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My bees aren't creating the comb the way "I" want them too, should I be concerned?


#1

Before I get started, I want to say upfront what my gut instinct is… “Let the bees do what they want to do unless someone tells me I am headed for disaster”.

Background:
Back in March I received by 4 frame nucleus. This is my first and only hive. Except for the 4 frames that came in the nucleus, all of my new frames are foundation-less and wire-less. My plan was to fit 9 frames in my 8 frame brood box because @Michael_Bush indicated the bees prefer that spacing for brood boxes. My plan was to have two 8-frame brood boxes (with 9 frames in each) and add the flow super as a 3rd box.

Current State:
Fast forward to today. My bottom box is full, but I can only fit 7 frames. The 3 outermost frames in the bottom box were filled with comb by the bees (without any foundation or wire guides). The 2nd brood box has 3 frames full of comb (also without foundation or wire guides). They have started on a 4th frame. At this rate both boxes should be full of comb by winter, I might even get lucky and be able to add the flow super in fall (I doubt it though).

Observations:
The idea of having 9 frames in the bottom 8 frame box was dead on arrival because the 4 frames I received in the nucleus were already too large.

The bees are making the outer frames very wide. My guess is they are wide because those frames are being used to store honey. In the brood box the innermost 4 frame’s comb do not exceed the width of the top bar of the frame, the outermost frame comb is probably 15% wider. And in the top brood box with the 3 filled out frames have comb that is quite wide, probably 20-30% wider than the comb that came with the nucleus.

I spaced the frames in the 2nd brook box frames close together 30mm center to center hoping to enable the bees to make comb that they preferred. But, I guess since they needed the frames for honey, the 3 frames were much larger than 30mm center to center and thus, the bees installed the comb “off center”. By “off center”, I mean the comb sticks out one side of the frame but not the other (see drawing).

My Questions:

  1. Other than being off-center, the newly looks great and the spacing between the comb looks good. I have decided to ditch my plan to fit 9 in an 8 frame for now and am going to space the remaining frames to match the spacing that the bees chose in the first 3 frames (which I estimate to be 50mm center to center). Am I doing the right thing?
  2. Should I worry about the off-center frames? They seem structurally stable.
  3. If the bees pick different comb widths based off of their intended use, how do you go back after the fact and take a frame that was created to be used for honey stores and slim it down so that it can be used to replace an old brood frame?
  4. Doing foundationless frames made one of the benefits of foundation obvious. Foundation forces the bees to make a certain space work, without foundation, the bees have more flexibility. What are recommended ways to encourage the bees to make proper frames? Dummy boards on both sides of an empty frame? Only put empty frames between 2 filled out frames?
  5. I kind of like the idea of letting the bees pick how wide to make their comb. But, if I do that, I will have frames with a wide variety of comb width, how is someone supposed to manage that? Do I have to worry about the bees drawing too much honey store comb and not enough brood comb? What are ya’lls thoughts?

#2

Hi Lorne,

Welcome back - nice to see you on the forum again! :blush:

Yes. Unless you shaved down the shoulders of the frames, you should only put 8 frames in your brood box.

No need to worry about them. The bees aren’t worried, and they like them that way. My outer frames are often like that too. It is only an issue if you want to spin them for extraction, and you shouldn’t need to do that for brood frames.

At the end of winter, if the frame is mostly empty, you can shave down the extended comb with a sharp kitchen knife, or an uncapping knife.

I have never put dummy boards on both sides. Occasionally I use one next to the hive wall by the 8th frame, just until that outer frame is drawn. Your idea of putting a fresh empty frame between 2 drawn frames is an excellent one, and should work well if you abut the shoulders of the frames tightly together in the middle of the box.

They will normally only draw the extra deep comb on the outer face of the outer frames. As long as you keep those frames in that position, there should never be a problem. They will draw the extra deep comb if you don’t keep the brood frames tightly pushed together, so just make sure it is nice and snug when you finish each inspection. I haven’t had a problem with too much deep comb, but if it happened, I would just shave it down with my uncapping knife.

Hope that helps. Keep asking questions, it is always good to hear from you!


#3

Thanks @Dawn_SD. Do you recommend I invest in a hot knife so I can reshape my comb in the future? If not, how would you recommend I shave the excess comb off?

"They will normally only draw the extra deep comb on the outer face of the outer frames. As long as you keep those frames in that position, there should never be a problem. They will draw the extra deep comb if you don’t keep the brood frames tightly pushed together, so just make sure it is nice and snug when you finish each inspection."
Currently, my extra deep comb is in the frames directly above my brood frames. What is going to happen if the queen decides she wants to start laying in the upper brood box and the upper brood box is all extra deep comb?


#4

I would recommend that you start with a serrated kitchen knife - 8 to 10" long, like you might use to cut bread. Simple, cheap and most people already have one. Hot knives are around $100, and unless you are going the traditional extraction route, I wouldn’t invest. Your local club might have a member who would be willing to lend you one (or let you rent it for a small fee!). I have never tried shaping brood comb with cocoons in it. I would imagine that could be difficult and messy - I might just render that comb and let them start with a fresh frame.

Either the bees will trim it down so that the queen can lay workers, or most of the offspring will be drones. They will only trim it down if you reduce the “bee space” by pushing the frames tight together.


#5

OH… so, that is safe to do? Maybe I should be doing that now?


#6

Like everything in life, there is a risk. You may squash bees, and you don’t want SHB taking over, as you know. In my hives, the wider comb is usually at the top of the frame, and I can trim that off with a knife keeping the edge in line with the top bar, without injuring bees (mostly - there is always a stubborn one who wants to face the knife…) Then I can push the frames together very slowly, so that bees have a chance to get out of the way. I mean VERY slowly. I am talking maybe 30 seconds to a minute to get 2 frames sitting right next to each other. Listen for buzzing distress calls - they are quite distinctive, you can almost hear a bee saying “help, I am trapped” and if you hear that, back off, wait 5 seconds and start again. Once you have your comb properly drawn, you won’t have to do this again, but it is quite a learning experience the first time.


#7

Dawn could you not have the extra deep frames as the outside frames of the second brood box, to lessen chance of it becoming laid with drones?


#8

I don’t quite understand what you are suggesting. When I have the extra deep comb, it is usually on one face of a frame, facing the hive wall in an existing brood box. I don’t move it around. Often they build the extra deep comb on the outer frames of the second brood box too. I get drones in both brood boxes - usually near the outside, so I can’t understand how it would make a difference. I wouldn’t swap them around - no need in the way my hives seem to run things. :blush:


#9

I think I misunderstood what lhengst was saying. I thought frames with deep comb had been moved from first br. box up into 2nd br box & placed in centre… thats after three very late nights up watching Tour De France


#10

Here is what I have today (I’ll try to make a diagram using text)

Bottom Box: [ wide | wide | normal | normal | normal | normal | wide ]
Top Box: [ undrawn | undrawn | extra wide and offset | wide | extra wide and offset | undrawn | undrawn | undrawn ]

after thinking about it some more, during my next inspection I am going to do some rearranging of the frames. I want to do what I need to do to fit 8 frames in the bottom brood box. Here is my plan…

  1. Take the 2 widest non-brood frames from the bottom box and move them to the top.
  2. This added space should allow me to move 3 empty foundationless frames down to the bottom brood box, getting me back to 8 frames in that box. I might need to shave off some comb to make that work (i hope not). I will use the existing frames to try and keep the bees from making the frames too wide this time.
  3. In the top box, I will use the 5 filled out frames to force the empty frames to be filled out with a smaller width.
  4. Each inspection I will try to slowly rearrange the frames so get the brood into the thinner frames and move the wider frames to the outermost positions. That way, I can shave them down and not have to mess with shaving down frames that contain brood.

Is that a good plan?


#11

Sounds great to me. Good job! :wink:


#12

Hey Lorne! Missed ya. I too have a rather willful colony, and posted about it recently for the same reasons - trying to balance their nature with my feeling responsible to nurture :wink:

I ended up doing some trimming myself with my bread knife & then g e n t l y pushing frames closer as @Dawn_SD describes. It was a pretty big mess & I didn’t have the guts to keep going past the outer four frames. I only have the one hive, and they already had an interruption in brood raising because I killed the first queen sometime ago, so I’m keeping overwintering health in mind now that it seems there’s a dearth here for about the next 6 weeks.

I’m hoping I could look towards a more thorough/effective fix a) if they survive the winter with b) a good spring start that c) allows me to make a split. Thoughts anyone?

Let us know how your techniques turn out, Lorne!


#13

My bees were building diagonally across several frames. Similar to Eva, I used a bread knife to cut the comb…a hot knife didn’t seem necessary. I also hung the frames over a casserole dish to collect honey drippings for return to the hive. After separating the comb and gently pushing it back into place on a single frame, rubber bands kept it in place.

The bees had built about halfway across all of the frames, from the front of the super. As it turned out, I had to work on the ‘correction’ twice. It was very nerve wracking. In the end, one helpful thing was that I reversed one or two half filled frames, which seemed to encourage the bees to stick to building comb straight, on individual frames.