In 2015 our little apiary suddenly grew from one hive, to five. We’re learning as we go and it’s been an interesting experience getting to know each hive and comparing their differences during each inspection.
It takes a new hive about three years to get up to full honey production because building the honeycombs themselves requires a lot of labour and resources. We are using the Langstroth system of beekeeping, and starting the hives off with blank sheets of wax-covered foundation. The bees then use these foundations as the base for their honeycomb. Essentially, the bees spend their first years on home improvement projects: gradually building out the wax for each cell. Wax production is very labour intensive and is usually a job reserved for younger bees.
Worker bees secrete the wax through glands located between the plates on their abdomens. They then chew the wax to make it nice and malleable so they can form it into the beautiful hexagonal cells that give honeycomb its highly efficient structure and strength. Building comb is done through a practice called festooning, where they will link together to form a daisy-chain curtain of bees passing the wax along from worker to worker. This is one of my favourite things to observe in the hive. They are so peaceful and focused as they work together to complete this huge task. I’m sure the bees would teach me a lot if I could just sit still and observe them at work!