Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Brood Nest

The honey bee makes a permanent nest. In nature, honey bees build a nest in a cavity of a hollow tree or a hole in a rock wall. Honey bees also find many man-made objects to be suitable cavities: mail boxes, barbecue grills, and the walls of houses. Man long ago learned to house honey bees in hives made of fired clay resembling drain pipes. Woven straw hives, called skeps, having the appearance of inverted baskets, were used by the Europeans who brought honey bee colonies to America. They packed two skeps inside a wooden barrel with ice and sawdust added to lower the temperature of the hives to reduce flying during the three month ocean crossing. The modern bee hive was invented by a Philadelphia pastor, Reverend Lorenzo L. Langstroth in 1851. The Langstroth hive is an open wooden box, structurally similar to a hollow tree. The observant pastor built his hive after carefully measuring the distances between sheets of honeycomb built by bees in the wild. The Langstroth hive contains removable frames holding the fragile beeswax combs. The ability to remove the combs allows beekeepers to inspect the hive for bee diseases and to harvest honey in a non-destructive manner.

Tod and I agreed to assist a new beekeeper set up his hive for the winter. The active colony of bees was housed in a traditional Langstroth hive with two deep hive bodies for the brood nest. These were topped with one shallow honey super. The super and the upper hive body were each filled frames of capped honey. The frames of the upper hive body were stuck firmly in the hive, so we lifted the box as a unit. The honeycomb in the lower box, containing the brood, was not held in frames. Combs collapsed like a house of cards. Beekeepers should never leave empty boxes in a hive for bees to fill with honeycomb. We will repair the hive next spring if the queen survived the implosion.

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