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What is a Beehive

Bees live and raise their young in an enclosed or sheltered structure. A beehive can be in a hollow tree, an empty box, an old drum or the wall of a house. European Honey Bees live in about 40 liters or a box about 20 inches by 16 inches by 9 inches. Africanized Honey Bees are not as selective but that is another story.

Man-made beehives are in or part of an apiary. The Latin name for bees is Apis mellifera. Beehives are made of several rows of honeycomb. Honeycomb is the characteristic six-sided, hexagonal structure made of beeswax. Honeycomb holds the nectar, honey, pollen and brood (eggs, larvae, pupae) or young baby bees. Bees leave a "bee space" of about 3/8 of an inch between and around combs.

The inside of any beehive, natural or man-made, is coated with propolis. Propolis is a resinous substance collected to seal and protect the hive. Propolis has unique anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties. Man-made beehives have frames in the hive. The hive box is also called a super. The bees build the honeycomb on frames in the super. All beehives in the United States must use removable frames to inspect for disease. Frames also allow honey to be extracted without killing all the bees. In clay pots, straw skeps or log gums the bees were killed to remove the honey. Killing all the bees to get the honey is one possible reason African bees are defensive now. The bees were just trying to survive.

Bees prefer the entrance near the bottom to keep the hive clean and control exposure to the weather and external threats. The queen will lay eggs in the lower comb. Workers will fill honeycomb cells around the brood with pollen to feed the larvae. Nectar and honey is stored at the top above the brood. As the queen lays more eggs, she will gradually move up. The honey and nectar storage will have to move up also. This natural storage of honey and nectar on top is ideal for beekeepers. Honey supers are added on top of the hive as the bees need space.

The hive at the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens was started from a swarm found in a tree on the USF campus. The swarm was in the parking lot for the Library. It was easy to collect the swarm. The bees were shaken off the limb in front of the hive. They gladly entered the hive to find waiting comb on the frames. Quickly the bees were fanning on the front porch of the hive spreading the scent that a new home was found. Within thirty minutes the bees were in their new home headed to the Garden.

The USF Gardens hive will be used to teach pollination, bees as part of the ecosystem, and beekeeping. Demonstrations and classes will be provided as often as weather and interest permits. The hive is always available for viewing. Please allow some room, about 15 to 20 feet around the hive, because the workers are quite busy helping in the USF Gardens. When you see bees working in the USF Gardens or on campus, please take the time to enjoy them actively collecting from the flowers. They can be quite entertaining.