Remodeling the hive – problem comb management

 

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As discussed in my earlier post : Full Inspection: Day 11  I recently discovered two double combs in the hive. By double I mean that there were TWO independent combs built on the same bar. After some research and questions asked on the FB group I recently joined “Top Bar Hive Beekeeping in the Pacific Northwest”, I realized the double combs must go.

So I suited up and headed out. The fist thing I noticed was that the second comb in – the one that looked like this yesterday:

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(nice festooning, huh?)

Actually looked like THIS on closer inspection:

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It was beginning to get pushed away from the large double comb bar.  Over night, things had gone from good to “Houston, we have a problem”.

What I had thought were all straight combs the day before, were actually already starting to show signs of crowding. They were no longer straight on their bars and I could see that in a few more days I would have a mess.  Action was needed.

I started by pushing the crooked combs back into the center of the bars. The comb was really pliable and easy to push, though since the tops of these combs had honey stored in them, it made a bit of a mess.

NOTE TO OTHER NEWBIES: no matter how much your mouth waters DO NOT forget that there is a net between your hand and mouth!  You cannot eat the honey off your fingers without getting the bee-bonnet off your head! BUT….oh, is it ever worth it!  My fist taste of real, fresh, raw honey will never be forgotten.  It is unlike anything I have ever had….warm and sweet with a little bite to it…..I wanted to drink the stuff.

Anyhow, back to the remodel.

Once I started making sure the combs were in the center of the bars, I could see how the problem would have progressed – from the top, it was easy to see that the combs were too close to the edges of the bar and we were within hours of bars being stuck together.  Hopefully this has been prevented.  I cleaned up the bars as best I could and moved on to tackle the smallest of the doubles.

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I smoked the bees thoroughly and they (thankfully) abandonded ship en masse.  I then cut the small second, and gratefully nearly empty, comb off.  It came off easily and the comb behind it seemed perfect though slightly off-center on the bar.  I pushed it into alignment (crushing more honey stores — sorry bees!) and then promptly dropped the comb into the hive.

The bees weren’t terribly happy about this.

NOTE TO NEWBIES: Dont drop comb into hive.  Not only could it kill someone, you have to reach you hand into a mess of cranky, startled bees to get it out.

Here is the tiny baby comb with some bee-food in it:

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And here it is re-attached to the new bar so it can have it’s own bar in the hive.

IMG_2249In order to reattached this one, since it was so small and weighed nothing, I just smashed it onto the bar and sort of feathered the wax around the guidebar to get it to stay.  I don’t think it will have any trouble – as you can see by the picture, minutes later the bees were working to fix it.

Now, on to the second, MUCH bigger comb.

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There idea was to brush off all the bees (!) crawling on it and then cut it off the bar, just like I did the small one, only without dropping it. It seemed pretty straight forward except for the “brushing the bees off” bit.

I don’t really know, but I am guessing there were a hundred or more bees just on the side I could see. Smoke made them run around but they weren’t leaving.  It was going to take a brush off.  I brushed, ever so gently.  The hum got LOUD. Some bees came off.  I did it again, the hum got LOUDER.  Bees were flying everywhere. I was scared, no getting around it. They were crawling all over the gloved hand that held the bar and I could feel them vibrating almost painfully.  But, I was committed so I brushed them off quickly (saying a little prayer of apology) and got the hive tool. I sawed through the top of the comb and laid the second comb out into my hand, squishing a few little sisters in the process.  But I didn’t drop it.  Once I stepped away from the hive, the remaining bees flew off.  I reached over to close the lid, thinking it would calm them.

We were clear.  WHEW!

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Next was to reattach the comb to a new bar.  Earlier in the day I’d watched a great video on youtube on using alligator hair clips to hold comb in place.  It seemed simple and worth a try so I did this:

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The bees will reattach the comb to the bar themselves and in about a week or so, I will go through and cut out the clips from the comb. I returned to the hive, which had calmed down and added the new bar/comb to the hive next to the one I had removed it from, which now looked like this:

IMG_2255I was done with my adventures in the hive for the day.  It had been successful in many ways: I’d repaired comb issues, which always seemed complex when discussed, but relatively easy to manage in practice, and I had overcome another layer of bee fears when I made them mad (more than once) and it all turned out okay.

I still haven’t been stung….knock on wood.

And now I am resting with that glass of wine again…..

 

UPDATE – 4 HOURS LATER:

I got the hunch I should peek into the hive before they all went to bed….and this is what I found:

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That is the big comb I just fixed laying on the floor.  Looks like it took a slow slide off the hair clips – no bees were killed in the process.  As it was only  honey and pollen, I just brushed the bees off (again with the brushing!!) and put the parts with bee food in the feeding station. I feel bad they lost so much work, but at least it wasn’t brood.  I think I have learned that A.) I needed to use the bigger clips and B.) if I “fix” a comb, put it a bit away from the others to make sure the repair holds. It could have done a more damage for sure…SIGH.

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