Thursday, August 2, 2012
Honeycomb Another Gift From The Hive
We collect it all summer long. Honeycomb, the hexagonal wax cells the bees build on the frames of foundation we place inside the hive boxes. It is here that all the action takes place. In the brood boxes the comb contains the larvae, pollen and stores of honey. Actually the bees will build it, frame or no frame, and they will build it just about anywhere we leave space for them. I will admit, we are not tidy beekeepers and we have yet to master the "respect the bee space" rule. Our bees, they build crazy comb, in fact that is how one hive got its name, Crazy Comb. Every time we would do a hive inspection in Crazy Comb her first year we were dumbfounded by the amount of crazy erratic comb the bees kept building! Technically it is called burr, bridge or brace comb.
Bees secrete wax to build comb and it takes about 8.4 pounds of honey to secrete a pound of wax so really, it is a very precious commodity. The color of the wax comes from pollen and the cocoons embedded in the cells and the tracking of many bee feet, called travel stain. That is why brood box comb is darker than the wax in supers where the bees are hopefully just storing honey.
I am not going to get into the geometry of the comb. I am a beekeeper not a mathematician. Suffice to say it should be considered one of those wonders of the world.
Burr comb is comb that is placed in globs or bumps or connecting sheets perpendicular to the main frames of comb, or in any small space and is great for drone cells. Burr comb is also called brace or bridge comb. It clogs up hives and makes a mess and good beekeepers remove it to keep the hive tidy and manageable.When we inspect our hives, especially Crazy Comb we try and clean up the mess but it can be tricky. If the burr comb is in a brood box and we can't find our queen we don't want to go poking around with a hive tool, removing comb that a mess of bees are working on. After all Her Majesty might be lurking around and god forbid we remove her, hurt her or worse, freeze her to death.
What wax we do collect all goes into Ziploc bags from week to week. It gets to be a sticky mess. Periodically I go through the bags, remove dead bees and other junk and transfer the wax to a large Tupperware that goes in the freezer. Our first two years of beekeeping we didn't have more than a frame or two of honey to harvest. The only way to get the honey was to pull if off the frame with our hands which destroyed the comb. Of course we kept it, several pounds total, froze it and several months later Paula showed for dinner one night with a tiny little tea light candle she had made. I was slightly dumbfounded all that wax had been reduced to two tiny little tea light candles but squealed with delight. This year we have enough frames that we can save the structure of the comb on the frames by using an extractor, basically spinning off the honey in a centrifugal fashion. The combed out frames can be stored over the winter and put back in the hive in the spring giving the bees a huge jump start.
We will cut the wax capping off the frames and combine them with our summer scraps and hopefully Paula will do her magic sometime this winter turning the mess into a candle or two. People eat comb honey as well. I am not a fan but my friend Patrick prefers his honey with a chunk of comb so I try and cut a chunk of frame comb for him. I am just not a fan of having a mouthful of wax to chew on and eventually spit out when enjoying my honey. To each their own I guess. The bottom line is that it isn't just honey that the hive produces, there is wax as well and in the spirit of not wasting anything I am grateful Paula turns our wax into something useful and fun.