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Dark honeycombs occur naturally in honeybee colonies and are linked to the overuse of combs. The dark-coloured honey might also be seen in combs, portraying rich-flavoured flower sources.
What Makes Honeycombs Dark?
If it is your first time inspecting your beehive, then you can be puzzled when you come across some dark or black combs. As a matter of fact, some brood cells tend to be darker in some parts of the hive, more so, after the end of your first season in beekeeping. In subsequent years combs may even be just about black in colour. Contrastingly, honeycombs can retain their light colour for many years.
Here are some reasons for dark honeycombs:
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The repeated use of brood cells in raising brood can cause dark colouration on the combs. This is usually caused by debris and propolis accumulation on these combs.
Brood cells experience heavy traffic throughout the season and for a good reason. The brood is the future of the colony and demands constant attention from the worker bees. They are fed, nursed, and cared for by the workers that will keep coming and going for about a hundred times in a day. All this will begin immediately as the brood cell is capped at 9 or 10 days and will continue until the young bees emerge. The heavy traffic in addition to the feet covered with pollen and other debris, can cause the darkening of the combs.
Honeybees are experts when it comes to sanitizing and cleaning up used brood cells. Unfortunately, there can still remain some sticky cocoons that will accumulate over time inside the cell. This sticky substance will keep collecting dust and debris. Additionally, a worker bee larva takes 21 days to mature, meaning a new cocoon is prepared every 21 days. This cycle of production will lead to an accumulation of cocoons with debris and dust, leading to the darkening of brood cells.
Propolis is ideally a disinfectant used by honeybees to clean cell walls in preparation for brood. The worker bees will use propolis to brush and clean the interior of the cells. It is mixed with saliva and beeswax. The antibacterial and antifungal properties of propolis make it desirable and usable to honeybees. How bees learned about it remains a mystery. Propolis is derived from tree buds and varies in colour. Nonetheless, it is predominantly dark brown in colour. This, therefore, means that the dark colour in brood cells is due to the use of propolis on these cells. The cells become darker due to the overuse of these cells as well.
This valuable substance is used for feeding the larvae and is highly nutritious. The future queen is fed solely on this substance after the rest of the bees have ceased receiving royal jelly. Since royal jelly has mixed colouration, ranging from white, yellow, grey to brown, it can cause the darkening of brood honeycomb.
What About Dark Capped Honey?
Honeybees are quite ingenious when it comes to resource utilization. They have mastered the art of reuse and recycling of beehive products. For instance, cells that were previously used by the brood will be utilized as pollen and honey reservoirs resulting in dark-capped honey. One might therefore wonder if this kind of honey is edible.
Brood honeycomb will taste different when compared to comb honey. First off, the honeycomb is dark in colour, unlike its light counterpart. This dark colouration is due to the pollen and other debris that has accumulated inside the brood cell. Some beekeepers believe the pollen and other material add some beneficial enzymes to the honey derived from brood honeycombs.
Unfortunately, dark honey is not a cup of tea for everyone. In some parts of the world, it is believed to be worthless, and in others highly prized. There have been some major concerns as well regarding the continued use and recycling of brood combs. Some believe this leads to the accumulation of pathogens and pesticides, which might not be far from the truth. Not all areas adhere to bee safety standards and that can lead to the accumulation of harmful chemicals if brood combs are reused. It, therefore, proves to be wise to dispose of used honeycombs after 2 to 3 years instead of reusing them beyond that duration.
Brood honeycombs appear darker due to the various substances that are used while raising brood. This is unlike virgin combs that appear lighter in colour. Believe it or not, some beekeepers think this dark colouration is due to accumulated faeces. That is never the case since worker bees are quite hygienic, leaving nothing to chance when it comes to brood welfare or honey production.
Interestingly, honeybees are attracted to dark combs and this can explain why it is much more effective to use dark combs when you intend to draw wild swarms into a new beehive. It is also worth mentioning that these darkened combs are not harmful to honeybees or humans. In fact, dark honeycomb provides living enzymes, antioxidants, and pollen that have medicinal value. Some of these nutrients include polyphenols and glucose oxidase. It is therefore safe to say black bee frames should never cause any worries.
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