Problem with cross-building of comb

11 August 2012
Today, being sunny, I decided I would do my first solo inspection of my hive – I haven’t done one since Paul came to help me on July 17, nearly 4 weeks ago. I’ve been feeding daily since then (as it was such a small swarm) and the bees have seemed very happy and busy.

Today, then, I managed to take out the first two bars OK, but there was a little cross-combing on the next gap, and after that they seem to have built across the gap and I tried to slice them apart but it really got a bit complicated. I added an extra shim and closed it up that end and tried going from the other end, but soon encountered the same problem. The bees were calm, but didn’t like this disturbance, especially as I got nearer the centre of the cluster. I gave up and didn’t see the middle four bars at all – they were all glued together.

On spacing: Gareth had kindly shaved all my bars for me to the width he recommends (I think 34mm) and also my shims, to 5mm x 10mm, so I thought I was perfectly spaced! I thought that cross-combing (is that building bridges across?) happened when the space is too big, but my bees seem to be simply building on to the next bar along, rather than making bridges. Maybe there’s a geological fault somewhere and I should turn the hive a bit?

I don’t know, but I would appreciate some help – this was my email to Paul, who then suggested I post it on the website to see if anyone else can help. (But see below.)

12 August 2012
Ugh! Having had a reply from Paul I realised I would have to tackle this problem sometime and this afternoon seemed as good a time as any. So off I went, taking a sponge for washing off my knife, a container for any wax or comb, as well as all the stuff I took yesterday – camera, tripod, top bar stand, hive tool, bee suit and I also lit my smoker for the first time (with mixed success!!)

And bravely I went through the hive again. When I got to the problem bars, I found that although they had started well, by the time they got right across the hive they had diverged onto the shims and sometimes further, necessitating a bit of slicing, which was nasty because the combs were covered in bees, and it was honeycomb so a bit drippy. Quick work with the container and not too much got spilt – the puddles on top of the top bars (ugh) soon got lapped up by happy workers (hopefully all from this hive). Have you ever gone to lick a sticky finger and got a dab of honey on your veil?

Two of the top bars had distinct separate pieces of comb right outside the desirable line, and these I turned upside down and sliced off completely, hoping that they would build more helpfully when repairing the damage.

Since they clearly want more space, I put in more shims, or turned one on its side. This is going to be a process of trial and error on my part – I have to learn what they want. I guess I have to look in a bit more often to avoid this whole process again.

It was very difficult to close it all up again. Oh – mid-way through the operation it began to rain! The camera was whisked away, then the lid put on the hive (never mind closing up) and other things stowed; fortunately it stopped pretty quickly so everything except the camera came out again. At the end I managed to get them all inside, although I think they thought it was more fun on top where there were still some puddles of honey.

After some calming weed-removal on the allotment, things seemed a bit calmer in the hive as well, so I swapped the empty feeding jar for the container of wrecked comb, so that they could clean it up and keep the stores. They need all they can get, I reckon. (I kept a square inch for tea. Yum.)

Well, I have worked through nine top bars, for over an hour, and didn’t get stung. I must have really nice bees.

Sorry this is such a long post. I would really like any advice or input from anybody who has experienced this kind of thing, or who just has some ideas. I’m so hoping not to have to do it all again.

Helen in Oxford

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6 Responses to Problem with cross-building of comb

  1. Great post Helen, superb for those that hope to keep bees in the future. I’ve seen discussion recently that top bars might need to be generally wider, 38-44mm wide, which might be something to consider.

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  2. Paul says:

    Examining the photos shows something interesting which I did not grasp from the text, because I was operating on false assumptions.

    My own TBHs have end entrances. My combs are symmetrical, from one side to the other. I recall now that yours are side entrances. Looking at the comb in the picture, there is honeycomb towards one side and brood towards the other.

    The bridging is only at the honey bit. Honeycomb is wider and needs more room…. in retrospect this is a minor point against using side entrances: it can evidently lead to uneven thickness of comb.

    A plus point here is that because you only had to cut through honey comb, yu seem to have avoided killing any brood. Yay! Extra points.

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    • hunneybun says:

      Hi Paul This is a really interesting observation. Let’s bear it in mind and see what other people say. Helen

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      • susiehelm says:

        I admire your dedication! I have one top bar where the bees seem to be building nice straight comb and another where cross combing is the way. The cross comb bees were a tiny swarm collected locally and starving when I hived them, so I decided to leave well alone in order to cause as little stress as possible and to feed feed feed.

        I have a perspex sheet on one side of the hive so can see them growing in strength and cross combing beautifully. I am just going to leave them to it as I am not interested in honey and keep bees largely because I enjoy watching them. I can’t help worrying that this may be a bit too “hands off” and I may come to regret my decision but ……..

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      • hunneybun says:

        Thanks for your comment Susie. Your second swarm sounds like mine – tiny but now happy! I guess I’m too tidy – I like things to be “properly organised” – but at the same time don’t mind as long as it doesn’t cause future problems. And there’s the question…. will it? Time will tell. Helen

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  3. itsonlyausername says:

    Oops! I can’t really comment on side or end entrances because my bees seem loathe to even build comb on the top bars let alone go crossover. For the record my hive entrances are at the ends.

    As for being tidy? Why bother? Bees generally do their own thing. Well at least mine do despite my best ambitions. 🙂 Maybe each persons colony is trying to teach each keeper a different lesson that they need to learn. I wonder if mine are telling me to stop worrying so much. Or maybe Helen’s are saying stop tidying up. What would Paul’s colonies say I wonder? ‘So what if there’s ivy blossom over the roof…..we’re still going next door cause its easier’. 🙂
    Would be amusing to hear what other keepers think their lessons are.
    Kev C

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