During the 19th century, beekeepers sought to turn raising bees into an industry. They searched for new methods to get bigger yields from honeybees. They found many tricks to do that but one in particular affected the bees’ home.
Beekeepers began using new homes for the bees. These have a foundation for the hives. The foundation is prefabricated combs made of wax, recycled beeswax or plastic. This practice began in 1857 but it was mass-produced by 1876. The use of a foundation was heavily promoted. It is now a standard bee keeping equipment.
Foundation is believed to be beneficial for the bees and the beekeepers. It strengthens the comb and it ensures that the combs will always be straight. It makes extracting honey a lot easier. It prevents construction of drone combs. Finally, a foundation let’s the bees go on foraging continually instead of making and repairing combs. Through this reasoning, they thought to make bees produce more honey.
It seems to be a net gain for bees and beekeepers both but it’s not so simple. There are disadvantages to foundation beekeeping. It’s expensive is the most economic reason. It can become hard to manage. It interferes with the bees’ own combs. Lastly, the creation of foundations uses potentially nasty chemicals. Recycled beeswax, unlike fresh ones, absorbs chemicals readily. As foundations are used year after year, the chemicals can really build up.
To sum up the disadvantages, foundations are against the principles of organic beekeeping. The potential for chemical build-up and the interference with the bees’ natural flow does not fit. Raising bees in a foundation seem like wasted effort. A bee can make his own comb without interference, thank you very much. Some colonies ignore the foundation itself. It doesn’t impact a bee’s foraging because a worker bee’s task changes according to age. It doesn’t forage until it’s about 22 days old. Bees that aren’t creating or fixing will do another task instead of foraging.
Organic beekeeping prefers foundationless hives. There are no chemical contaminations, just plain wood. Bees still need to be guided when creating combs but it doesn’t have to be a foundation. A simple beveled top bar, or an appropriately placed Popsicle stick, is enough for bees. They’ll make the rest without any help. Bees can build their own combs faster than building with a foundation. While bees can mess up a foundationless hive, they can mess a foundation hive just as many times. The main drawback to foundationless hives is that the beekeeper must make sure that the beeswax is strong before pulling it out of a hive box. Pulling out soft honeycomb can damage the hive.
Beginners who want to go straight to organic beekeeping are advised to get used to foundationless hives. It’ll be easier because no old habits are interfering.