17 April 2014
THE SHORT ANSWER (TSA)
A honeycomb is a structure produced by honey bees inside their hive. The honeycomb is made of a wax produced by the bees (logically) called “beeswax.” The honeycomb is a mass of six-sided (hexagonal) cells or compartments.
For the honeybees, the comb’s compartments have two uses. First, the bees raise the queen’s young in individual cells. Second, the bees store food, honey, and pollen in the cells.
The combs used to raise young bees are called brood combs. These combs can become dark and soiled (“travel stained”). But other honeycombs are used to store honey.
Beekeepers provide their bees with hives constructed with sliding drawers. Each drawer holds a single honeycomb. The honeycomb slides out and is uncapped. “Uncapping” is the removal of wax seals placed over the cells in which honey is stored. After uncapping, the beekeeper will often use a honey extractor, which rapidly spins the comb to force all the honey out of the cells.
Beekeepers often return the empty honeycombs to the hive because the bees use a lot of time and energy building new combs. And the beekeeper would rather the bees use their time and energy to gather more honey instead.
With age, combs wear out. Then, beekeepers may process the comb for beeswax – a commercially valuable product. But, often, beekeepers cut the comb into thin sheets and reinsert the sheets into hives. The thin sheet of comb with its pattern of six-sided cells works as a kind of “foundation” for the bees building a new honeycomb. With this “starter sheet” the bees will build a new comb much more quickly.
Mark Grossmann of Hazelwood, Missouri
Thursday 17 April 2014