I have typically kept bees according to mostly typical standards. I usually have 2 deep brood boxes (the big white boxes that most people think of as a beehive). I use a screened bottom board all year round for integrated pest management (IPM…i.e. I use it for mite control) and ventilation. My hives all sit on cement blocks to raise them off the ground and I have a typical lid on top of the hive to keep rain and snow out. Until 2 year ago, I used 10 wax frames (the frames are where the bees make honeycomb to raise more bees and store honey) per box as is typical of most beekeepers.
At the end of the season 2 years ago, my honey supers became infested with wax moths. Wax moths are little brown moths that are attracted to honeycomb. They lay eggs in the wax and their larvae eat through the wax and make a serious mess as they fill the honeycomb with poop and their silky cocoons. Esentially, a wax moth infestation ruins any wax in which they come in contact. In a typical strong hive, the bees maintain cleanliness and run the moths off. My problem was with my honey supers (shallower white boxes where honey is stored by the bees for me to harvest) which I had just harvested. After the honey flow, beekeepers remove the honey supers and have to store them until the next honey season.
To prevent wax moths from infesting honey supers, most beekeepers have only a few choices. Honey supers can be stored in a sunlight exposed shed (wax moths won’t typically lay eggs in the sun…but any dark spot in a super and they will lay). Beekeepers can add paradichlorobenzene (PDB moth balls…not napthelene moth balls) on each honey super and seal them in storage so the PDB can fumagate the wax. Finally, beekeepers can freeze each frame to kill any eggs and then store them in plastic bags inside the house (a shed is not typically tight enough and wax moths will eat through plastic bags). I used to apply PDB moth balls but 2 years ago, the wax moths infested the supers as soon as the fumigant was depleted. All of my honey supers were ruined and I could not see repeating the cycle again. In addition to that, I decided that I was not content with using a chemical to treat my honey supers any longer.
About that same time, I began to read about honey super cell (HSC), a new product that was being discussed online quite a bit. Honey super cell is fully drawn honey comb, made entirely of virgin food grade polypropylene. The first benefit of HSC is that the bees do not have to expend additional effort to replace all of the wax that they had drawn out on the ruined honey supers. When introducing new frames, as I would need to do, bees are typically given flat pieces of wax with a honeycomb pattern embossed in the wax. They have to expend honey and time to build the honeycomb on top of the wax foundation. Since this honey comb is fully drawn out, they do not have to generate more wax to make these frames usable. Secondly, plastic is not attractive to wax moths so I will never have to worry about wax moths again. Finally, the real benefit that the manufacturers of HSC tout is that it is small cell honey comb. Whereas a typical bit of honeycomb in use in a commercial hive has a cell size of 5.4mm, HSC has a honeycomb cell inner diameter of 4.8-4.9mm. So why in the world would you care about that? It turns out that the larger size honeycomb cells are not necessarily natural and in fact, may actually help varroa mites breed in a hive. Small cell comb is capped more quickly which interrupts the varroa breeding cycle. Small cell comb provides less room for the varroa to breed (wahoo…bug sex!), and small cell comb apparently makes for a healthier colony in general (see reference above).
The drawback of HSC is that it is fairly expensive, though, the fact that I will not have to replace it and it may provide healthier bees will offset that cost if it bears fruit. I am gradually converting my colonies to HSC in the brood nest. My plan is to proceed slowly for financial reasons as well as to make sure that this won’t hurt my colonies. This is the first spring after converting some hives to HSC last summer. I am pleased to say that my absolute strongest colony is one raised on HSC! I will convert more colonies this summer and monitor the progress. More pertinent to the season however, is that I have converted all of my honey supers to HSC. Frames in the brood nest (the big white boxes) are typically about 9.125 inches high. Frames in honey supers are typically 6.25 inches high (smaller because honey is heavy and lifting a full honey super off is 40-50 pounds. Larger would be even heavier). I have found that HSC cuts very nicely down to honey super size on a table saw. The best part is, I can take the sections I cut down and glue them together to make additional frames (more on that in another post). The point is, I can easily convert to HSC thougout my operation and will generate very little waste.
Ok, this is a long post. Please let me know what you think or if you have questions! I will report back on bee progress soon!