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Honeybees collect nectar and convert it into honey pretty much non-stop throughout the spring and summer. They will keep collecting nectar and storing it as honey so long as they have the space to do so. This is because a colony of bees needs this precious resource to make it through the winter. They will be consuming this nectar and honey as and when they need it throughout the active season, but they also need an overwinter supply.
The storage space needs to be ready to go as the nectar starts flowing but in a slight ‘chicken and egg’ scenario, the honeybees need nectar-soon-to-be-honey in order to secrete wax. A wild colony of bees that has just moved into a new home will need to immediately begin constructing comb made from beeswax. The bees can collect the nectar available outside the hive, bring it back and pass it onto younger bees who will use the sugar to produce wax. You can find out a bit more about this process on a previous blog I wrote here. Once the bees are secreting wax, comb construction can begin and as the bees build up the beeswax comb it will quickly become available as storage space.
In managed beekeeping, beekeepers give the bees frames of wax foundation. Wax foundation is essentially a sheet of beeswax and once the bees are able to collect enough nectar to produce wax they will begin “drawing out” this foundation. You can see this process in the above photo. The top ¾ of the wax has been constructed and the bees will eventually have completed the whole sheet. The hexagonal combs you can see will then be used to store honey, pollen, or brood.
As you can see, pretty good storage space! Once the collected nectar has been stored and the bees have completed the process of converting it to honey, they complete the storage process by capping the cell of honey with a layer of wax (see photo above right). This will protect the honey from spoiling and the storage process is complete.