Once your bees are settled into their new hive, they go to work in earnest on building comb. Not all bee comb is going to produce honey, in fact when a colony starts to make comb it is primarily brood comb. Brood comb is where the queen bee lives and lays her eggs, which propagate the hive and help a newly installed package reach its full numbers.
Like honey comb, brood comb is made from pure beeswax which the bees produce from the pollen that they bring back to the hive. Honey is only made from the nectar of flowers, not pollen. Inside brood comb bees raise drones, worker bees, and also keep “emergency queen” cells, to hatch in the event something happens to the current hive queen. Drones are the exclusively male bees whose purpose is to fertilize a queen, they are larger than worker bees and therefore the comb that raises them will have larger hexagonal shapes. Worker bees are the female bees who gather honey and protect and care for the hive, and since the lifespan of an average worker bee in summer is only about a month, bees are always busy producing more workers. Queen bee cells are raised differently and fed only royal jelly, which helps them develop into a sexually mature female.
Bees will usually focus their efforts on brood comb and strengthening the health of their hive for at least the first month or two. After this, as summer starts to bloom, you should begin to see honey comb. By fall, the bees should have stored up a good deal of honeycomb (at least ten bars in a top bar hive), while maintaining their brood area. They’ll spend the winter huddling in the brood comb and consuming their stored up honey.
Looking at the brood comb, you can learn a lot about a hive. For example, in the fall, queens lay in a “winter cluster” which is right next to the honeycomb, so that the hatching bees won’t have to forage for food. In spring, you often have to remove extra brood from the hive to prevent swarming (you can start a new hive with the bees that you remove).
The health of the comb determines the health of the hive, and comb health is one of the main reasons to recommend a top bar hive. In a top bar hive, bees completely create their own comb, in the natural shape and manner that they would in the wild. Examples of top bar hive brood comb show that they have greatly reduced amounts of, if any, pesticides. Brood combs do often turn darker over time, even blackish, from the propolis (bee glue) and dirt from bee feet. This isn’t something that should cause you alarm unless the hive is showing other signs of distress.
Within just a couple of weeks of installing a new hive, you should already be seeing two or three bars of brood comb. I guess that’s where the term busy as a bee comes from!
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