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Drawn Comb - Your Golden Treasure

As EAS Master Beekeeper Earl Hoffman often says, “there are specific windows of opportunity to achieve desired results in beekeeping,” and “timing is everything.”

Critical Thoughts From our Master Beekeeper

Let me suggest some ideas to consider during your next comb encounter. Without drawn comb, your hive has nothing, nowhere to store nectar, pollen, or eggs. Drawn comb is your golden treasure that allows beekeepers to manage their hives.

Timing is Everything

A plastic or wood frame with foundation material still requires significant investment from your bees before it becomes an asset to the hive. Help your colonies be prepared by encouraging comb creation at the right time of year.

I suggest that each spring, during hive management, you remember the importance of creating newly drawn comb. Either feed, feed, feed sugar water, or time your new wax creation during a nectar flow. The brood comb frames need to be created, not just honeycomb.

How to Encourage New Comb Creation

Weak hives will not draw comb. It’s best to give a new foundation to a super-strong hive. Look for the spots of white new wax on the top bars during a nectar flow; that’s your signal! If you just place an empty super with new frames on top of a healthy hive, it will not draw comb. You have to incentivize the workers to invest in making new comb. The wax workers may be active because of a honey flow or heavy sugar feeding. If the temperature is too cold, no new wax. If the temperature is too hot, no new wax. If you give bees new wax foundation during a dearth, they will often remove the wax. Bees move wax as they see fit. Why create new wax when they can just move it?

Using a spring swarm can be an easy way to get foundation drawn on fresh comb frames.

I suggest placing drawn comb in the middle of the foundation frames to bait the bees. One or two frames of older drawn comb will encourage bees to work up into the super. Consider swapping new foundation down and older drawn comb up, a few frames at a time. Sometimes bees will create ladder comb between the frames, and that's OK.

Many supers hold either 10 or 8 frames. Always start with a full super of frames. You can remove one of the frames once it has been drawn to help with hive inspections. Running 9 frames in a 10-frame box or 7 frames in an 8-frame box reduces queen damage.

Old Comb is a Reservoir of Chemicals

Comb needs to be rotated out of the hive every 5-10 years because fatty acids (lipids) absorb chemicals. According to a USDA Survey, almost all (98%) of honey bee comb and foundation wax in North America are contaminated with pesticides, with an average of 6 different pesticides per sample. Therefore, I suggest that a cadence be created so that some new comb creation happens every year. Another thought that you may have already had is to mark the year on the top bar to assist in proper comb rotation.

Types of Foundation

Wax foundation with wire supports is challenging to install and time-consuming. Plastic frame foundation comes in a lot of colors and sizes, some good and some not so good. The best solution for working with a plastic foundation is to coat it with lots of bees’ wax.

Plastic foundations come in black, yellow, green, white, and other colors.

• Black color makes looking at eggs and larva easier.

• Yellow helps with honey grading.

• Green color is used on frames that are drone cell size; they are either deep or medium.

• I have white plastic frames that the bees go to like a magnet; the cells are perfect.

Over the years, I have had some plastic foundation that the bees refuse to work on. No matter how much fresh pure bees’ wax I placed on the plastic foundation, it was a no-go. Another issue with full plastic frames is the ears break, and some frames don’t fit extractors.

In Summary, I repeat, timing is everything in beekeeping. If you’re too late in implementing your agenda, it's not happening. So, plan ahead and be prepared during your bee journey. Please, consider making new comb your next priority!

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