Honey comb - Bee in Harmony - a natural beekeeper's blog

Changing comb – Part 1 – Season 6

Honey Comb - Bee in harmony - a natural beekeeper's blog

If I was allowed to talk about only one rule every natural beekeeper should abide by, it would be changing honey comb (foundation) yearly. Yes, it means that the bees will be spending time, energy and food on building new foundation (so, I make them do it in the fall). Yes, you will need to be monitoring the hive for some stubborn behavior and manipulate them into abandoning the old comb (I used to shake the bees off the old comb, but read on, as I will tell you about the new tactic). And, yes, you can’t just leave the frames with old comb (foundation) lying around: there will always be wax moth and small hive beetle larva waiting to hatch and eat the wax and remnants of honey.

Many articles have been written on the subject of the common bee pathogens and their spreading mechanism. I have a post I wrote a while ago about it. We change the comb, first and foremost, for our bees’ health. Without changing the comb, we could not be the natural beekeepers that we are today. The exponential growth of pathogens will make you want to use chemicals to suppress it, as it does other beekeepers. 

And then, there are pesticides that bees pick up while foraging … Those pesticides, when accumulated on the comb for several seasons, will start affecting the endocrine, digestive and reproductive systems of honey bees. 

Finally, if you are planning to use your beeswax for cosmetic use, you may want to keep in mind that bees regularly recycle their comb. Even if you only use beeswax from cappings for your lotions, keep in mind that due to its chemical composition (fatty acids and alcohols), beeswax is highly absorbent. Other elements will affect it.

So, is it all hopeless to count on your beeswax being pure for cosmetic use? Yes, even after one year of use, the beeswax may contain unwanted chemicals, but let’s look, at least, at this report. The cappings collected from these colonies contained fluvalinate and coumaphos. The rates were alarming, but then, flavulinate and coumaphos are the chemicals used by beekeepers. Pesticides collected in the fields were not detected in that particular study, and yet, if you are worried about your beeswax, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Am I introducing chemicals into my beehives?
  2. Are my hives located in the close proximity to highly toxic (through spraying) crops (i.e. cotton, corn, soybean)?
  3. Am I changing my foundation yearly?

If the answer to the first and second questions is No, I would say that the levels of contamination of your beeswax is very low. If you are also changing your foundation yearly, it should offset to some degree the effect of pesticide exposure during foraging. If you think that buying “organic beeswax” is a better solution, think again: unless it comes from a known for its organic practices apiary located in the middle of the wild national park, the beeswax may very well contain something… The price of that beeswax is doubled, but looking at some of it online, I can see that it came from the brood comb and was not filtered well, which makes it difficult to use for lotions.

As for introducing chemicals into your hives… I have been using the same plastic foundation, for my own honey comb, for years. I believe that initially it was sprayed with beeswax, and as you can guess, not “organic” kind. In my defense, I bought that foundation only once and have been reusing it for six years. You could probably wash the foundation well in the washing/baking soda to neutralize some of the compounds (most pesticides are acidic).

So, to recap on this post:

  1. Using commercial wax foundation for the honey comb introduces chemicals into the hive, even if you don’t use chemicals yourself.
  2. Making bees rebuild their comb every year is not bad for the bees. In nature, wax moth is constantly “cleaning up” the old comb. New comb will contain fewer pathogens and will allow the bees to have good chances of winter survival.
  3. You do not have to make it stressful on the bees. In my next post, I will introduce the methods I read about in the recent issue of BeeCraft, and I will also write about preparing my bees for the winter.

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