“How do I get the bees to build in the comb box?”
A few issues have to be addressed to answer this question. Getting bees to do anything requires understanding their health, location, seasonal challenges, nectar flow (artificial or natural), the relationship between bees and hive space, understanding of the bee and wax production, and their growth cycles. Each point will be addressed individually.
Health – Bees are more likely to expand and utilize unused space within the hive when they are healthy. Expanding bees equals wax production, foraging, and storage. Varroa mites eat fats, and bee fats are similar to beeswax. If the mite counts are high, it stands to reason the wax production will be low for a number of reasons, one being a lack of fat in young bees – the ones that primarily produce wax.
Location – Not every location is ideal for bees, nor is every location perfect for bees ALL season. Other challenges with a location may relate to limited or sporadic forage, over-placement of hives, hive predators which include believe it or not even ants. Nearby fires and smoke in the air can pacify bees, retarding their production.
Seasonal Challenges – Some areas have continuous nectar flows due to abundant resources, yet others have periods of nectar drought called a dearth. Rain, cold, hurricanes, tornadoes and perhaps even excessive smog can slow down a colony. Bees are very in-tune with their surroundings.
Nectar Flow – This is a period when flowers and blooms are readily available. Plants and trees without blossoms are nectar poor. Understanding plant cycles as well as which produce nectar and/or pollen is essential to understanding a honey bee colony. Planting for pollinators includes planting for seasonal lows. A nectar flow can be natural or artificially induced with feeding. Expectations of wax production and expansion during a nectar poor period is comparable to renovating a basement with no access to building materials and funding. Fund your bees’ hive renovations during nectar poor periods by supplemental feeding.
Relationship Between Bees and Hive Space – Bees are remarkable animals with limitations. Space is good for bees but can also be bad for them too. Space without resources produces potential threats to defense. The defense can be external from visible robbers, but can also be internal with the wax moth. Look at a hive (a structure where bees live) as an incubator. Heat and humidity have to be controlled. Patience is mandatory for beekeeping. When bees need space, they’ll have no problem expanding. Feral colonies expand in floor joists, empty propane tanks, deck columns, etc. The expansion means the colony is growing. If bees are NOT utilizing a “super” it is because they DON’T need it. If the expansion requires wax production, but the “wax supply chain” is broken…limited expansion will occur.
Wax Producing Bees – Not all bees actively produce wax, they all did at one point. Young bees produce wax (similar to bee fat). Active foraging bees have less available “fat” than a bee residing continuously inside the hive. Simulation of the “wax gland” and wax production happens with young bees AND nectar-rich diet. Can bees produce wax with a diet of “honey”? Yes, however, production is greater with a nectar diet.
In summary…back to the question, how do I get bees to build and expand (period). Understanding the above points will give the insight needed. Healthy bees expand. An area can induce the growth or inhibit it depending on availability of resources. Seasonal challenges can be overcome with preparation. Nectar flow can be natural or artificially induced. Placement of a “super” does not guarantee production, like opening the flood gates of a damn…a dry lake does not miraculously produce water.
A lady once called and said her bees hated her added new comb box. An inquiry into what was going on followed. She said the bees wouldn’t touch it. Again discussion followed. She said she removed a couple deeps and left them with two deeps. Images of crowded bees moved from 4 boxes to 2, but more questions followed. The next find out question was, what do you see when you look into the hive? Her response, it was full. Odd. More find out questions followed, “how many of the 20 frames in this double deep hive have bees on them?” She responded “4”! Confused at the response of “4”, the prior response of “full” was addressed. Her response, “I moved all the honey into the lower two boxes to give them food to grow”. Essentially her colony was honey bound and COULDN’T grow. Bees first need the population to expand. In this case, the queen will not wander around to find new areas to lay eggs. She was blocked by honey walls and was limited on how many offspring she could produce. If bees are not growing…there is another issue. Key is to find what that is.