Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Building Honey Comb

The honey bee builds its own nest out of beeswax that the young bees secrete from glands on the lower side of their abdomen. Flakes of beeswax are secreted after the bees eat honey. For the bees to produce an ounce of beeswax, they must consume one pound of honey. For the bees to produce that pound of honey they must fly a combined distance of 55 thousand miles and visit two million flowers. That distance is more than twice the distance around the world at the equator. To accomplish the building of the brood nest, it is necessary to have a significant nectar flow from the flowering plants surrounding the bee hive.

Some of the honey bee colonies that we started in the spring have expanded their brood nest to fill two medium-size hive boxes and are now building the honey comb to occupy a third box. If you click on the picture, you can see the bees in the process of drawing out the beeswax to make the six-sided honey comb cells. The bees work together to fashion the flakes of beeswax into cells by starting at the top frame bar and working their way downward. In the picture, you can see bees in the lower half of the frame manipulating beeswax to draw out the comb. The beeswax of new honey comb is bright and white. The bees in the upper half of the frame are filling the newly completed cells with honey. Here, we see a strong colony drawing out perfect frames of honey comb during a good nectar flow.


  1. Mr Underhill, I'm the lady with the hollow tree in Oakland, TN who called you the other day in a panic.
    I love this photo, it has stirred my imagination about the bees who are making their home in our tree. You had asked what kind of tree it is, I now think it's a pecan tree. I may have to correct that info later, though.
    I thank you again for making me feel more blessed to have a bee tree, than I felt when I first found out that we had one.
    we were just watching a program tonight on TV that said water should be provided, carefully, for bees. We have the perfect thing that we bought to provide water for a butterfly garden! It's shallow so the bees won't drown, and just maybe we can plant some butterfly loving plants around the tree as well.
    Again thanks for taking the time with me over the phone.
    Pamela Poor

  2. Hi there! So, I just installed my first packages of bees last week, and one question keeps bugging me: Do bees use JUST the wax on the foundation sheets to "draw out" the comb? I was thinking it was just an imprint, but they actually chew it and reform it to make the cell walls, right? Do they add their own wax too? Thanks for your blog!

  3. Jamie,
    That’s an interesting question. Foundation makes up the mid-rib of honeycomb. It may be either natural beeswax or plastic coated with beeswax. The bees in this picture are building comb on plastic foundation. The six-sided imprint serves as a guide to the bees to start drawing out the cells. If natural beeswax foundation is used, the bees will start drawing out the comb from the material in the foundation. However, for them to complete building the nest, they need additional food to allow them to secrete beeswax. The bees must have available a large amount of nectar to draw out all of the frames in a hive. It is usually necessary to feed bees sugar syrup to allow them to draw out their comb. Plastic foundation usually has even less beeswax available for the bees to use as a starting point in building the nest. It requires even more carbohydrate for the bees to fully draw the comb.

    Another point: it is always a good idea to reduce the hive entrance anytime you are feeding bees. This reduction helps the guard bees defend the hive from robber bees. Jamie, be sure to inspect your hive regularly this first year to watch how the bees build their nest. Enjoy your bees.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.