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Correcting Wonky frames- with some help will the bees do it?


Ok- I set up some new hives this spring- one a split and one a swarm. I did this using foundationless frames- interspersed with built out combs.

The bees built out the foundation-less combs very fast- and very nice- though I do have a few issues I saw at my last inspection. A few of the new frames are not completely straight- not cross comb- just bulging out a bit far- making them overly fat. In one instance there was a honeycomb full of honey connecting two frames.

To try and sort things out I re-arranged a few frames- putting wonky ones up against straight good ones - and also removing some bridge comb. I also put in some foundation combs between wonky ones to try and get everything back in order.

My question is: will bees straighten out wonky combs if they are helped to do so by moving them up close to straight combs? If there are small areas where the bee space between combs is too small for the bees to squeeze through - will they tear down combs and rebuild them straight?

Also- if you have a comb with a bulge in it- is it a good idea to take the hive tool and remove the bulge?

To be clear- the issues I have are relatively minor- I can still remove all combs and they are mostly pretty good. I am just wondering how much action I should take to correct the issues.

Yesterday I added a new brood box to my 5 frame nuc split hive- so now it has ten frames. This time I used two foundation frames with 3 foundationless starter strips. This way every foundationless frame is up against a wall- and/or alongside a foundation frame. I think this will work better that all foundationless.


My bees never have, but you might be lucky with yours. Once it is joined, bridged and wonky, they seem to like it that way.


so what do you do in those cases Dawn? Let’s say you had a comb with a bulge in it- and you placed a fersh foundation beside it: in the area of the foundation that faces where the bulge is- I assume the bees won’t have room to build out the foundation without running out of bee space- so would they leave that part of the foundation alone? Or might they tear down the facing bulge comb?

My plan is to move both of these hives into my new long horizontal hives when I have assembled them and the bees have built out their current homes. Once I do that it will be an easy matter to rotate out any wonky combs. Going forward it is my plan to always roatate old combs every year- and harvest wax. From what I have been reading it’s a good strategy for maintaining healthy hives. Also my nuc hives came with plastic foundation which I don’t like- my plan is to rotate all of them over time and keep them for swarm traps and emergencies only. The nuc supplier indicated there was some nosema in the nucs over winter - so I also want to remove all of the original nucleus frames over time. Those two nucs have done very well coming into spring- one was transferred into an eight frame box just 8 days ago and completely filled out three fresh foundation frames in just 7 days. Those hives are way ahead of my split and swarm colonies.

All in all I am quite happy with the results I have had using the wooden starter strips- but I think I will intersperse them with foundation (checkerboard) until I have better mastered the art.

One thing that is clear: the foundationless combs have quite a bit of drone cells on them. I am not sure if that is a worry or not- it seems to depend on who you read… Is it true to say ‘once a drone cell always a drone cell’ or do the bees utilise those cells for honey, pollen and regular brood at times when they are not making drones? Also over time- as the cells are used to they eventually become smaller standard cells?


OK, so now we need to know why there is a bulge. If the bulge is because the cells are deep, the bees won’t tear it down, they usually just make shallower cells on the adjacent face. To fix that, I shave off the deeper cells and use the honey/wax for my own purposes. Often they won’t rebuild it deeper in that case, providing you trim it flat.

More complicated is when there is a bulge in the brood nest because the midline of the comb is not vertically straight. If you trim that off, they may just rebuild it. They won’t fix it. In that case, I either render the whole frame and let them start over, or use it in a honey super. However, I keep bees for my purposes, not just to conform to their quirks. So if they build something like that, or the wax slumps in summer heat, usually I will just remove the frame and render the wax. Repeatedly trying to work around a wavy frame is time-consuming, messy and kills bees.

Bees will use the cells for whatever the colony thinks they need. If they need drones, they will re-use them for drones. If not, they will certainly put honey or pollen in them. I haven’t seen them repurpose drone cells for workers, but they may eventually do it. I just don’t keep detailed enough records of my own frames to have observed that.


‘Puffy’ frames are an example of why bee space is so critically important. You may find from some suppliers that their nuc boxes don’t adhere to bee space so you are left to correct the puffy/wide frames over time. This is also the reason it is critical to keep all frames in the hive at all times, and press them up together in the middle of the Flow box (as it has space on either side).

Essentially repeating Dawn here, but I generally either cycle them out of the brood box and then when they are back filled with honey (or empty) and run an uncapping knife down them to ‘square’ them up. The problem is that the ‘middle’ of the frame is usually shifted to one side in these cases so you have deep cells on one side and shallow on the other.

There is a real problem keeping these frames in the hive for too long because they adversely affect adjacent frames (ie. adjacent frames will be drawn in a concave shape to match the convex profile of a wide frame). To combat this you can move them to the outside edge, and make sure you checker your new foundation/frames only with correctly drawn frames.

My only other advice would be not to push these wider frames together in the hope that the bees may fix them. If they are brood frames it will trap brood and turn into a proper mess (and make a breeding ground for pests further down the line).


I discovered the same problem a few days ago so this will be helpful for me too. It’s only 2 frames, I think perhaps some of the combs cut out have shifted when initially put in & because of our weather it’s been difficult to do regular inspections at what was pertinent times to fix before it became a real problem. It’s going to take awhile to cycle them out I suspect as the weather means they have slowed down brood expansion, & will be a long time before ready for a honey super. Will be interested to hear how you go.


Hi Jack, in time you’ll probably find, as I did that your better off to use all properly fitted frames with foundation, especially if you have SHB to contend with. In the mean time, I don’t put frames hard up against each other. I always leave a bee space between the tops of frames. I use my hive tool to trim off any bulging comb, as you suggest. I let the honey run between the frames. If you don’t leave a bee space, the bees will bridge it & work around it.


Hello there Jeff,

so far I haven’t seen any SHB here in Adelaide at all. I am not sure if it is a problem here or not- but none of our hives have had any beetles (touch wood). The only thing we have noticed is the odd wax moth under the screened bottoms. I am coming round to using foundation- mum bought one of those embedding tools and I have been wiring up frames and checker-boarding them with my foundationless frames. My brother recently added three foundation frames to a five frame nuc that was put into an 8 frame flow brood box. The bees built all three out completely in just 7 days and they look great.

I also like using the wood starter strip though- I like the ‘au natural’ simplicity (and economy) but I now see that extra care needs to be taken.


G’day Jack, I’m probably the most frugal of frugal beekeepers. However I consider the cost of wax foundation not to be an issue. Even though I exchanged my wax for foundation where no money changed hands, I still could have simply sold the wax for $14.50 a kilo & just taken the money. I chose to take the foundation instead of the money.