The honey bees’ nest is built of beeswax honeycomb that the bees secrete and shape themselves. It is light in weight and durable. However, honeycomb can easily be damaged by hive intruders, like mice or small hive beetle larvae. The beeswax comb also absorbs and holds environmental chemicals, like miticides, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Honeycomb also holds reproductive spores of a number of honey bee pathogens, namely American foulbrood, chalkbrood, and Nosema, a honey bee gut disease. Honeycomb should be replaced periodically to remove toxic chemicals and disease spores from the hive. Frames of comb should also be replaced when they are damaged, like when the comb has been devoured by small hive beetle larvae.
Bee hive frames are equipped with a foundation of either natural beeswax or plastic that forms the centerline of the honeycomb. If beeswax foundation is used, new foundation must be installed when the comb is replaced; however, if plastic foundation is used, it may be reused when the comb is replaced. The old comb is simply scraped away revealing the plastic foundation as in today’s photo of frames scraped to the foundation. These frames from the hive of a dead bee colony were “slimed” by small hive beetle larvae and covered by a mass of webbing of wax moths. After scraping the debris from the foundation, the frames were rinsed in water and dried in the sun. The wooden frames show the telltale markings of wax moths: dents in the wood where the pupae develop, giving the frame a hammered appearance. Actually, the wax moths helped remove the majority of the old comb from the frames. To make the bare plastic foundation attractive to the bees when these frames are reused, I will paint the surface with melted, chemical-free beeswax that I collected from our hives while harvesting surplus honey. Replacing old comb is an important piece of Peace Bee Farm’s integrated pest management plan. It removes disease spores and toxic chemicals from the hive.--Richard