Home | About | Products | Blog

Straightening comb


I am completely new to beekeeping. In the section on Top Bar Management on the website, it states that if the comb is not straight, “you’ll need to gently push it back into place on the bar”. Ummm…how exactly is this done? Especially when it is covered with bees? How do you keep from accidentally breaking off the comb?

                                                                                                                                                                                             Thanks,  Susan



Thanks for your message. If the crooked comb is caught early it can usually be pushed straight with little to no issues. You can either brush the bees off of the comb, or just move them out of the way. If you’re wearing gloves this is easier than you’d expect! When combs are freshly built they are soft and malleable. Over time, however, they become much harder – especially if it’s cold out. If you wait too long to fix it, the comb has a higher chance of breaking rather than bending in the right shape.

Combs usually become crooked for a reason. It is often because of fat honey combs being built, forcing the bees to shift the next comb over to accommodate bee space. If you notice your bees beginning to make these fat combs, I would just begin to leave 1/8" gaps between the bars so that they don’t make them crooked. Others use different sized bars or use spacers. I find this to make things too complicated. The gaps work great for me.




We have major probems here in south Alabama with small hive beetles. Wouldn’t leaving 1/8 inch gaps between bars give the beetles more places to hide?


It absolutely would give SHB more places to hide. In places with SHB you may want to use spacers to minimize this. We don’t have small hive beetles here in Oregon, so this method works fine.



Matt - I’m a new beekeeper as well, and want to learn from my mistakes so the bees don’t have to suffer from my stupidity more than once.

I installed my bees about 4 days ago. For the first 2 days, the bees were foraging during the day, and just clustered around the queen box at night, with their wings humming nicely. Yesterday they seemed to be getting quite industrious with their comb-building, so I decided to open the hive today (day 4) for the first time and check to make sure the queen was still OK - if she hadn’t been let out of the box yet, and to remove the empty box and make sure the comb was straight if she had been released. Well, she had been released, but the two combs the bees were working on were very crooked (the two combs together spanned three bars from end to end diagonally - they obviously followed the angle the box had twisted to. I pulled the empty queen box from the larger comb and tried to bend that comb straight, but it wasn’t well attached to the top bar, so it failed. I bent the second (smaller) comb straight successfully, but just laid the bee-covered failed comb in the opposite end of their living area so they could recover whatever they wanted to take from that. No capped cells in it, but there were some scattered larvae evident and some food in some of the cells. Since I know that bees tend not to re-use the wax itself, I plan to just remove that broken piece in the future once they are done with it.

So I closed up the hive and will leave them to their own devices for awhile to (hopefully) let them build straight comb using the small (re-oriented by me) piece that’s still hanging there as a guide. I didn’t want to take any more time to try to find the queen (there are a LOT of bees in there - low mortality during installation since I used a local bee source). Since I saw larvae I figured she must be ok. I don;t think more than a bee or two were hit by the falling comb, so hopefully she’s still ok, but I’m sure I’ll know that soon enough.

Bottom line: Did I do anything stupid? I wasn’t really expecting what happened, so I had to figure out what to do as I went along and tried to do things as inobtrusively as possible.

Love your top bar hive by the way - the bees do too. Or at least they did until I broke their comb… Only problem was that around day two, when I opened up the door to look through the plastic window, the bees started forcing their heads between the wood and the plastic, bee after bee until one of the metal attachments gave out - resulting in bees flying out the gap. Once they did that I closed the wooden door quickly. Then when they settled down for the night I quickly opened the wooden cover over the window and caulked on the outside between the wood and the plastic and closed the door again as quickly as I could. They haven’t tried to come out that way again, so I think that worked. Has this ever happened to the windows in your hives before - or do I have some kind of “Virginia Superbee”? Just wondering. Thanks!



Sorry for the delayed response. It seems my forum didn’t notify me when you posted!

I don’t think you did anything stupid. Though you did one thing I wouldn’t do. I never hang the queen cage in top bar hives, as it inevitably leads to crooked combs to start. I either direct release the queen or lay the queen cage on the bottom of the hive. This way it/she is out of the way of the combs. It sounds like you did the right thing by leaving the comb in, out of the way, for the bees to do as they wish with.

We’ve had the warped window issue on a number of hives now. We’ve tried adding more screws, but this doesn’t seem to solve it in the worst cases. I believe it’s largely related to the moisture in the wood upon shipment, and the humidity in the final location. If it’s wetter than usual upon shipment and going to a dry-ish place, the window likes to warp. Calking works fine to resolve it. I’m terribly sorry about this!




Do I understand you Matt, you just leave gaps between the bars? I use spaces but the comb still seem wide and then is attached to spacer bars. Do you just leave a gap between bars?



I do just leave spaces between my bars full of honey. Only about 1/8" seems to do the trick.