Beekeeping Topics

Comb Honey Corner

- September 1, 2017 - Ray Nabors - (excerpt)

It is hot at the moment. Supers must go on the bees. One fear in the hearts of most comb honey producers is opening up a hive to check the filling of the supers and finding all is not quite right. This afternoon the heat index is about 110°. It is the perfect time to find brood in your comb honey super. I do not need to look for that queen, but I do. We all want to see her. I will explain later why that is not always necessary.

Bees always adhere to brood. This super had 4 frames with brood in it. Why didn’t they just fill 3 supers with brood instead of filling two supers with brood on both sides and then filling the two adjacent frames on one side? Because they want to keep the brood nest together no matter what the beekeeper wants or needs. How can we fix the problem?

First, since the queen is nowhere to be seen, look at the brood. There are a few drone cells in the corners. Most of the brood is worker brood. That wax and the caps are almost white. It would have been beautiful as comb honey. The brood is all capped. She is not in the super in all probability. There are no telltale eggs in the super.  Remove the brood-contaminated super. Place it on a spare board, not on the cover with bees on it. We do not want more bees in the brood-contaminated super.

The colony is strong. I always use and recommend queen excluders for comb honey production. The queen excluder is on top of the brood box where it should be. Inspect the queen excluder. If one of the wire squares is slightly wider, the queen can and will get through that square coming and going. It looks like this queen is probably downstairs laying eggs. There are eggs downstairs. She is in there. I have not yet seen her, but I do not need to. After having removed the top layer of their new found brood nest and then molested the lower brood nest searching for eggs, these girls are losing patience with the beekeeper.

How could a beekeeper be sure the queen is no longer in the super? How can the queen be prevented from getting back in the super? Remove the queen excluder and set it aside. A comb honey operation always needs a spare queen excluder or two. In this operation, we use metal bound, wire excluders. The plastic ones are more like disposable queen excluders. They do not hold up for more than a season. Weather (alternate freezing and cooking with winter and summer) usually cause these plastic excluders to break. The bees glue them down and they become difficult to remove without damage. Now back to queen location assurance.

Shake every bee in the super back into the brood box. Set the super back on the spare board once all the bees are shaken out. The frames can be set in an empty super rim once the bees are shaken off. Then that bee-less super can be placed back upon the colony over the new queen excluder.

There are some queens that might be able to squeeze through a standard excluder. There are now Russian bee genetics in half of my colonies. They seem to be doing well in spite of mites. The queens are smaller. The excluder does not look damaged. I will need to measure the squares with a ruler to tell if any damage has been done to this excluder. I put a new super over the queen excluder with foundation. This colony will produce two supers of comb honey. The one with the 4 frames of capped brood and 6 frames of drawn honey comb goes on top. The bees will finish raising the brood. Hopefully the queen is now confined down in the brood nest where she belongs.

Most queens want more room above. Comb honey producers need to crowd their bees into one standard hive body or two medium depth hive bodies to make comb honey. The queen is constantly trying to move up into fresh comb above. It is an unnatural situation for the queen to be held captive and forced to lay new eggs in lateral locations across 8 or 10 frames. The brood nest is supposed to be in the.