How much pesticide in commercial foundation?

A reader in Maryland was told by a master beekeeper that 1) there are fewer chemicals in purchased foundation than previously thought and 2) foundationless hives have just as many chemicals as hives containing purchased foundation. She doubted these gems of wisdom and wanted to know if I’d seen any research supporting these claims.

First off, all the research I’ve read on this subject reports alarming amounts of pesticide—both number and quantity—in manufactured foundation. Particularly common are the acaricides fluvalinate and coumophos, which are used to treat colonies for Varroa mites. I’ve seen no papers claiming otherwise. Furthermore, it seems highly unlikely that foundationless comb would contain as much pesticide as comb built on commercial foundation.

Just think of it logically. Commercial foundation is made my companies that purchase wax from a variety of beekeepers. Usually it is large-scale beekeepers who sell their wax because most small-scale beekeepers do not have enough wax to bother selling.

For various reasons large-scale commercial beekeepers are more likely to use chemical pesticides such as fluvalinate and coumophos in the hive and they are more likely to have their bees working in agricultural areas where multiple pesticides are used on crops. So the wax coming from these hives is more likely to be contaminated with an array of acaricides, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, all of which go into the commercial foundation.

Now suppose you start two new colonies, one on commercial foundation and one foundationless. Even if both colonies bring in pesticide from the field—and even if you treat both colonies with acaricide—the one with the commercial foundation is going to have more total contamination than the other because it had a head start. It is just numbers.

So even if the amount of pesticide in commercial foundation is less than originally reported (which I doubt), there is still going to be more total contamination in a hive with commercial foundation than one without.

Isn’t it possible that your foundationless colony foraged in places with more pesticide than the other colony and ultimately became even more contaminated? Of course it’s possible. But is it likely? Absolutely not.


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  • So, do YOU use commercial foundation? If not what?
    I tried going foundationless in one hive. It wasn’t pretty.

    • John,

      I sometimes use commercial foundation, but I try to minimize it. If I’m starting new frames, I usually just use drawn frames alternated with frames fitted with starter strips. This usually works to keep the combs parallel. If I’m starting a whole new box at once, I use foundation.

  • Hi, Rusty. I agree with you. Most wax that is re-purposed for foundation comes from cappings and, therefore, should have less contaminants from coumophos and fluvalinate due to the fact that these are not supposed to be used while honey supers are on. However, the fact remains that some of these chemicals are found when testing commercial foundation. Here’s a link where anyone who’s interested can listen to a couple of presentations regarding pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides found in our beehives these days. The link is to Brushy Mountain Bee Farm’s website, where there are many informative presentation videos available. On this page you will find 2 presentations by Drs. Maryann and Jim Frazier of Penn State University that cover in great detail the findings of studies done on this particular subject.

    Jim Withers

  • Hello!

    I am getting two nucs next month and have been researching constantly. I am considering starting off foundationless. I found an article on how to convert my current frames to foundation less frames:

    I know my nuc frames won’t be foundationless, so my questions is how is the best way to do this? Staggering nuc frames with empty frames? Push all my nuc frames to the middle and put foundationless on the outside? Suggestions?

    • Cassie,

      Although alternating the frames is the easiest way to get straight comb in your foundationless frames, it won’t work in this situation because you don’t want to compromise the brood nest from your nucleus hive. Keep all the brood together in the center of the hive and put the foundationless frames with comb guides beside them. Check the bees on occasion. If they stop using one of the frames for brood and begin using it for pollen or honey, put a foundationless frame between the nest and that frame. Do this a few times until parallel comb is being built in all the foundationless frames.

  • Hi Rusty. I would like to re-use my beewax. I am useing a honeypress and then I haven’t any drawn honeycomb I can give back to the bees. I will have plenty of wax. I would like to make my own foundation but embossing roller and silikone moulds are expensive. If I dip a form in melted wax and make a foundation without the embossing of the cells it will be more brittle because it hasn’t been throught a roller.

    What do you think about my idea? What will the bees think about foundation without cell shapes?

    Beekeeper from Denmark

    • Henrik,

      Why not go without foundation and use the wax for something else? I’m sure the bees would use flat foundation, but I don’t know what the benefit would be over not using any at all, except it might help make the combs parallel. It’s an interesting question and one I’ve not heard before. Why don’t you try it and then tell us how it worked?

  • Hi Rusti. I put foundations in my beehives and after 23 days all new bees emerged dead or just can’t emerge from cell. And old bees throw them (new bees) out of the hive. Is that a sign of pesticides in foundations? This happened just in those new drawn combs.

    • Arjan,

      There’s no way to know without testing the foundation, but it sure looks suspicious. I would stop using it.