Crooked comb...sigh....

by Mary Aldrich
(Columbia, Missouri)

growing at the bottom

growing at the bottom

growing at the bottom
crazy shapes

Hi,

First I am really grateful for your site. Second, it has been crazy weather in Missouri - but today it was sunny AND not raining and I got the smoker to light really well and I did my first real hive inspection - I choked last time.

So the comb is a bit crooked in places with some comb from one frame reaching into another frame - I thought I should fix it and wound up slaying larvae...it was fairly awful. There is also comb being built at the bottom of the frames in bubble shapes but I don't think they are queen cells.

So the question is should I try to fix the crooked comb? Since I have slayed some larvae I am not eager to try anything new.

I will be putting the queen excluder and a super on later today because all but one frame appear to have comb built and active work being performed.

Any advise is appreciated. And sorry for the long winded question.

---

Hi Mary,

Long-winded questions are appreciated! (Photos too!) It beats a tersely worded question that has me guessing as to what is really being asked.

Bees build the best comb when there's lots of nectar coming in (or sugar syrup). If conditions are less than optimum while the bees are drawing out a frame, the comb will often not be the best - almost as if their heart isn't really in it.

A couple of other potential causes of crooked comb:

1) Crooked foundation. If you're using plain wax foundation, the foundation will often warp if it's in the hive for a while before the bees start to work on it. Even crimp-wired foundation will sometimes warp.

And if the foundation is crooked when the bees start to draw it out, then the comb will also be crooked.

2) Too much space between frames. If a pair of frames is too far apart when the bees build comb, they will often build bridge comb adjoining the two combs. That's perfectly fine from the bees' perspective, of course, but it's a real headache for the beekeeper!

So if you're using a 10-frame super, make sure there are 10 frames in it. And even if there's not a missing frame, it doesn't hurt to check that the frames are pretty much equally spaced when you add a new super of foundation.

Some beekeepers like to use 8 or 9 frames in a 10-frame super to get thicker combs. This makes for easier uncapping and extracting. But it's usually best to have 10 combs drawn initially, and then remove 1 or 2 combs later. The bees will then thicken the remaining combs.

It's also not unusual for the bees to build little bits of comb from the top or bottom of a frame. These bits of comb are called burr comb, and are normal. (I think your 'bubble shaped' bits of comb are probably just burr comb.) Just scrape them off during hive inspection and save them for melting down later.

Unfortunately, I don't really know of any way to fix crooked comb. If you want to get rid of crooked combs, you'll probably just have to replace them.

One easy way to do that is to put the comb above a queen excluder after making certain the queen isn't on it (I'd shake all the bees off to be sure). That way you can just leave the comb until all of the brood hatches out, without having to worry about the queen laying more eggs in it.

Another approach is to move a comb slated for removal to the outermost position. Queens are less eager to lay in the outermost combs, so there's a chance that you could allow the brood to hatch out without the queen laying more eggs in the comb. That's certainly not a sure thing, though.

If the comb isn't really bad, you could also just wait and replace it later during the fall or winter when it contains no brood. Again, moving it to the outside position will assure that there will be no brood in it during winter.

When you get the comb out of the hive, if it's Plasticell foundation or similar (plastic foundation with the embossed cell pattern), you can reuse the foundation. Just scrape off the old comb and brush a coating of melted beeswax onto the plastic.

If it's wax foundation, you'll just have to cut the comb out of the frame and add new foundation.

Overall, it sounds like you're off to a really great start with your bees. And congratulations for getting that first hive inspection under your belt. As you do more, they'll become less stressful and more fun (most of the time)!

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