Comb Management

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Comb Management

Hi there. I’d like to talk to you today about managing comb. The comb that bees build is a very valuable resource. So, we want to do our very best to take good care of that comb. We separate a comb into two types, honeycomb and brood comb. And I’ll go through some of the reasons for that as we go along. We’re gonna open up a hive and have a look at what those two look like. So, we’ll just separate the brood chamber and the honey super. One thing that we do to re-ensure that we actually keep the brood comb separate from our honeycomb is, we use medium depth box for our honey in a deep box for our brood chamber. So, those frames aren’t interchangeable. And that way, we’re able to manage them separately. So, we’ll just take the hive apart here. This box is about three quarters full. It’s a split we made up this year. So, we’ll start by looking at the honeycomb. It’s the frame that has fresh nectar in it, but they it’s not completely full. And you can see that it’s a nice light color. When bees produce beeswax, it comes out of their body and it’s pure white. 

They get stained with the yellow color through pollen being tracked over the comb and gets that yellow color. Brood comb gets quite black. And I’ll explain that as we get down to the brood chamber. There we can see a nice full frame of honey with cappings, sealing up that honey there. When we harvest this honey, we uncap the frames and spin the honey out. And that way, we’re able to reuse this comb year after year, bees don’t have to build it every year. It stays in nice light color because there’s never any brood in there. And it stores better because there’s never been any brood in there. We use a queen excluder to keep the queen from getting up in there. That’s what prevents the queen from being (UNKNOWN) in the top part of the box of the hive. But there’s also no pollen stored up in there. So, these frames store well, they’re less attractive to rodents and to wax moths when it’s light colored comb and there’s no pollen present. So, it’s really a big advantage to keep that separate. 

The honey also on uncaps much more readily if it’s nice light comb, because pupa cases are quite tough and they make it hard to be able to uncap the comb. So, let’s look inside that brood chamber now. And this is one. This (UNKNOWN) was an earlier split. And what we’ve done is, we’ve reused some older frames with older dark comb and then we put some new frames in here as well. So, let’s start off by looking at the new frame. Every time we make up a new split, we give them several frames of foundation. And that’s a way of working in comb, so that we can be replacing comb over time by adding the new frames into splits. And you can see they’re just getting started on that side of the frame. So, I’m going to turn this around to expose that undrawn frame closer to the brood where they’ll fill it up. Now, if we look at an older frame in here, we’ll see that the wax gets very dark overtime. So, it’s actually almost black. We look in here, and that’s because every time a bee pupates, you can see pupa right here. 

They spin a cocoon and that cocoon is quite dark. When they emerge, they leave the cocoon behind. And over time, you build up one layer on top of another layer of the pupa cases. So, the cone gets quite tough and quite dark. And you can see this is just a beautiful frame of brood there. The comb is in really good shape. It’s nice and flat, which is desirable. So, one thing that we do periodically is remove combs that are broken or damaged in one way or another or formed improperly so that they’re not flat and they don’t sit parallel. But what we do, it’s tough to cull comb when it’s got brood in it or when it’s got honey in it. So, what will we do instead is, wherever (UNKNOWN) dies, that’s our opportunity to cull a bunch of comb out of the comb. If you use to brood chambers in the early spring, the bees are all up in the top box. The bottom box has very little in it. So that’s the time where you could cull some frames out of the bottom box. But it said that you should replace the comb once every five or six years. 

Well, we do that, but in multiple different ways. One, by adding a new frames into splits that we make, and two, by culling comb in colonies that have died over the winter time. So, that dark comb does not store well. And so, if you’re storing any brood comb, it’s important you keep it nice and cool. Wax moth develop at temperatures above 15 degrees C. So, any stored brood comb needs to be kept cool, preferably frozen. The ideal way to store comb, either honeycomb or brood comb in the wintertime is in an unheated shed, where it freezes. 24 hours of freezing will kill all stages of wax moth. And so, just storing it in a cold location over the winter is the best option. So, if you do get wax moth like say (UNKNOWN) dies, you get some wax moth into a (UNKNOWN). If it’s not really bad, you have the opportunity to put it on a (UNKNOWN) to let the bees clean it up and take care of that wax moth. Or freeze it and store it in a cool location after that. But the best thing is to have all your brood comb with bees on it so that it’s not prone to damage. 

And quite often I ask why not just leave a box of honey on top of the (UNKNOWN) for the bees to winter on? There’s a number of reasons why that can be problematic. So, let’s have a look down here. You can see there’s a brood chamber, a queen excluder, and then honey super there. So, if we leave this honey super on for the bees to feed on over the winter, the queen is going to be down here and all the bees are going to be up here. So you can see why that might be a problem. So, if we take the queen excluder out and leave that super there, the queen could move up with them. But that’s exactly what she does. So, she moves up into here. And in the spring, there’s eggs and larva and pupa in your honey super. So, it’s no longer a honey super. The combs get dark. You have to find the queen, put her down below, exclude her to fix that problem. So it’s generally better to just take the honey supers off, feed the (UNKNOWN) when it shifts to brood chamber, so they can pack all the food right where they need it, at the time of year that they need that food.