First things first, no beeswax, no comb…
Drawn comb is created by bees for food, brood, larvae and eggs. Hexagonal Prismatic, double-sided cells are constructed from wax and are the foundations of every bee hive.
Building comb requires good beeswax production. And this is where the worker bees come into play.
In a honeybee colony, the bulk of the population consists of female worker bees. Even though adult worker bees of any age are able to make beeswax, the young adults aged between 10 and 18 days old are the most prolific beeswax producers.
Each worker bee possesses four pairs of wax glands on the underside of their abdomen. These make them naturally suited to the task of beeswax production, as opposed to the queen bee and drones who do not possess any wax making glands.
To produce beeswax, the female secretes liquid wax from her wax glands or wax mirrors.
This liquid wax then dries over several hours, becoming opaque wax flakes or ‘scales’. When the scales are ready to be used, the bee removes them and moulds them into hexagon cells by using her legs and mouth.
Why Are My Bees Not Building Comb?
To ensure that your honey bees will be able to build comb in the hive, your answers to the following three questions will need to be a big old YES!
One: Are your Bees in the Mood?
Are you a beginner beekeeper reading this? If yes, here is something to remember from the get-go…
‘Honey bees build comb when they need it… not when I need it.’
Seriously though, quite often a beekeeper’s goal and that of the bee colony are in conflict.
You (the beekeeper) are most likely hoping for a nectar flow and excess honey production on a regular basis. Meanwhile, the colony just wants to grow its population and produce enough honey to survive winter.
As beekeepers, it is important to must bear in mind that building honeycomb is labour-intensive! It requires a lot of effort from the worker bees to produce wax and shape the comb.
If your bees are not making comb, it’s not that they are lazy. It’s that they are not wasteful.
Therefore, if they feel they do not need the additional comb for whatever reason, getting them to build more will be difficult.
However, making sure your honeybees are well fed can cheat this natural inclination. Think about it… that excess nectar needs to be put somewhere.
Two: Are Your Bees Warm?
In the brood nest, honeybees require warm and steady temperatures.
They create their own heat in the hive, which they regulate to see them through winter. But they also need warm temperatures to be able to successfully mould beeswax into the perfect hexagon shape.
95 degrees Fahrenheit is conducive. But if the temperature outside is chilly, the bees will find it tough to build comb and may give up on the idea altogether.
To resolve this, you can use outer and inner covers on your hive to help prevent cold air from seeping in through the exterior. Hive covers are also great for keeping temperatures down inside the hive on extremely hot days.
Think of covers as insulation on a house. The easier it is for the colony to regulate the internal temperature of the hive, the more reliable comb production becomes.
Are Your Bees Well Fed?
Honey bees must consume plenty of nectar to stimulate their wax glands. This consumed honey is metabolised in fat cells, which in turn is used to produce wax.
But it goes far beyond simply producing wax. As with all living things, energy output requires energy input. A malnourished bee won’t have the energy to perform labour-intensive comb building.
Anyone who has gone on a ‘crash diet’ will know how hard simple, everyday tasks can become! No energy equals reduced desire to work.
A shortage of food can also signal to the colony that fewer bees are needed to support the hive. And if less eggs are being laid, fewer cells are needed to house them.
Basically, an abundance of available food resources can encourage bees to create more comb for storing honey, laying eggs and building the colony.
So… if you answered yes to all three of the above questions, you are on the right path to encouraging your honey bees to build comb. The following five tips to get bees to build more comb will be standard practice for you.
5 Tips and Tricks to Get Bees to Build Comb
1: Timing Matters
For honey bees, spring is the most favourable time of the year for building comb. This is because at this time of year, honey bee colonies are desperate to replenish their ranks.
Having survived winter (unlike many of their comrades.) These honey bees feel the natural impulse to increase their population and possibly swarm.
Therefore, getting your bees to build comb in springtime should be a breeze.
However, it is not impossible to get bees to draw comb at other times of the year.
As long as they are fed heavily and they are warm, they will draw comb. Of course, they won’t build it as readily as they would in spring… but build it they will!
Place your hives in a sunny and warm location and plant up plenty of nectar-rich plants nearby.
In temperate climates, those ever-useful hive covers can make all the difference to comb production by helping maintain the temperature in the honey super.
2: Feed Your Bees the Right Food
Some beekeepers say its not advisable to feed your honey bees. This is because it discourages them from foraging for nectar by themselves.
With this, we agree to an extent… but not wholeheartedly.
There will be times when your honey bee colonies need your help to survive. And feeding your bees will encourage them to start building more comb.
As a beginner beekeeper, you ultimately want your colony to not only survive, but to thrive. So a little helping hand when they need it most is the right thing to do!
However, any supplemental feed should be limited to times of hardship only!
Honey bees are quick learners. And if they know that there will be food waiting outside the hive entrance every day, they will start to forage less.
After all, why fly for miles and miles every day in the hope of finding food when you can nip to the takeaway next door?
For optimum results, use a 1:1 sugar/water ratio. This ratio best simulates natural nectar and the chances of getting new comb afterwards are good.
3: Swarms Love Building Comb
Every now and then, your honey bees will feel the need to increase their population.
They will change their queen in favour of a younger one.Thus, the old queen will take as many worker bees as she can and go start another colony.
This is what is called swarming.
As you may very well know, swarming is a perfect time to get new comb. This is because the workers in the swarm are eager to build comb for their new home.
As they leave the hive, their wax glands are primed and ready for use. Once swarms get started with building honeycomb, they will often continue for as long as they have an available food source.
A swarm can be a cause for concern for new beekeepers, but it needn’t be. Yes, seeing them depart in one huge mass may have you worrying, but you have a chance to establish a brand new colony here.
Using a bait hive is the perfect way to get 2 colonies out of one. Remember, while one lot is leaving, a whole new colony is developing in the old hive too.
So… you may want to seize the opportunity to get another colony for free.
4: Young Workers are the Best for Building Comb
When your bees are swarming or simply making a new queen for the hive, comb production is in high demand. This means that wax production is of the essence!
So to achieve optimal wax production of your honey bees, make sure to engage your young worker bees of 10 to 18 days, as they will produce wax at the fastest pace.
OK. So you can’t exactly get in the hive and ask only those bees to get to work. That would be impossible. But you can inspect the hive to see where most activity is happening.
Once you find where the most recent comb has been built, add in a few more frames right next to this. If there is no more space for new frames and all the others are full, then your problem is most likely down to lack of hive space.
Remove a couple of the older frames and replace with new ones to encourage comb building or look at adding another super to the hive.
5: It’s OK to Bait Up for the New Box
When faced with a colony that appears reluctant to move up into a new super, you can try baiting them up into it.
To do this, you can try taking a frame of full honeycomb out of the bees’ super and exchanging it with a foundation frame. This should lure the bees into the desired box which they will soon get accustomed to and build comb in.
Alternatively, you can put brood up a box to “bait” the bees to head upwards.
Adding a few frames of brood placed above the excluder can really motivate the bees to pass the queen excluder and begin work on the box above.
Just make sure you leave the queen and the remaining brood below the excluder.
Conclusion on Improving Comb Production in the Hive
Beekeepers will do everything to keep their bees happy and healthy. We love them… and we love the honey they provide for us too.
However, we must always bear in mind that although we may manage the bees, we do not control them.
Therefore, it is in our best interest to observe the natural tendencies of our honeybee colonies and work with them.
You can’t force nature. In the end she always takes back control. You can, however, give her a nudge in the right direction.
Treat your bees with care. Don’t force them to work to exhaustion. And simply work to support, not hold up the colony.
Comb production can be improved with the tips above.
But sometimes, your bees know what’s best for the hive and even with all the sugar water in the world, they are not going to build.
Why not check out our beginners guide to honey bees for more useful apidae information.
So, on that note, we say, keep your buzzers on, folks. We’re out.