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Honeycombs are the lifeline of any honeybee colony. They are of special importance since this is where the brood is raised and food reserved. Nonetheless, you might come across some white stuff in honeycombs and just wonder what this could be. In most cases, the first reaction would be the assumption that this could be a disease or pest infestation. These substances could be white and wet or simply a chunk of crystals. We shall discuss what is and what it means in this article.
What is a Honeycomb?
In simple terms, a honeycomb refers to the mass of hexagonal shaped cells that are made of wax and are used for raising brood or storing honey and pollen. The beekeeper usually removes the honeycombs during honey harvesting and spins the honey out of the combs using a honey extractor. Other beekeepers do not use an extractor but will simply take out the combs with honey for consumption as it is. Honeycombs can be consumed and it has been proven to offer some health benefits that include lowering infection and boosting heart and liver health. This is attributable to its antioxidant properties and beneficial nutrients.
Honeybees build hexagonal shaped cells since these fit in together perfectly without leaving some gaps. The bees instinctively choose such a shape perhaps they settled on this based on their experience. The hexagon shape is not only ideal for best fit but is also more efficient since it requires less wax for building and hold more honey.
Honeycomb building is a tedious process that takes the hand of expert worker bees to accomplish. The bees chew wax until it is soft and malleable. Huge amounts of this chewed wax will then be used to build the honeycombs.
Honeycombs require temperature levels that range from 30 to 35 degrees Celsius for it to remain in its correct texture and shape. The temperature level is attained through collective effort of the worker bees. This means there is time rest for honey bees. Be it winter or summer, worker bees have to work tirelessly to ensure required humidity and temperature is maintained within the hive.
Worker bees produce wax from a special gland in their abdomen. This will begin once the worker bee is about 10 days old. They will carry out various other tasks within the hive for about 6 weeks then finally die. The life of a single worker bee in some instances can be sacrificed if it means saving the honey bee colony. This is evident whenever there an invasion by a yellow jacket or any other bee predator.
Identifying White Stuff in Honeycomb
The white stuff in honeycombs is much more prevalent after winter and during onset of spring. This will be apparent when you open up the hive for inspection during this time. Remember, the beehive is usually not opened during winter given the prevailing conditions. What then meet the eye after the long time will be some white substances.
Contrary to what may first come to mind, the white chunks or crystals found on honeycombs are not pests or disease infestation. This is simply crystallized honey. The crystallization of honey is a natural occurrence that transforms liquid honey into a solid substance.
It is worth mentioning that molds can also form on honeycombs. These should not be confused with crystallized honey. Molds usually accumulate on combs when moisture levels are too high inside the hive. This will occur if the number of honey bees is too low to handle the task of fanning the hive.
A common mold type in beehives is the penicillium waksmanii. Molds are usually common after a die-out and can be identified by their different colors. This range from gray, blue, and yellow, to white. Mold-infested combs should not be destroyed at first instance. Rather, the beekeeper should investigate the possible cause of it before making any decisions.
Some of the causes of crystallization include:
- Low temperature – liquid honey in its raw state will crystallize at temperatures of between 50 to 70 degrees F. Higher temperatures will also lead to the melting of solidified honey.
- Floral source – this is also a factor that will affect the ease at which honey can crystallize. Some floral sources tend to lead to a quicker crystallization whereas for others it may not be the case.
- Water to the sugar content – the proportion of sugar vs water in the honey has an effect on how fast honey can crystallize. The more sugar in proportion to the water content, the quicker it is for the honey to crystallize.
What to do With the White Stuff in Honeycomb
Subjecting crystallized honey to some degree of heat can help restore it to its liquid state. Nonetheless, it proves quite challenging to extract frozen honey from honeycombs, more so, if you use a honey extractor.
The best solution for the white stuff in honeycombs is to leave it to the bees to do their work. The honey bees will clean it up with ease. Therefore, the best place to keep these combs would be within the supers or on top of the inner cover. This will make it easy for the worker bees to access and consume the honey.
If you have identified some white stuff in honeycomb, then you do not have to worry. Crystallization in honey will occur naturally given the prevailing temperatures. The white substance is therefore crystallized honey which does not affect the quality of the honey. Molds can also form on honeycombs, especially after a die-out. This will however never occur in healthy colonies. Molds have no chance in healthy colonies since worker bees regulate the moisture levels with ease making it easy to avoid the possibility of mold accumulation.
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