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.
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.
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
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
This is how one broodnest progressed at weekly intervals: