Inside The Beehive
European honey bees prefer to make their nests in dark, empty cavities such as a hollow tree or a wooden box. They make multiple, evenly spaced, vertical sheets of comb attached to the top of the cavity. Modern beekeeping takes advantage of how European honey bees behave in the wild. Bee boxes are built to reflect a dark cavity, and honey bees are happy to build their comb on the wax or plastic frames provided by the beekeeper. Frames allow honey bees to use less wax and energy to build their comb, and the beekeeper can easily remove frames for inspections without damaging the hard work of the bees.
Fun fact: honey bee colonies can grow up to 50 000 individuals at the peak of the summer!
Wax is produced by glands on the underside of the bee’s abdomen. Bees use their wax to build all the comb in their hive. The comb is constructed with the worker’s mouthparts into small hexagons which are all evenly spaced and sized. Hexagons are a very efficient shape! They are the shape that utilizes the most space, while using the least amount of wax. The comb is used for food storage (nectar, honey, pollen) and brood rearing. Some comb is built larger for rearing drones and is built into downward facing cups to rear queens.
Beekeepers do many things to help their hives survive the winter. Keeping colonies strong and disease free throughout the summer and fall is the first step to a successful winter. This will allow colonies to go into the winter with the largest population possible and decreases the chances of pests and disease overtaking the colony through the winter. In the fall after honey is harvested, beekeepers will feed their colonies with sugar syrup. Sugar syrup acts as nectar and the bees will use it to replace their honey stores. Without food in the winter, a honey bee colony would not survive. Finally, as temperatures start to decrease in the late fall, beekeepers will wrap their hives. Strong bee hives can do just fine outside all winter as long as they are protected from the wind and water. Wrapping hives in black plastic helps to reduce wind exposure and keep in heat. Wraps will also have an upper entrance hole for ventilation, moisture control, and for bees to leave the hive to defecate.