Seriously? But bees do their own thing and look after themselves, right? Yes and no.
Left to their own devices, bees will arrange their house just how they want it, snuggly warm and water tight. However, when this awesome set-up is taken apart by a meddlesome beekeeper, all of those wind and water tight seals are broken and need to be rebuilt. This leads to a build up of waxy propolis (bee glue), the substance mixed by bees and puttied into gaps in the hive. When the boxes are separated bits of twig, bee, gravel and other interesting things can stick to this and stop the boxes fitting back together well, thus causing more work for the bees and more waxy propolis to be deposited. This sticky build up will make it harder to open the hive and separate boxes, it will also build up around the lugs of frames, stopping them from moving smoothly when you are working the hive. This may not seem much of a problem, but a cleaned down hive requires less wrestling, therefore less jostling for the bees, less squashed bees, less bee stings and… a happier beekeeper!
The structure of a natural hive is determined by a measurement known as a bee space. This varies between 4.5mm and 9mm. Anywhere in the hive where there is a gap it will be filled with wax structures by the bees. This is sometimes referred to as ‘brace comb’, ‘burr comb’ or ‘bridging comb’ and it is most commonly found between boxes, across queen excluders, under hive mats and between frames if they have not been put back together properly. Freeform comb can also be found in feeders if they have been left in during a nectar flow. If left, these pieces of wax are compressed when the hive is put back together, crushing bees and accumulating other impurities, gradually becoming a dark hardened mass that will be a struggle to deal with. When fresh and on a warm day, the soft yellow wax can be removed easily and salvaged for waxing frames, making candles, polishing furniture – whatever floats your boat! A hive free of tough old brace comb means less jostling for the bees, less squashed bees, less bee stings and… a happier beekeeper! Got it?
The moral of this story is to take time and keep it clean, then you and your bees can enjoy the domestic bliss of tidy beekeeping…