Not much is worse than checking on a beehive…and seeing a lot of baby bee cells in with your honey.
You can’t get the honey out without killing the baby bees. And you can’t get the baby bees out without ruining the honey.
Not a good situation.
So how do you keep the baby bees out of the honey?
The best way to prevent baby bees (or brood) from getting in the honey is to keep the queen bee from laying eggs in the honey cells. That is simple enough…right? I mean, if you can keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey cells, then you fixed the problem.
That should be easy enough…
Well, sort of…
If you have a beehive with wax foundation and you put a new swarm into that beehive, the bees will often start to draw out honeycomb on several different frames at once.
They may start building comb in the upper hive box…and they may start building in the lower hive box. I have even seen them build comb in both boxes at once.
Baby bees in the honey? Hmm…
Is this a bad thing? No, but it can lead to baby bees in the honey. Here is why…
The queen bee always lays eggs in the newest and freshest honeycomb. That is just how honeybees do it. So, if you have a frame hive, the queen bee will find the new honeycomb and lay eggs in that honeycomb.
Often the bees will draw out comb in the upper hive boxes, and then start to put honey into that comb. At the same time, the queen bee will smell the new honeycomb and lay her eggs in it.
The result? Baby bees in the honey. Not the easiest to work with.
If you have a frame hive you can try to use a queen excluder to keep the queen bee towards the bottom of the hive. This does not always work. Furthermore, is a queen excluder really good for your beehive? The excluder forms a barrier in the hive. Such a barrier is not a natural feature in wild beehives. In natural hives, the queen bee is free to roam about the hive at will.
But, if the queen can go anywhere in the hive, won’t she lay eggs anywhere she chooses?
If you have a Top Bar Hive, the solution is simple!
In a top bar hive there is no foundation. The bees begin building honeycomb at the top of the hive box. They draw it down towards the floor of the hive. So, the older comb is always towards the top of the hive.
And the newer comb is towards the bottom of the hive. The picture on the right displays this building process.
Since the queen always lays eggs in the newest comb, the baby bees will always be towards the bottom of the hive.
And the all of your honey will be towards the top of the hive, since the honeybees prefer to put the honey into the older honeycomb.
If you take a look at the Cut Comb Honey Harvest post you will see how I harvest the top hive box from a Warre Hive. This box was completely full of honey. There were no baby bees at all, since all the brood was laid in the new comb in the bottom of the hive.
By the way, it is important to add hive boxes to the bottom of the bee hive so that the bees can always build comb downwards towards the floor. Since each box has a set of top bars, the comb is separated into sections the height of each hive box, making it easy for you to handle each box as a unit of honeycomb and honey.
So, in summary, when you use a top bar hive and let the honeybees build their own honeycomb without using wax foundation, you will hardly ever have baby bees in with the honey.
This translates to easier beekeeping for you, a more natural beehive for the bees, and a much more sustainable beekeeping experience since you don’t need to buy or use a metal or plastic queen excluder.
I like that. How about you?