Old Combs Removal Method

OLD COMBS REMOVAL METHOD

An excellent IPM practice to help your bees survive!

Applying treatments, medications and pesticides is sometimes not sufficient to keep your bees alive. One explanation could be the presence of old, dark & heavy brood combs in the colony. These combs are loaded with spores and fecal matters from the pupas. Therefore, they are a source of infection or stress on the bees. Coupled with other parasites and disease infestations, they might very well be the hidden reason why so many colonies don’t seem to respond very well to treatments.

It is recommended to replace 3 older combs per brood chamber per year with newly drawn combs or foundation. This practice helps reduce the level of spores and miticides residues accumulated in the beeswax.

Many beekeepers find it inconvenient to replace old combs. They feel the time spent doing it is not worth the effort; or they don’t know how to do it efficiently. The approach described below makes it somewhat easier. Like everything else, once you start, things get better, and soon you get the hang of it.

single brood chambers

 

DOUBLE BROOD CHAMBER

  1. Bring with you the following equipment for each colony: 1 box containing a mix of foundations or new drawn combs, 1 queen excluder & duct tape.
  2. Set this 3rd hive body containing new combs and frames beside you for easy access.
  3. Remove honey supers and stack on upturned hive cover near the original colony.
  4. Set queen excluder on top of honey supers.
  5. Separate top brood chamber and set on top of honey supers and excluder.
  6. You can now proceed to find the queen if you wish, but not absolutely necessary. Find the queen?
  7. Next, you must rearrange combs to sort them out between the 3 brood chambers.
    1. Old combs are dark and opaque, somewhat heavier even if empty and cells walls are thick. Place these in the lower brood chamber.
    2. Young comb may be dark, but you can see through if held toward the sun, lighter when empty and cells walls are thin. Put those in the upper brood chamber and the 3rd hive body.
  8. Once finished, the queen must be located in the 2 upper brood chambers with young combs, and the lower brood chamber with old combs be made queenless by a queen excluder.
  9. If the queen is not found, take care not to move or leave her accidentally into the lower chamber.
    1. Shake or brush bees off a comb before moving it downstairs.
    2. Shake or brush bees into upper brood chamber from a comb remaining in lower brood chamber.
  10. If you happen to find the queen, cage her momentarily and set the cage on the top bars for bees to cluster around her and protect her.
  11. Begin with the queenless chamber. Remove combs for inspection & redistribute as described below. Keep bees on the combs.
    1. Dark combs to cull – Stays in queenless chamber.
    2. Light combs – Goes in 3rd chamber set beside you or queenright chamber upstairs.
    3. When finished, cover the queenless chamber containing only dark combs to cull.
  12. Proceed to inspect the queenright chamber in the same manner.
    1. Old combs go in the lower brood chamber. Exchange it with a new comb or foundation from the 3rd
    2. Light combs can stay in the queenright chamber or moved into the 3rd
  13. When finished, you should have 10 light combs in the queenright chamber and 10 in the 3rd
  14. All dark combs to cull should be in the lower chamber.
  15. The new combs and the foundations from the 3rd hive body replace the old combs removed.
  16. Block off the entrance to the lower chamber.
  17. Place a queen excluder above the queenless chamber.
  18. Set the queenright chamber above the excluder, but shove it forward so the forager bees can now enter from under the box.
  19. Cover the exposed area behind the colony, on top of the lower chamber, with duct tape, to avoid rain coming in.
  20. Release the queen if needed.
  21. Set the 3rd chamber above the queenright chamber.
  22. Feed pollen substitute if desired.
  23. Place the 2nd excluder on top of the 3rd
  24. Replace honey supers back on.
  25. Close colony.
  26. Come back 3 weeks later to remove the lower chamber and run the colony as normal.
  27. During the 3-week period, brood will have emerged completely in the bottom chamber.
  28. The old combs can be eliminated and the wax melted to be recycled.

SINGLE BROOD CHAMBER

  1. Bring with you the following equipment for each colony: 1 box containing a mix of foundations or new drawn combs, 1 queen excluder & duct tape.
  2. Remove honey supers and stack on upturned hive cover near the original colony.
  3. Set queen excluder on top of honey supers.
  4. Place queenright brood chamber on top of queen excluder.
  5. Place 2nd hive body containing new combs and frames on baseboard.
  6. You can now proceed to find the queen if you wish, but not absolutely necessary. How to find the queen?
  7. Next, you must rearrange combs to sort them out between the 2 brood chambers.
    1. Old combs are dark and opaque, somewhat heavier even if empty and cells walls are thick. Place these in the lower brood chamber.
    2. Young comb may be dark, but you can see through if held toward the sun, lighter when empty and cells walls are thin. Leave those in the upper brood chamber.
  8. Once finished, the queen must be located in the upper brood chamber with young combs, and the lower brood chamber with old combs be made queenless by a queen excluder.
  9. If the queen is not found, take care not to move or leave her accidentally into the lower chamber.
    1. Shake or brush bees off a comb before moving it downstairs.
    2. Shake or brush bees into upper brood chamber from a comb remaining in lower brood chamber.
  10. If you happen to find the queen, cage her momentarily and set the cage on the top bars for bees to cluster around her and protect her. It is therefore not necessary to shake bees before moving frames.
  11. Remove combs for inspection & redistribute as described below:
    1. Dark combs to cull – Goes in lower chamber. Exchange with a new comb from below.
    2. Light combs to keep – Stays in queenright chamber upstairs.
  12. When finished, you should have only old combs in lower chamber and good combs in the upper chamber.
  13. Block off the entrance to the lower chamber.
  14. Place a queen excluder above the queenless chamber containing the old combs.
  15. Set the queenright chamber above the excluder, but shove it forward so the forager bees can now enter from under the box.
  16. Cover the exposed area behind the colony on top of the lower chamber with a piece of wood and duct tape.
  17. Release the queen if needed.
  18. Feed pollen substitute if desired.
  19. Place the 2nd excluder on top of the 2nd
  20. Replace honey supers back on.
  21. Close colony.
  22. Come back 3 weeks later to remove the lower chamber and run the colony as normal.
  23. During the 3-week period, brood will have emerged completely in the bottom chamber.
  24. The old combs can be eliminated and the wax melted to be recycled.

There are many different versions of these procedures, but the principle remains the same. You need to isolate the old combs away from the queen.

Another time to do this is when you requeen colonies. Exchange old brood combs by new combs taken from honey supers. Old combs end up above the queen excluder. But be sure to come back to check for the new queen in about 8-10 days, because bees upstairs will raise queen cells on the old combs, and these must be destroyed before any virgins emerge!