Colony Growth

The Idea

A swarm.

Like any newly born creature, a swarm has to struggle to become a mature colony. It:

  • must find a suitable home
  • build an appropriate nest
  • rear a large quantity of brood
  • gather sufficient food reserves
  • defend itself from pests

It’s no small task for a few pounds of bees to accomplish all this in just a few months. For the bees to succeed, the location has to be optimal. The bees must make the right colony decisions quickly. And few problems should face the colony.

Not all colonies make the right decisions. Not all colonies survive.

The Details


To observe colony growth, bees were put in a top bar hive. It provided an easy way to observe them without creating much harm. Here’s what I saw.


Ah, natural comb.

After orienting to their new location, nest construction begins. The cluster settles down in the first third of the hive, nearest the entrance. And comb construction begins.

Initially, the comb’s extent is controlled by the cluster’s size and it’s ability to keep the nest warm. But once some comb is available for brood rearing, comb building expands beyond the cluster’s boundry as the hive environment is easier to control.

When new bees hatch, increasing the population, comb building accelerates.

The bees build a nest structure that enhances colony function and optimal survival. It can be divided into three parts:

  • the broodnest core
  • the broodnest
  • and the honey storage area

Broodnest Core

Near the entrance, at the bottom of the combs, is the broodnest core.

  • cell size is smaller here
  • it’s kept open for broodrearing
  • the bees cluster here during the winter

The broodnest core is the central focus of nest activity. Everything radiates out from the broodnest core.


Surrounding the broodnest core is an area of larger cell sizes.

  • cell size gradually increases away from the core area
  • the largest broodnest cell sizes are next to the top bars and away from the entrance

Honey and pollen are overwintered in the broodnest. This food fuels colony expansion during late winter/early spring. As broodnest food is consumed

  • empty cells become available and are used for worker brood
  • the largest cells, emptied last, are used to rear drones for swarming

Honey Storage Area

Beyond the broodnest is the honey storage area.

  • cell size and comb orientation are chaotic
  • honey is relocated depending upon broodnest needs
  • this area that is harvested by the beekeeper

You can read additional nest observations here and here.


This is how one broodnest progressed at weekly intervals:


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3 Responses

  1. Marie says:

    Great blog! Nice to meet a Wyoming beekeeper- a rare breed indeed. My parents owned a ranch by Pavillion and hosted a number of hives, accepting in return that premium alfalfa honey you speak of. I was sad when she told me the beekeeper had no honey at all last year, so I’ve been researching backyard beekeeping–perhaps I can give something back to those little critters who gave me such a treat back in the day. I live in Evanston, and can count on two hands the number of bees I see during the summer. Do you think it’s possible to keep bees where the elevation is over 6700 feet?

    • -bW says:

      Hi Marie,

      I’m a Riverton boy and have spent much of my youth fishing, hunting, ice skating and swimming just down the road from your farm. You might remember the Schaffers, Krause, Miller, Colva beekeepers from the area. Lots of great memories there. And some of my favorite memories of thousands of migrating birds in the fall.

      Do you remember the honey house behind the beanery? I’ll bet I’m dating myself now :>)

      And I spent some time in an apple orchard, north of the Lake, while my father remolded a farm house there. Remember how large the Carp would grow in the drainage ditches around there?

      I don’t know much about Evanston beekeeping. Most of my Wyoming experience was around the Winds and not that far southwest. But I’ve communicated, in the past, with an Evanston beekeeper. Think he had a few hives, so it’s possible to keep bees there. I don’t remember his name or have any contact info for him now.

      Elevation? The Millers have run commercial bees from Pavilion west to Dubois. Most of their bees are around Crowheart and in the small, irrigated fields father west. Much of the lower valley is about 6400msl and increases to almost 7000msl in the upper ends of those valleys nearest the mountains.

      I’ve looked at the WyGISC Data Server. It’s a great resource. You might want to play with it. Zoom in on Evanston and use the Imagery – Color Infrared – Utm Zone 12 West to start with. It will show you the irrigated and agricultural areas. Then add hydrology, etc.

      Near Evanston, there’s a limited amount of agriculture, but you might be able to find a good location that would support a few hives. They could take advantage of the early spring trees in town, the creek bottom later in the spring, and ag fields later in the summer.

      If a hive of honeybees is problematic, Blue Orchard Bees are a neat alternative. No honey there. But they are neat, easily kept creatures who actually pollinate early spring flowers better than a hive of bees. And they’re docile and rarely sting.

      Let me know what you think.


  2. Hannah says:

    Hi Dennis,

    Our bees are in there tbh with viewing window and I have a traditional hive –
    – surprising –
    I’m a little anxious about making corrections but I’ll put on my brave face and go for it in another week 🙂
    Thanks for all your great information

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