As a beekeeper, you need to know how the different parts of your beehive come together to make a thriving colony. While you have the chance to see all your honey bees and their home during inspections, there’s still plenty to learn about what goes on inside your beloved hive. The brood box might not be where you focus most of your time and energy—after all, there are frames full of golden honey to take up your attention. However, the brood nest that exists within your deep supers is one of the most vital parts of your honey bee colony. Part of beekeeping is continuously learning about these tiny but fascinating creatures. Continue your search of knowledge with this introduction to the brood nest, what it contains, and why it’s crucial for the life of your colony.
The Importance of the Brood
A honey bee colony has one primary goal: survive. Everything a worker bee does—from guarding the hive to foraging for nectar—helps the rest of the colony stay strong, safe, and healthy. The brood also plays a vital role in allowing the colony to survive over the years. Healthy reproduction habits and a continuous cycle of new members help to maintain a thriving population. As such, a lot of the colony’s efforts revolve around keeping a healthy brood. Worker bees strive to make sure the queen has a safe place to lay her eggs, the developing brood has plenty to eat, and the new adult honey bees can enter a clean and healthy hive. Most of this work takes place within the brood nest, the frames of the hive that contain the brood and the food supplies necessary to help them grow.
Worker Bee Cells
The brood goes through three developmental stages: egg, larval, and pupal. At the end of the larval stage, worker bees will cap the brood cells. The pupal stage takes place in the safety of this capped cell. You can tell what kind of adult bee is forming by taking a close look. Worker bees, drones, and future queens will have slightly different shapes and colors to their cells. You can usually find the capped cells of future worker bees in the center of the brood nest. A vast majority of brood cells contain workers. The cap on a worker bee’s cell has a slight dome shape and appears mostly flat. The cap takes on a darker color, unlike the ones you can find on honey cells—which we discuss in more detail below. Finally, worker bee cells are smaller than both drone and queen cells, as worker bees are the smallest members of the colony.
Drone cells contain the unfertilized eggs that become adult male honey bees, or drones. In addition to being larger than worker brood cells, drone cells also have a more domed shape in the cap. You can find these drone cells in the outer regions of the brood nest because drone larvae and pupae do better in slightly cooler temperatures, which are easier to come by in the outer layers of the nest.
The queen cell is the rarest cell in the brood nest, but its importance is undeniable. Your colony won’t always have queen cells, but when it does need them—due to supersedure, swarming, or an emergency that results in the sudden loss of the current queen—they become crucial. The queen cell begins with an open-ended queen cup that is larger than both worker and drone cells. The current queen lays a fertilized egg in the queen cup. Worker bees will then care for this egg by feeding it a special diet of royal jelly to encourage development. The future queen will grow immensely as the egg goes through the different developmental stages. The queen grows into the only honey bee in the colony capable of laying eggs, making her the most important member of the hive.
When you think of honeycomb, you probably think of honey cells: golden hexagons full of sweet, delicious honey. You can find both capped and uncapped honey cells within a beehive. Technically speaking, uncapped cells are still in the middle of the honey-making process, which means they likely contain nectar that’s on its way to becoming true honey. This nectar has a much higher water content than honey. It will remain uncapped until more water content evaporates and allows the nectar to thicken into honey.
Capped honey cells have a thin top layer of beeswax to seal them securely. The beeswax cap ensures that no more water evaporates, keeping the honey at its optimal water content. This capping also deters mites and other predators that make their way into the hive.
As you can probably imagine, pollen cells store pollen within a beehive. Pollen makes up a crucial part of the brood’s diet. Worker bees will mix it with nectar and water to make beebread, which is high in proteins, vitamins, and other essential nutrients for developing the brood. Keep in mind that the bees don’t store all pollen—or honey, for that matter—near the brood nest. However, due to pollen’s immense nutritional content, colonies tend to keep some of these cells near the brood for easy access. You can find pollen cells surrounding the brood cells and honey cells further beyond those.
Inspecting the brood is a crucial part of your routine hive inspections. The easiest way to do this is to take a look at the brood pattern. What you see here will help you determine the health of both your brood and the queen. A healthy brood pattern means a neat, even pattern of eggs, larvae, and capped cells. Be sure to check the pollen and honey stores around the brood as well. A strong food supply means you have productive worker bees. Keep an eye out for warning signs in and around the brood nest. For example, sunken caps or an excess of empty cells can indicate an unproductive queen, a diseased colony, or other complications that threaten your hive.
This introduction to the brood nest can help you learn more about how your honey bees operate and what they need from you. Are you ready to start a hive of your own? Find beehive boxes for sale, along with plenty of other reliable equipment, when you shop at Mann Lake today.