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What Is Honeycomb? (Talking Beeswax)

Installing Package Bees

Honeycomb is a wax mass made up of hexagonal (six-sided) cells made by honey bees using wax from specific abdomen glands. The honeycomb in a bee's nest is used to store pollen, nectar, and honey as well as nurture the brood.

Honeycomb is also utilized to communicate inside the beehive since it conveys the queen's pheromone aroma.

A word or two about terminology:

Honeycomb refers to the wax structure of bees as a whole. It's also known as "comb" or "pulled comb" when it's devoid of stores or brood.

Honeycomb is often solely used to refer to the section of the comb that contains honey. It's also known as "comb honey" when it's taken from the hive intact. Brood combs are cells that, as the name implies, contain brood.


We'll go through the following topics in this article:

  • How do bees create wax?
  • Why is honeycomb so valuable? The how and why of cell architecture
  • What are the various sorts of cells, and how do you distinguish them?
  • Honeycomb and beeswax have a variety of applications.


What Happens When Honey Bees Make Wax?

People used to believe that bees gathered wax from plants and trees. Later, scientists theorized that bees made wax by transforming pollen in some way.

John Hunter, a Scottish physician, discovered in 1792 that "wax was not transmuted pollen but was produced solely by worker bees" via observation and experiments. (H. Randall Hepburn's Honeybees and Wax: An Experimental Natural History)

Wax glands develop in worker bees between the ages of 12 and 18 days. When the liquid secreted by these glands comes into touch with the air, it hardens into wax flakes. These flakes, also known as wax scales, are carried to the bee's mouth where they are combined with other secretions to form a malleable wax.

Wax cappings are used to seal cells containing growing brood or finished honey. As a result, the names capped brood and capped honey was coined.

Beeswax isn't the same thing as "bee dung" or "bee vomit." The wax-secreting glands of a bee are not part of its digestive system.


Comb Construction

Wax-producing bees "festoon" in a chain in an empty area (such as a foundationless frame), forming cells from the top down. This honeycomb is two-sided, with a rib running through the center and cells on both sides.

The honey bee colony pulls a wax comb from the foundation using the embossed foundation as a guide.

The comb is often joined to the sides and bottom of the frame for support when there is no base.

See this article Foundationed Frames (Or Foundationless Frames?) for more information.

The comb sections' walls will usually be parallel to one another. Between each layer part, bees leave approximately 3/8th of an inch (bee gap).

Despite attempts to keep the ladies on the same road, bees may sometimes stray and produce comb in unexpected areas. This "burr comb" or "cross combing" requires considerable beekeeper upkeep in order to keep the hive manageable.

It's possible that comb cells will seem flat. When you look closely, you'll see that they tilt upward at a tiny inclination to keep pollen, nectar, and honey from leaking out.


Honeycomb cells are hexagonal for a reason.

As depicted in the following graphic, a hexagon is a planar shape with six sides. However, why did nature choose the hexagon as the best form for honeycomb?

As depicted in the following graphic, a hexagon is a planar shape with six sides. However, why did nature choose the hexagon as the best form for honeycomb?

Bees use a lot of energy constructing honeycombs. To create 1 pound (.45 kilogram) of wax, bees consume around 5 lbs (2.27 kg). To make the comb, they must secrete wax scales, chew them, and heat them.

The comb is valuable to the bees since it is a costly endeavor. As a bee, you'd want a cell form that maximizes storage space while utilizing the least amount of wax possible.

In comparison to circles, squares, and triangles, the hexagon gives the most area per unit of the perimeter. The hexagonal shape's advantage is explained in-depth in the video below. Bees make hexagonal honeycombs for a reason. – Brian Cox's Forces of Nature: Episode 1 – BBC One:

Hexagons are not only the most efficient form for honeycomb, but they also supply the comb with strength. It's Okay To Be Smart: Why Nature Loves Hexagons from It's Okay To Be Smart:

Bees make round or cylindrical cells, according to popular belief. These circles subsequently transform into hexagons, according to Yetgh physics. However, there is some evidence that bee behavior influences the final shape of the cells. (F. Nazzi, F. Nazzi, F. Nazzi, F. Nazzi, F. The hexagonal form of honeycomb cells is determined by bees' building activity. doi:10.1038/srep28341) Sci Rep6, 28341 (2016)

Honeybee cells are sealed in such a way that their hexagonal structure is hidden. In capped brood or empty cells, the hexagon is visible.


Hexagonal Cells With Exceptions

The cells suited to grow a queen are an exception to the hexagon form in the honeycomb. The queen's higher bulk in comparison to other bees necessitates a distinct shaped cell.

Supersedure or swarm cells are two types of queen cells.

Supersedure cells are long, peanut-shaped cells that dangle from the comb's face. Bees construct them in preparation for the eventual replacement of the present queen.

In the shape of queen cups, swarm cells develop at the bottom of the frame. The goal is not to dethrone the queen. The objective is to ensure that there are two queens. One queen joins the swarm in establishing a new colony. The second queen stays behind to keep the colony going.


Hexagonal Cells of Various Sizes

Drones (male bees) are somewhat bigger than worker bees, but not quite as big as the queen. Drone-raising cells are therefore bigger than worker-raising cells.

The colony decides how many drone cells to construct based on the hive's current state. The queen can tell the cells apart by their diameters. In the drone cells, she places unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs are deposited in worker cells.


Colors of Honeycomb

Beeswax is a transparent white hue when it is initially created. Over time, it becomes yellow.

As the colony nourishes the brood, brood cells are continually in use and afterward repurposed for new eggs. Despite the bees' cleaning efforts, the wax gradually becomes a dark brown due to the deposition of propolis, trash, and recycling. The color of the cappings on these cells tends to match the color of the cells.

When bees have determined that nectar has been transformed to honey, they cap the cell to keep it sealed. The utilization of these cells and their cappings differs from that of brood cells. They have a significantly whiter coloration than capped brood.


Beginning Beekeepers And Honeycomb

Queens in an overwintering hive have ample honeycomb to deposit eggs on when the first indications of spring appear.

Beginner beekeepers, on the other hand, do not have such benefits. As a result, here are some of our starting choices.


Get Your First Nuc of Bees

A nuc (or nucleus colony) is a smaller version of a hive. It normally consists of five frames containing a queen, bees, and drawn comb frames. Brood at different stages of development, as well as certain food supplies, are kept in the comb.

If you begin with a bee package, you will get bees as well as a queen, but no comb. The queen can't start producing eggs right away if she doesn't have a comb. The population growth is slowed as a result of this.

A nuc is more expensive than a package. If your budget allows, we suggest starting with one.


Make Use Of Foundation

We've begun constructing several colonies that don't have any foundations. The foundation, on the other hand, is simpler for novices. It provides a spot for bees to begin pulling comb right away. If you start with a bee bundle, this is extremely useful.

You Should Feed Your Bees

Nectar should be flowing when you set up your initial colonies in early spring. Feed the bees 1:1 sugar syrup as they orient themselves to their new site and adjust to a new queen.

For more information on creating sugar syrup and feeding your bees, see our article What, When, and How To Feed Honey Bees.

Sugar syrup and nectar will help to promote comb growth. The more comb they create, the more eggs the queen can deposit, and the colony will grow quicker.

We only eat when it's really essential. When you observe the bees' sugar syrup intake slowing, it's time to cease feeding them.

Allow them to go on a nectar hunt.


Using Beeswax and Honeycomb

Outside of the hive, honeycomb wax may be utilized for a number of purposes, but it can also be reused inside the colony.

Repurposing Honeycomb Frames

After uncapping, the honey is extracted from the comb by spinning at high speeds using a centrifugal extractor. The honeycomb remains undamaged.

These frames may be saved for the next year's hives. The bees save time and energy by not having to draw new comb, which might lead to increased or quicker honey output.

A swarm might be attracted to an empty brood comb in a box. Getting free bees by catching swarms is a terrific method to expand your apiary.


Honeycomb in its natural state

Honeycomb may be removed in its natural state, wax and all. It is the purest form of raw honey, with all of the honey's health advantages.

Simply remove the raw comb honey from the frame and save it aside for later use.

Honeycomb is edible, including the wax. But proceed with caution. According to Healthline.com, ingesting too much wax might induce gastrointestinal blockages.

I prefer to spread it over a hot object, such as a toasted English muffin, to soften the wax. I also chew it like gum and spit out the wax once all of the honey has been extracted. Yum!

Try some comb honey from your local beekeeper if you haven't cut your own comb (or don't have bees). If you don't have access to a local source, try the following:


Products made from beeswax

If you use the crush and strain technique to extract honey, you'll wind up with a lot of beeswaxes after bottling. You may get beeswax from other frames as well.

Melted beeswax is used in a wide range of items, including:

  • Lip balm Candles
  • Soap \sCosmetics \sLubrication
  • Getting rid of jams and jellies

Honeycomb may be used to make a wide range of goods. Recent research found that when a beeswax-based patch was given to second-degree burns, patients reported less discomfort and spent less time in the hospital.


Conclusion

You can't buy a honeycomb, which is an essential component of a honey bee nest. It is your responsibility as a beekeeper to offer an environment in which the bees may manufacture wax honeycomb and establish a home in your hive.

You may utilize the honeycomb from your colonies in a variety of inventive (and perhaps lucrative) ways.

This page is part of our honey bee beginner's guide. Another item in the series on what honey bees eat may be found here.

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