Albuquerque Beekeepers

Urban beekeeping in New Mexico's largest city.

I just started beekeeping this May with 2 top-bar hives. One of them is doing really great - strong, straight combs. But the other one is a disaster! At least 3 combs have fallen off the bars and  are now attached to several others, Jessie and I worked on the cross-combing 6/9 and they were doing better. However when I opened up the hive today (after checking it 3 days ago) there was fallen comb all over. I need as much advise as I can get at this point!

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You're not alone.  I had the same thing happen to me.  On June 14th, I attempted to cut my comb apart and lost three bars of comb. I gave up but when I asked an expert, the advice was to "uncross" the comb.  I went in yesterday and had to separate about 10 bars.  I had some unhappy bees. I don't have any advice since I got my first bees early April.  Just wanted you to know others are having the same problem.

 

My question would be, why do bees cross-comb? Are they trying to make sure their heavy honey comb stay hanging?  My brood comb was not cross-combed.  I also wonder if the heat is causing wax problems? So many things to learn!

Hi there...don't know if this will be helpful advice as I'm a bit of a new beekeeper too (2nd yr.). With my top bar hives, I've found it easier to work with them in late morning, around 9 or 10 during the summertime, before it gets too hot. Seems like the wax is firmer in the cool of the morning. The other thing that helped me was not holding the comb up to view horizontally - keeping it vertical at all times - especially if it is heavy with honey. When it comes to cross-combing, I found my bees don't cross comb if I use top bars with cleats in the middle for them to work off of. Hope that helps! : )

Thanks for the advice. All of the comb that has fallen fell when the hive was closed. I opened the hive at ~8AM today hoping that it would be cool enough to work. The problem is that  all are full of honey and completely attached to the floor and walls. When I tried to pick them up honey started going everywhere. I put a couple of spacers in there and closed it up again. Too depressed to do more. All my top bars have cleats

Hi Aimee, after re-reading your post I did see that they fell off on their own - sorry didn't read more carefully. Wow, you have your hands full. Too bad the cleats aren't helping. I had 1 comb fall off a bar once, full of honey, and it went everywhere. I removed the comb, such a mess, and the next time I opened the hive, all the honey that was laying on the bottom of the hive was gone. But three bars worth, wow. If you haven't done so already, I wonder if moving the comb to the back of the hive so it's out of the way but they don't lose their honey would help? Good luck, sounds like a challenging situation.

here's a thought, you might want to consider using Langstroth equipment, that way your precious comb and all your bees hard work won't be laying at the bottom of your hive.   Langs are designed so that comb won't fall off

Good luck!

Comb collapsing is caused by the weight of the honey in the comb, of course.  New comb is much softer than older comb and is much more subject to collapse, especially in hot weather.  Since we have had record high temperatures in the last couple of weeks, it is not surprising that comb collapsed.

The design of a Top Bar hive can have a big influence on collapsing comb.  If the hive is deeper, the comb will carry more weight.  To prevent, collapse, a shallower hive would help.  One of the main reasons I am using only Langstroth hives for new colonies is because they do not have problems with collapsing comb.

Cross combing is untidy for humans, but the bees don't care.  As mentioned earlier, a cleat in the middle of a bar is helpful to keep cross combing to a minimum, but the bees don't always use the cleat as a guide either.  Bees tend to have a natural curve when the comb approaches the side of the hive.  As more combs are built, any curve is amplified in subsequent combs.  In addition, honey comb doesn't really have a limit to how deep it can be.  Brood comb is of a precise size, and the bees will maintain that size.  Bees will build out existing honey comb to fill out empty space.  So putting an empty bar between two combs of uncapped honey will result in all sorts of random crossed comb, depending on where they start building.  To avoid this, always put empty bars between brood comb to encourage the bees to build straight comb.

For beginning beekeepers it is a challenge to keep straight comb, because you don't have any straight comb to begin with.  I was fortunate to be able to buy some straight comb as I was starting out.  Straight comb tends to foster straight comb.

I also learned early on that straight comb or crossed comb is sort of an affectation of the beekeeper, meaning that if you don't care, it doesn't matter.  I like having straight comb because it is easier to work with. 

Crossed comb is not unique to top bar hives.  Even Langstroth hives with foundation can have crossed comb.  The bees will still cross the comb, stretching it between foundation sheets, or building honey comb in all sorts of fantastic depths and shapes within the frames, so the same process of using brood comb to keep the comb straight is helpful.  Of course if you use an extractor, the strange honey comb tends to get straightened when it is uncapped. 

In my opinion, the best defense against crossed comb is frequent inspections and straightening the comb as much as possible.  Always build up your stock of straight comb by placing empty bars or frames between brood comb, spreading the straight comb to the outside of your hive if possible.  Straight comb is the most valuable resource you have, in my opinion, for normal use in your apiary.

Ted

Thank you for all the info Ted. I came to the same conclusion about depth. The colony that I have in a shallower hive box made by John Denne  in Penasco is doing fantastic. But the deeper box is at this point an irretrievable mess and I am not sure how to fix it if I can. I really don't want to kill hundreds of bees to clean it up.

nice...thanks for sharing Ted,thanks Jessie..and Deena.

Hi Aimee, so sorry to hear that you are still having difficulty with this hive. Any comb that has fallen can be put in the back of the hive at an angle. The bees will then have access to clean up the honey, brood and pollen from the fallen comb. Just take this hive a day at a time, at your own pace. Clean as best as you can, a little bit at a time. 

Be conscious to keep straight comb at the back, with room to grow so that the bees have a pattern in the back of the hive to copy, especially with the rain we have received. There might be an upcoming nectar flow in the next couple of weeks. Space every other honey with an empty bar so that the bees have straight comb to build between. 

Need straight comb? You can always share comb from your tidy hive. Just brush off all the bees before transferring comb from one hive to the next to avoid feuding bees. The bees from one hive smell different to another hive. 

Thanks for all your advice Jessie. It is helpful to all of us. Fallen comb is so depressing! I have a question about putting comb in the back. You mentioned that they would clean the honey, pollen and brood. I know about the honey and pollen cleaning but what happens to the brood. Do they die?

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