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Fixing cross-connected comb in the spring


#1

I’m trying to figure out what to do with my hive. Through a series of events I think I’ve got a hive with a lot of crooked/cross-connected comb and I’m trying to figure out how to fix it in the spring.

I’ve never kept bees before. I bought a top bar hive from Bee Thinking in the summer (I live in the Portland area) and had a colony of 4 bars put into them on Labor Day. I don’t know that the guy that installed them knew a lot about top bars (and I certainly don’t) and when he put the bars in he unfortunately left a bit of space (maybe a bar’s width) between them.

I let the bees be for a week and half to let them settle in and then I went in to close those gaps. They had built a bit of comb up the sides of the bars and on top of the bars in the mean time. I scraped the comb off the sides and the top and compressed out the space. I probably should have inspected the combs at that time and made sure everything was set up right, but I was a little overwhelmed with just getting the space compressed out.

For the next few days there were a lot of bees hanging around on the outside of the hive. From what I’ve read, I wonder whether I crowded them with some comb that collapsed or got too close together or something. Eventually the hive seemed to be back to “normal”.

I went in mid-September to do the inspection and make sure the comb was straight. There was some new comb being created on the bars that didn’t come with the colony (yay), but when I got to the first bar that the guy had brought, it was a bit of a mess. There was a main comb hanging down from the bar, but there was also comb coming out from the side a bit and hanging down next to the main comb. I planned on cutting off this side sheet of comb and put it into a frame I constructed from one of your top bars to see if I could suspend it with rubber bands and get it attached properly to a new bar. But the side comb basically collapsed when I cut it and I couldn’t recover it. I put it into a tupperware container in the unused part of the hive for the bees to scavenge.

That’s when I decided I was in over my head and decided to close up the hive before I started damaging brood comb.

Any suggestions on figuring out how to deal with this situation? I decided at the time that it was too late in the season to do any more with the hive.

What should my plan and schedule be for the spring to try to fix this problem?

Any ideas would be appreciated!

Thanks,

Bill


#2

Bill,

Sorry about your troubles! With horizontal top bar hives it is imperative to monitor comb production during the first months after installation, as this is when the bees will be building the majority of their combs. Once one of them gets off center, they always get worse, until you can’t get any combs out.

In your situation I think you made the right decision to leave it alone for now. The bees don’t care if their combs are straight, and you would likely have caused more harm than good this late in the season. In mid-April/early May I recommend going into the hive and checking the combs toward the back. See if there are any that are crooked AND empty (no brood/honey). If so, pull them out. Continue doing this until you either reach combs that aren’t empty or you reach combs that are straight (how you want them!).

After that I’d try and find where the brood nest meets the honey and add 2-3 empty bars in between. This will minimize honey binding and give the bees more space to increase the brood nest.

A book came out in the last few months that covers all of these topics extensively: http://www.beethinking.com/top-bar-beekeeping

I highly recommend all top bar beekeepers new and old pick it up. I guarantee you’ll learn something!

Best,

Matt


#3

Matt,

Thanks for the reply and the plan. Sounds sane. I’ll ask for the book for Christmas :)

Thanks,

Bill