Comb building

I was going through some of my files and discovered this:

I think it brilliantly shows how the bees build their comb, and why I don’t use foundation. Worker bees exude little flakes of wax from glands in their abdomen, and mould them with their mandibles in to the familiar hexagonal cells. The bees need to cluster together to increase the temperature of the wax to do this, and here you can see that process happening.

The wax combs appear from the middle of this cluster, with the bees using themselves to support, and measure, and form the internal ‘body’ of the colony – they will link themselves together and create festoons between the combs. You can also see the beautiful seam along the edges: the bees use vibrations to communicate, and these rims transmit these signals across the whole nest. This is a completely different set up from the wooden frames with wired sheets of pressed wax that bees are normally given.

Here is a vacated skep, which of course has nothing by way of guides or frames for the bees, yet you can see the natural space between the combs:

I do realise that bees can build “crazy comb” which makes inspections difficult, but the bees have to build to their 6mm or 9mm bee space or they can’t work the hive, so if we give them frames or top bars with the correct spacing, and prime them with a bead of wax or starter strip of foundation, there is no reason for them to not build straight. Also, as bees use gravity to orient their combs to the vertical, it’s imperative that the hive is level.

Here is an empty brood frame and a full super frame, both of which have had their combs built entirely by the bees:

Beautiful stuff. I never get bored of watching bees making their home.

2 Replies to “Comb building”

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