Healthy Foundation, Healthy Bees, Making Organic Wax Foundation for Beekeepers

Project Overview

FW08-049
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $13,999.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Richard Spiegel
Volcano Island Honey Co.

Commodities

  • Animals: bees

Practices

  • Animal Production: general animal production
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: biological control, biorational pesticides

    Summary:

    SUMMARY

    Our purpose was to learn how to make organic beeswax foundation in a small farm setting, from beeswax available from the farm, and to test this foundation in hives to determine if the bees would respond favorably. Another goal of the project was to learn the process adequately to share the information and teach others.

    Over the last year, Volcano Island Honey Company has been switching out all of the foundation to the homemade organic foundation, with good results. The company began by switching out the deep frames in the brood chamber and is now beginning to switch out the Westerns.

    OBJECTIVES

    1. Learn how to make organic wax foundation
    2. Test and observe how the bees respond to the new foundation
    3. Demonstrate the process to other local beekeepers and educate them about the importance and benefits of organic foundation
    4. Reduce the use of toxic materials in the hives
    5. Use surplus wax to optimize on-farm resources
    6. Explore the possibility of organic wax foundation production as a source of diversified farm income

    METHODS

    We developed a timeline for completion and organized the “wax room” for making foundation. We also ordered equipment including a 5.1 mm foundation-embossing mill and two water jacked wax melters.

    After observational protocol for the hives was reached, we developed and posted educational material for making the foundation on our website and created a wax foundation making manual.

    CHALLENGES

    We found out that making beeswax foundation requires a high degree of flexibility. The exact process will be different for each farm and is different for the same farm on different days. We were able to perfect and document the process steps and teach them to others, but we learned that the quality of the wax, the ambient temperature, and the equipment itself were important factors that needed to be adjusted for each foundation run.

    RESULTS

    All of the major objectives of the project were met. We learned how to make foundation and taught others who were inspired to make their own foundation or possibly form a local co-op to make it. Volcano Island Honey Co is successfully using its own wax to make the foundation instead of importing foundation from the U.S. mainland. This is increasing farm self-sufficiency and closing the sustainability loop. While it would be difficult to prove, we feel strongly that organic foundation in the hives is healthier than wax foundation, which is contaminated with chemicals, and better than plastic foundation dipped in organic wax.

    While there appears to be a local market for organic wax foundation, we have not yet determined if this would be economically viable. There was also considerable interest from local hobbyist and small-scale commercial beekeepers in making wax foundation, but no formal agreements were made.

    BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE

    Based upon general observation, it did not seem to have an impact on yields either way. Chemical residue in wax, however, is something that would have a long-term negative impact on the health of hives. Therefore, the theory is that organic wax foundation will have a long-term positive impact on the overall health of the hive and the honey production.

    A major benefit of this project is having proved that you can make organic wax foundation at a small apiary. Making foundation is something that is done in Third World countries, but not often done in the United States. Without the grant funds to purchase the equipment and learn the process, it would not be cost effective to make your own foundation. However, it does seem possible for a group of beekeepers to come together and make foundation as a group. In addition to creating community and strengthening connections, this would lower the overall investment and spread the cost for everyone.

    Another benefit of the project, being in Hawaii, is the ability to locally produce the foundation from local wax, which is the byproduct of honey production. Many local apiaries ship wax off the island to the U.S. mainland after each season. Then they ship wax foundation in. This is not environmentally sustainable. This project demonstrates that there is a use for local wax and it is feasible to make the foundation locally.

    PRODUCER ADOPTION/REACTIONS FROM PRODUCERS

    The group of 13 beekeepers who attended the workshop were all excited about making their own foundation. They were all completely interested and their enthusiasm was high.

    The group wanted to get together again and make foundation for themselves at Volcano Island Honey Company and/or explore the possibility of a group for making foundation. However, the Volcano Island Honey Company apiary owner was not sure about how to best handle this request. Challenges include considerable demands on his time, the possibility of damage to the equipment, and the possibility of spreading the varroa mite and other diseases from beekeeping equipment from other apiaries.

    RECOMMENDATIONS

    Research should be done to find out what the long-term effects of plastic foundation and contaminated foundation are compared to organic wax foundation, which would be pertinent to certified organic apiaries.

    Now that we have figured out the process and have adequate equipment, a further study could determine whether the organic foundation product would be a viable income stream.

    OUTREACH

    We published an article in the November 2008, Volcano Island Honey Holiday Newsletter and in the August 2009 Big Island Beekeeper Newsletter.

    We also created YouTube instructional videos and held a workshop on August 8, 2009, with 13 people in attendance.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.