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New plastic foundation and that which has been cleaned requires a coat of beeswax. The wax helps make the foundation acceptable by honeybees. Adding wax to plastic foundation on new frames is often needed to add the depth of the layer which the manufacturer has put on the foundation. This article will guide you through various ways on how to coat plastic foundation with beeswax. The other type of foundation used in beekeeping is wax foundation. Since it is already made using beeswax, it does not usually require coating with more beeswax.
It is important for beekeepers coating plastic foundation with beeswax to take safety precautions. You will be working around heat and hot items that can injure you. Scalding from hot beeswax pouring onto you is a high risk. If your melting apparatus gets too hot, you could have the wax boiling and spitting. Suffering burns is another possibility you should consider and take measures to prevent. Wax is very flammable, so you should consider carrying out this important beekeeping activity outdoors. Open fires near your working area can lead to ignition of the wax if it gets too hot.
For your safety, wear protective clothing and gloves. Footwear should also be of a type that will protect your feet. Boots of any kind are recommended for wear when you are coating plastic foundation with beeswax. You should also have a temperature regulator on your wax melting apparatus if possible. If you cannot have a temperature regulator, at least have a temperature indicator that will tell you how hot things are. It contributes to your safety and that of your materials by informing you so you can take action to add heat or reduce it.
The workstation you setup should be comfortable for you. Do not work in a bending or sitting position. Working while standing up is best. You may use some sort of cover or protection for the working surface as well. Paper towels and cardboard does a great job at keeping your work surfaces free of wax. Generally, any material that can absorb wax or prevent it from coming into contact with your working surface is OK. The material is even better is it is not quick to catch on fire.
There are 2 ways you can apply a coat of beeswax on plastic foundation. The first one involves rolling the wax into a ball and then running it onto the plastic foundation surface. It is quite old fashioned and requires you to have gloves that keep your hands free of wax. A second method is melting wax and then applying it in an even layer on the plastic foundation. Let us look at the general setups for these two methods for when you are coating plastic foundation with beeswax. We begin with melting wax and applying it on the plastic foundation. This requires the following;
A heating element and a heated container
The source of heating for your setup may be a fire, gas burner, electricity or other suitable heat source. Sometimes, the heat source is purely the one that is easily available to you. Have a container that can take the heat and hold good amounts of wax at the same time. The container should also be wide enough to allow the applicator you use to transfer wax from the heated container onto the plastic foundation. A boiler with a thermostat is great for this job. It helps keep the temperature of melted wax below its boiling point. Focus on having liquid wax that is not too hot. If the wax gets too hot, it warps the plastic foundation out of shape. It also requires a longer cooling time once on the plastic foundation and may even damage your hot wax applicator.
Plasticell foundation has been found by many beekeepers to be more resistant to heat. It does not warp when hotter wax is applied on it. However, do not take this as license to use excessively hot wax on your Plasticell foundation sheets.
A wax applicator
There are various items used to transfer hot wax from heated containers onto plastic foundation. Popular options are a foam brush, a sponge brush or a drywall sander. From this list, you can see that brushes are popular. A 4-inch brush made using foam is very good for the job. The foam does not get easily damaged by hot wax and applies an even coat of wax to the upper edges of the plastic foundation. You should aim to coat the top ends of the starter cells with beeswax. It is OK to have an even layer of the wax running into the cells. The overall cell structure must be clearly visible after you are done coating the plastic foundation with wax.
Wax for coating the foundation
Coating plastic foundation with beeswax can use up significantly large amounts of wax, so be ready with enough of it. The best way to go about this is to use beeswax from your own apiary. For beginners, you have to purchase beeswax that has been produced by other beekeepers. Using wax of known origin such as your own apiary is great. It makes sure that the wax is clean and free of contaminants. There are also great sellers of clean beeswax that you can purchase from. Joining a beekeeping club is advised for all beekeepers. The network of local beekeepers will help you get the best quality wax for starting your apiary. For those just starting out in beekeeping, it is better to get wax from a beekeeper you know near you than the commercial stuff.
1. How to Use a Brush to Coat Plastic Foundation with Beeswax
With this method, we are going to use the melted wax with an additional layer of heating between the beeswax and the source of heat.
- Heat a container of water, and then place the container of beeswax on top of the hot water. This keeps the wax just hot enough to melt but not boil. The best wax temperature is hot enough to just melt yet remain thick. Hotter temperatures cause the wax to thin out. At very high temperatures, the wax evaporates and can even ignite.
- When using a paint brush and melted wax, use several strokes of the brush to get a layer that is thick enough onto the plastic foundation. Dip the foam brush into the liquid wax and then pull it out. The bristles should have some amount of the liquid wax on them. A gentle shake of the brush drops off excess beeswax back into the melting container.
Applying the beeswax onto plastic foundation using a foam brush laden should be done quickly. This is because beeswax can cool and solidify on the bristles of the brush. It cakes onto the bristles and renders them useless. To remove such caked wax on your foam brush bristles, dip it back into the melted wax. Hold the bristles in the melted wax for a few seconds and you are ready to continue coating your plastic foundation with beeswax.
A few horizontal strokes followed by one or two vertical strokes should get the job done. The strokes of your brush are best done quickly so that the brush does not linger in one place too long. If it does, you will get an uneven layer of beeswax coating your plastic foundation. As the wax cools on the brush, apply a little more pressure to get a nice layer of beeswax deposited onto the plastic foundation sheet.
Using a brush to apply beeswax can be done on plastic foundation sheets and even on plastic frames that come in a continuous mold with their foundation. Have all your plastic foundation pieces ready in one neat pile near your workstation before you start applying beeswax onto them. It makes work easier and allows you to get the job done quickly. Do not forget to flip over the foundation when you are done with one side. If you don’t, then the bees will draw comb on one side of the plastic foundation and neglect the other. Plastic foundation sheets that need insertion into beehive frames can be waxed when attached to the frame. It helps to not bend the sheet once you have applied wax on the foundation. Bending the sheet may cause the wax to separate from the plastic and fall off.
For best results, warm the sheets of plastic foundation. If you are coating frames that are continuous with their foundation, find a way of getting them warm. Leaving the plastic foundation out in the sunshine for a few minutes is the best trick. You may also subject them to a blast of warm air. Warm plastic foundation accepts beeswax coating better. If the sheet is cold, it cools the beeswax rapidly. It results in the plastic foundation getting too much wax on it. Placing the plastic foundation sheets in a cupboard also helps to warm them up. In warming the plastic foundation, do not apply too much heat that they warp or lose their shape. Additionally, do not heat them in water if you cannot dry them up well before applying wax. The beeswax will not adhere to plastic foundation that is wet.
2. Rolling Wax on Plastic Foundation
Rolling the beeswax into a ball is another way of applying it onto plastic foundation. The ball of wax travelling across the surface of the foundation leaves a layer of wax. This is best done with moderately warm plastic foundation. You may be required to make several passes over the foundation before you have the layer of beeswax that you want on your plastic foundation. Having gloves that will not let wax through is great when you are using the rolling method. Otherwise, your hands end up caked in beeswax.
- This method of coating plastic foundation with beeswax is not favored by many beekeepers. The time taken to roll balls of wax would be often better spent coating a few sheets of plastic foundation with wax using the melting method. Additionally, its potential to get you all dirty makes it the last option for beekeepers.
- Rolling beeswax onto plastic foundation sheets comes with potential for wastage of large amounts of beeswax when you want to save as much as you can. The number of passes you have to make are many and the results not very satisfactory. You should also take into account that the layer of beeswax you leave on the plastic foundation sheets with this method is not even or smooth.
Issues with Bees Stripping Wax from Foundation
Some time after you’ve done coating and installed the beehive frames, you might find that your honeybees have stripped the wax from the plastic foundation. This happens when the bees have other priorities. Honeybees only draw comb when they need it. Placing beeswax within their reach when the honeybee colony is drawing comb in other beehive boxes can result in stripping of wax from one place to be used in another. If it happens, do not worry. Simply take out the frames whose plastic foundation has been stripped of its wax coating and apply another coat of beeswax. Reassignment of beeswax in a beehive from foundation happens even with wax foundation.
A Final Word
With a proper setup, waxing plastic foundation is a quick job. You must be ready with enough beeswax to get you through all the plastic foundation that you aim to coat with beeswax. Practice safe beekeeping by being mindful of your well-being. Do not neglect your safety when applying beeswax onto plastic foundation. Apply the beeswax at a rate of 3-5 layers of the beeswax on each side of the plastic foundation sheet. It gives you good wax layering and strength of bond between wax and plastic. Your honeybees will enjoy the foundation and will not know if it has a plastic core. Use this guide on how to coat plastic foundation with beeswax for faster production times in your beekeeping operation.