Beekeepers build hives for bees, and the bees build their nest inside the hives from beeswax, a substance that the bees produce. Young bees secrete beeswax from glands on the lower side of their abdomen. Beeswax makes a strong and lightweight nest to hold the developing bee brood as well as a storage area for bee food. The individual cells of the bee nest are used repeatedly to house bees developing from egg to larva to pupa to adult. As the bee brood changes from larva to pupa, the workers cap each cell with reused beeswax from the hive. However, workers use freshly secreted beeswax to cover the cells of ripened honey. Honey bees are attracted to the odor of old honeycombs, but old comb is a potential problem for bee health. Beeswax absorbs chemical toxins from the environment, making the hive increasingly toxic. Old honeycombs also hold the reproductive spores of a number of pathogens, namely American foulbrood, chalkbrood, and Nosema disease.
Periodically replacing old beeswax combs is a key element in Peace Bee Farm’s integrated pest management plan. Honeycomb replacement has a similar effect as changing the engine oil in a beekeeper’s truck; the impurities are removed. In today’s photo, I am using a high-pressure power washer to remove the old beeswax comb and hive materials from frames of plastic foundation. The stream of water removes pollen deposits, old bee larvae cocoons, wax moth webbing and cocoons, and small hive beetle “slime,” the waste deposits of the larvae of these hive scavengers. Once the old comb is removed from the frames, I will coat the plastic foundation with fresh beeswax, capping wax saved from harvesting honey. The bees will rapidly form this beeswax with their mouthparts into smooth sheets of comb. During a strong nectar flow, young worker bees will secrete additional beeswax to complete the honeycombs. The colonies will rear brood in clean, chemical-free beeswax cells. Providing a clean brood nest helps ensure a healthy bee colony.