Herb Drapkin's Plastic Combs Make Busy Bees Busier

updated 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

Dr. Herbert Drapkin has come up with a honey of a laborsaving device: His plastic Perma-Combs are the first exact replicas of the wax cells that bees build, and his ersatz hives are energy efficient to boot. "Now," says Dr. Drapkin, "bees do not have to build onto any foundation. So more of their work goes into making honey than into producing wax."

The downside is that Perma-Combs, which are virtually indestructible, cost between $2.40 and $3.35 each, depending on quantity. Wood-frame combs cost no more than $1.75, but about a fifth of them have to be replaced each year, so Drapkin is pushing his device as a replacement part. So far, about 1,000 apiarists have made a beeline for his prefab homes.

Raised in Brooklyn, the son of an electrician, Drapkin majored in animal husbandry and dairying at the State University of New York Agricultural and Technical College at Farmingdale. He served in an Army specialized training program during World War II, and afterward worked his way through med school at Northwestern University, becoming a surgeon. With his wife, Anita, he bought a 33-acre citrus farm in Fillmore, Calif. and retired 10 years ago because "I was starting to take my surgical problems home."

At about the same time he turned his attention to beekeeping. "My wife and I were watching friends work in their honey house—this hot, miserable room with all these bees flying around. Anita said, 'Herb, you've got to do something about that—it's a terrible way to make a living.' I discovered the most perishable part of the operation is the wax comb." It took him until last November to work out the kinks, the major hurdle being that plastic was so slippery the bees kept falling off the comb. He fixed that by developing a textured polyethylene with better footing. A potentially more serious problem required a stronger medicine. Turns out that the benefactor of bees required shots because he was highly allergic to them.

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