Wondering why honeycomb costs are so much at the store or market? The price that you pay at the register reflects the time, effort, and energy that goes into each chunk of this deliciously sweet delicacy. Crafting those tiny cells of beeswax is very hard on the bees- and it is why the price of comb honey is much higher, usually two or three times more than the same amount of liquid honey.
But just how long does it take bees to make honeycomb? On average, it can take anywhere from a week to a few months for the honeycomb to be constructed, but it varies on a lot of different factors.
When honeycomb is harvested, the bees need to remake the waxy comb for the hive. The comb serves a lot of purposes besides storing honey- it also provides a place for pollen and is where the brood is raised. As such, the beeswax cells are important to the colony- and it takes energy, effort, and time for the bees to produce the comb again.
But how much time?
Well, it takes about a week up to a couple of months for bees to construct the hexagon-shaped cells that comprise the waxy honeycomb. Each cell typically contains liquid honey, which can be harvested separately or together with the waxy comb. When honey is harvested and the comb is left behind, the bees will reuse and refill the comb with more honey.
Know that the production of wax comb is hard on bees and it expends a lot of their bee energy. Many will die in the process.
Industry experts indicate that a bee needs to consume at least seven pounds of honey to have the energy necessary to produce one pound of beeswax.
It takes the hive up to two months to make their honeycomb and fill it with liquid honey, but the time it takes relies on many factors, including weather, climate, nectar availability, size, and condition of the colony.
It takes a lot of nectar to make honeycomb, on average around 40 pounds of nectar to make one pound of honeycomb- that is a lot of flowers and plants!
Also, that is not including the nectar needed for honey to fill the comb. An additional five pounds of nectar is necessary for bees to produce a single pound of honey.
A strong and well-established bee colony could fill a honey super box in one to three days under optimal conditions.
So, the real difference between honey in and out of the comb is the beeswax. This wax is the foundation of the honeycomb cells, effectively holding the liquid honey in little pockets.
The beeswax from an apiary is just as valuable- if not more- than the honey inside and surrounding it. Beeswax requires more natural processes which require a great effort from the bees. As they create the wax, they are adding it to the frames, constructing a honeycomb.
Bees are the most productive when they are just 10 to 20 days old, and maximum wax production occurs when temperatures are hot, over 90-degrees Fahrenheit.
It can be a fine line between ideal temperatures and weather so warm that it melts the wax. Bees have a solution for this: they work together and flap their wings to cool down temperatures inside the hive and preserve their beeswax!
When it comes to producing wax and honey, it is the worker bees doing all the heavy lifting. That is, it is primarily female worker bees that do the work, and that make up the majority of the population in a typical hive or apiary. These bees do their best work when 10-20 days old, but worker bees of all ages are able to make beeswax and forage for nectar.
Feed Your Bees
Are there ways to nudge and encourage the bees to produce more comb? Yes- by providing the colony with what they need to work harder. Implement the strategies early enough in the season that they will benefit your hives. Perhaps the most significant thing that you can do to boost comb production in your apiary is to feed your bees.
While nothing rivals natural plant nectar for your bees’ diet, there are times when it makes sense to feed bees, particularly if there is a change in the environment that could impact their foraging. If your hive is weak or you live in a region with a shorter summer than is the norm, feed your bees sugar water to strengthen the colony.
When you split hives or garner swarms of bees, it may not be feasible for them to forage and find enough nectar to establish their colony right away. When starting from scratch, remember that bee colonies will need to work harder than usual to start their comb to hold honey. Help them out by feeding them.
Mix equal parts cane sugar and water for your bees. This closely mimics the sweetness level of the nectar that they find when foraging plants and flowers. You can also avoid questions and guess work by installing a feeder on the side of the hive. This provides bees access to sugar water at any time- without added labor from the keepers.
Inside feeders allow for easier access to food for bees, and in any weather or environmental conditions. Know that in certain conditions, bees will go through a lot of bee ‘food’; plan ahead to ensure you have enough on-hand for bees during inclement seasons or when vegetation is sparse. Talk to apiary supply retailers to learn more about feeding bees all season long.
The next time you reach for your favorite honey, consider trying some comb honey instead – you might just be surprised at the taste.
Remember that the price you pay reflects the energy and time that it takes bees to produce honeycomb, considered the purest and most natural form of honey. Bees worked long and hard to craft that intricate beeswax comb and fill it full of liquid gold- give it a try!