Bee comb, despite the weather

Like a boorish guest, winter is outstaying its welcome. Its hosts wait with forbearance, their energy reserves running low. This week has been dismal for the returning migrant birds (no flying insects on which to feed), the spring wildflowers (no pollinators, no photosynthesis) and the breaking buds of trees (temperatures have dipped low enough to cause some frost damage).

Bees have retreated to their hives. Inside, they turn honey to heat. The hive’s core stays toasty. In very cold spells, the bees ball up, rotating their positions from the exterior to the interior of the ball, kneading warmth into their gathered mass. But on days that are merely chilly, work continues. Brood is tended, the hive is cleaned and wax is lain down.

Two weeks ago, when winter seemed about to get up and leave, I cleaned up the hives that sit at the bottom of our garden. In doing so, I removed some abandoned “wild” comb from an empty hive box. This is comb that bees constructed without the aid of artificial foundations. These foundations make honey extraction easier for humans, but bees don’t need them.

The comb hung down in a foot-long tongue. It was slightly flexible, wobbling a bit as I moved it. The edges of the individual cells were drawn so thin that they powdered away if I handled them without delicacy.

bee comb in the sun

Held to the sun, the wax glowed, revealing the bee’s careful architecture. Cells on opposite sides of the comb are offset. The centers of cells on one side align precisely with the three-way joins among cells on the opposite side. In this way the whole structure is strengthened.

bee combbee comb closeEmpty cells, biding time. When this weather moves on, the bees will be ready.

11 thoughts on “Bee comb, despite the weather

  1. Robley Hood

    We could all use a hive in weather like this. At least my bluebird has been knock knock knocking all morning. He has returned with the sun!

  2. Michael Wall

    Mr. Haskell. I work for Georgia Organics and we’re including a review of “The Forest Unseen” in our next newsletter (distribution, 13,000). I was wondering if you had time for a real quick, 10 question email interview to accompany the review. We’d like to ask about your wife’s farm, the connection between farming and your work, some conservation stuff, etc. I just loved your book. If you are Ok wtih the interview, please email me at Have a great day. Spring is just around the corner!!

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Yes! They know what they’re doing.

      They also know how to ward off evil-doers like me. One of them nailed me in the neck, through the bee veil. I called her a bad name, but it is hard to get too mad when you know she’s dying in defense of home.

  3. Bobbi

    I am truly enjoying your blogs, comments, and replies. I am in Florida so your blogs give me a fresh perspective on nature’s life cycles — and I am gaining a better understanding of some of the behaviors I see in my own garden. Thank you so much for taking the time to share.


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