest, and or help expanding NUCs or later down the track to create a honey harvest.

Many larger commercial beekeepers may have forgotten the initial struggles of starting up their apiary and the time and energy spent on drawing out honey comb. For instance, when placing a box of foundations on a colony over the excluder, the acceptance is fairly slow, as in comparison when you place a sticky / built comb box over the excluder the adoption is fairly fast.

For us it took quite a few years to build up foundation to drawn comb, and finally being able to bank some of drawn out sticky frames, readily to be used on the next honey flow.

Initially we had been using wooden frames with wax foundation, which we later replaced with plastic inserts due to the exponential growth as we could not keep up creating wax foundations over time.

We started dipping the plastic inserts as people tend to do it in bees wax, and probably coated them with the standard 30 grams worth of bees wax. We had pretty average results in them drawing them out. Unless you had been on a honey flow, not a lot happens, and even if you are on honey flow, they draw it out fairly average.

We then started experimenting with adding thicker layers of bees wax on the plastic foundations, and noticed a few things. When adding wopping 70-100 grams worth of bees wax to the frames, they seemed to draw them out on the slightest trickle of a honey flow. It seems like we give the bees all the supplies and they all needed to do is draw them out, "while being bored". The supplies give them a head start, however you will notice that the cells will only be drawn about half ways, enough however to get the bees to either start storing nectar in them, or have the queen bee pop an egg into those cells, and that's all that has to happen. As when the bees start utilizing those new cells, they will finish up the comb by their own demand and usage. Its however key to get the initial boost. If you really want to kick start things you can combine rolling on extra wax and giving them a little sugar water to help drawing them out. However keep in mind that you may end up contaminating your honey with this action. We nowadays simply roll our frames, and wait for the slightest honey flow to have them drawn out, which proved working nicely. My dad has become an absolute expert at this task!


Fresh wax works best! What we mean by that is, if you just recently (1-4 weeks) have rolled the wax coating on to your foundation frames, bees tend to work them even faster as if you give them foundation you had coated over 6-10 month ago with the same thickness. We are not quite sure why freshly rolled wax works even better, it may be the fresh smell of the new layer of wax, or the fact that it can be better worked when still freshly painted. Who knows...

The ambient / working temperature its important while working the frames. We typically try to do those tasks in the Australian winter time, as it helps with keeping layers of the cooling wax on the foundations. It seems to be the combination of the wax temperature, as well as the ambient temperature which makes the perfect coat. Also for the first few rolls of a a freshly dipped roller you will have to be gentle, and apply least amount of pressure on the foundation when rolling. Only when you get to the last drops of wax soaked within the roller you should apply pressure to the foundation to get the best coverage, slightly drawing out the comb, without just filling it comb with wax puddles.
Note, that in the picture our heated bees wax hardly has any bubbles, that's what the temperature should be like, to avoid it to be to runny and too hot. If your ambient temperature ins spring or summer is too hot, just use a fan to cool down the foundations as you paint them, as it helps with having the bees wax stick better to the frames while cooling down faster.

A safety warning:

Never walk away from the burning wax stove and or let the bees wax get too hot, as it will ignite if it reaches the bees wax flash point temperature or if it boils and starts spilling onto your burning stove the spillage may catch on fire. There is only one solution if the wax has gotten to hot, which is to take the heat source away. Hence, watch your melting bees wax at all times. Also never try to cool it down by poring water into the boiling pan, as you will just be engulfed in a fireball, its just like tossing water into a hot frying pan, a pretty stupid and dangerous idea.

Also we would probably recommend having a fire blanked handy as well as a fire extinguisher, just in case you talked to long on the phone and forgot about the stove. Being prepared and being able to do something about the mistake is better than to watch your house burn down. We do not take any responsibility for your actions!

Worker comb vs. Drone comb

As initially said, we utilize wooden frames with plastic inserts for our brood boxes, while also rolling on extra 70-100 grams worth of bees wax on to our drone comb frames. In our honey supers we are using drone comb supplied by ECROTEC, and its the Pink/Red 7.2mm drone comb on which the bees go nuts drawing them out when applied with the extra wax!! We use WSP frame standard, however the 7.2mm done comb plastic foundation does not exist yet in that format, hence we had to saw down the full depth sizes into WSP frame format size, just in case you wonder why the bottom looks cut off on those frames. There are a few benefits in using drone comb within the supers which we will explain on a dedicated blog entry about them.

Keep in mind this is quite considerable effort involved to roll all your boxes, however it can kick start your apiary, especially if your operation is of small to medium size and you intend to grow rapidly in a very short time frame. To give you an initial guidance about the effort involved in this tasks, we have estimated that we paint a 10 frame WSP box in about 6 minutes, plus handling the box another 1-2 minutes, yielding a round trip time of all tasks involved of somewhere around 8 minutes per box. This seems a large number of hours spend in the shed, but can save your bees taking for ever to get the box built, and rather have the box built in the first flow, and filled as well! Usually you either get the honey comb built, or filled, however using this technique you tend to get both in a single flow.




Have fun painting bees wax on to your frames!!



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