Comb

March 1, 2013 · 10 comments

DSC_0437

Honeybee’s comb is about the coolest stuff ever. It’s beautiful, functional, symmetrical, and it smells good to boot.┬áComb is also a wonderfully multipurpose substance. It provides structure for a hive, the right nooks and conditions for rearing brood, and storage space for pollen and of course, honey.

Bees have four pairs of glands on their abdomen that secrete wax flakes that young bees pick off, chew up, and mold into comb. The color of new comb depends on current nectar sources, the race of honeybees in the hive, how much/what type of pollen they’re collecting, and other factors, but new comb is typically white, though in some cases, bees can make bright yellow comb. As the same comb is used over and over, it will darken in color.

DSC_0481

Bees draw comb cells in two different sizes to fit incubating worker brood and larger drone brood. The circumstances within the hive at any given time will dictate what structures the bees themselves feel like they need, and they will build accordingly. Often times, the decisions that the worker bees make are in conflict with what a beekeeper thinks is best for the hive. Managed hives must be observed often so that beekeepers can make physical adjustments that will encourage bees to behave in line with the beekeeper’s management plan.

DSC_0466

DSC_0468

The same worker brood cells can be used to rear a new batch of bees roughly once a month (generally only in the warmer months here in Western Oregon), and in many cases, the same comb will be used for many years. After each batch of new bees hatches, clean-up workers will come in, (ideally) pitching any unhatched larvae and polishing each cell with a thin layer of propolis to prepare it for the next round of eggs or honey stores.

Bees must have a current nectar source in order to draw new comb. Rarely, they will tear down old comb and reconfigure it for their most pressing needs.

DSC_0422

Currently, we have a pretty huge stash of comb stored in buckets around the homestead. Most of the irregular chunks have come from extractions Henry performed last year. Henry also cut out large strips of primarily drone comb when he needed to remove bottom spacers from a few hives in an effort to create uniform boxes to take to almond pollination in California. There’s a bit of honey residue and pollen left clinging to some of the wax in the discard pile, so the buckets of comb still draw a crowd of bees snooping around looking for a bit of something to eat.

The plan is to build a solar wax melter eventually, so we can distill all this comb down to solid blocks of wax, and then we will…do SOMETHING with it (not quite sure what yet).

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

catie March 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

have you ever considered selling your photography?
might be nice addition to redonionwoodworks.
that first photo needs a frame.

Reply

mae March 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I love the first photo too… I didn’t know the color of the combs varied so much.

Reply

Camille March 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm

There’s a crazy amount of variation, but when melted down, it sort of blends the colors, too.

Reply

Camille March 1, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Nah. Fine art photography (or more specifically production) isn’t really my thing.

Reply

Denise March 1, 2013 at 11:15 am

Gorgeous! I am always on the look out for honey comb, so hard to find. I am so intrigued with honey bees, and wish our HOA would allow it! Envious of all you do … honey bees (and those gorgeous combs), maple syrup, goats …. love it all!

Reply

Camille March 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm

The more I talk to my husband (a beekeeper) about bees, the more I realize that things are a lot more complicated that I first thought. They are such interesting and complex creatures.

And thanks for your kind words, Denise!

Reply

Sasha March 1, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Some seriously gorgeous photography going on here today Camille – I love how the bees are all dusty with pollen :)

Reply

Camille March 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm

I was thinking about you while looking at these photos. The patterns in comb seem very What. No Mints?-esque.

Reply

Woman on Wild Mountain March 3, 2013 at 11:10 am

This is so beautiful. Bees are extremely complex; I could watch them forever. My sister is a beekeeper and I am in awe of the whole thing. Thank You.

Kerry

Reply

no worries March 4, 2013 at 12:41 am

Fascinating!!
Considering how bees are disappearing, you and your husband are doing a great job taking care of them and creating awareness for these precious animals. Thank you for all this information.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: