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Thread: Crooked comb

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
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    York PA
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    Default Crooked comb

    I am starting a tbh for the first time and I see that a lot of bee keepers are frustrated by crooked comb. How should you deal with this?

    Mike A.

  2. #2
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    Mar 2013
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    Dacula, GA, USA
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    fix it as soon as you see it, and inspect often... that is what I did last year... when I crushed and strained the honey, I only crushed the crooked stuff, and left the straight for them to eat over winter. I am sure there are a million other ways to deal with it... but that was mine. (I have a Warre hive, but the principle will work in a TBH as well.) Easiest is to fix it as it happens though.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2012
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    Hyattsville, MD
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    They will usually build the first few combs straight and then it starts to get wonky. You have to catch the wonky comb early, cut it off, and instead put an empty top bar in-between the last two straight combs. If they have straight combs as a guide, they will usually build straight between them. You need to inspect often, because once they are out ahead of you, they will eventually start curving it. If that happens, your best option is to cut it and re-attach using the hairclip method. Lots of videos on youtube.

    Matt M.

  4. #4
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    Apr 2013
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    Hephzibah, GA
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    125

    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Do you have guides on the bars? Most of my bars have wedges. Last year I tried Wyatt Mangum's method of cutting strips of comb and waxing them on the bars. The bees drew perfect comb on those bars. He also has a method of cutting a kerf down the center of each bar and waxing in a strip of foundation. In another hive I used Lang style top bars with the bee space notched out and laid parchment paper over them to keep the bees from adhering wax or propolis, and my roof went on top of that. Again, I got perfect comb in that hive as well. So there are different ways to achieve it.

  5. #5
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    Feb 2013
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    United States
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Like Jon, I too prefer Wyatt's method of using a wax starter strip. Also, if one bar that is on the end starts to go a bit off, oftentimes just turning it around so the curve faces an existing comb will fix it. A lot of problems can be avoided by having frequent inspections while they are in build mode.

  6. #6
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    May 2012
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    Roanoke, VA
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    1,495

    Default Re: Crooked comb

    To me the idea of melting wax starter strips seemed like a lot of work. Plus you can't get that starter strip attached to the bar as strong as a bee can attach comb to a bar.

    For me I know that if I melted the starter strips in the bars it would be like a piece of buttered toast, I would drop it and it would hit the ground strip side down and would break off.

    Wedges work just fine for getting good comb in the brood nest. As far as keeping the comb straight just put empty bars between straight comb and you end up with straight comb.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2013
    Location
    London, United Kingdom
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    193

    Default Re: Crooked comb

    I find using a dowel or triangle nailed to the bar makes the best comb.
    If you want to increase the chance of straight comb without reducing the hive volume and increase the chance of a swarm, use a bar with the first two inches of a follower board on (so completely open at the bottom). Place this on the outside of the last built comb and it will act as a guide for them as they start building from that bar. Once they've started move it along one as a guide for the next bar. Provided that start straight they will often finish straight. The main problem I have it getting the right bar width so they don't start over to one side.

  8. #8
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    Apr 2012
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    York PA
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Is the reason to prevent crooked comb for the beekeeper's benefit or does it really to benefit the bees?
    Mike A.

  9. #9
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    Apr 2013
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    Hephzibah, GA
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    It's for our benefit. Bars that are cross combed can't be inspected, a requirement in the US.

  10. #10
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    May 2012
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    Hyattsville, MD
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Quote Originally Posted by mdadams1 View Post
    Is the reason to prevent crooked comb for the beekeeper's benefit or does it really to benefit the bees?
    Mike A.
    Almost all states require that beekeepers have "movable comb" or "movable frames" in their hives to facilitate inspection. If the bees curve the comb it rapidly becomes impossible to inspect brood frames for signs of pests or disease. Being able to manage diseases and pests is part of responsible animal husbandry and movable comb is a required component of that (by law in most cases) to protect the commercial industry.

    In response to an earlier post, I do have guides on my top bar hive, but they still curve it. The first season is the toughest, but once you have some straight comb it gets easier to get them to produce nice straight combs by placing empty top bars in-between your existing straight combs. I just cut out some old combs the other day to give them some more room and at this point I don't really have to worry too much about them building curved combs. They know what to do.

    Matt M.

  11. #11
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    Dec 2009
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    Canada BC Delta
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Having straight combs with the mid rib centered on the top bar is important when you want interchangeability. At times you will need or want to give a colony a comb of young larva to make a queen, capped brood to boost a weak colony or a comb of honey when a colony is short on food. So yes having nice straight combs that are centered on the bar is important so they fit where you want to put them.
    For consistency the foundation starter is the best. A little trick that I use when I know I won't be going into a hive for a few weeks or month is to use extra deep 3" foundation starters. They are held in place by using a split bar that clamps the foundation between with deck screws. The result is a thing of beauty. Interchangeability and/or beautiful combs for cut comb.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
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    Leon County, Florida, USA
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    55

    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Help! I was just looking at the pictures I took through my tbh window and saw this:
    image.jpg
    [My apologies. The picture is upside down, not the comb]
    The first "bad" comb is probably #4. The next comb is practically on the seam between two bars! That picture is from a couple of days ago. The pictures I took yesterday don't show the connection to the top bar. I don't remember the comb looking like this when I inspected last weekend (8 days ago). It seems they went off track sometime last week.

    So I will be going in today and straightening them out. This hive is a very small swarm and after three weeks I have six, maybe seven combs. I understand the need to put bars in between straight combs but should I do this now?

    Also, I can't possibly destroy anything they have been working on right now--I feel like they need every bit of comb, brood, honey, etc. to make it this year. My plan is to just cut the attachment at the top where it is not on the wood strip and move it over until it is. I watched a "hair clip" video and he indicated that with newer, softer comb it is easier to relocate the comb and squish it into place.

    My bars are 1 3/8". I'm still trying to figure out why they are spacing the comb even farther apart than that. If they wanted 1 1/4 for their brood, wouldn't the comb have been built closer together? Maybe the it's just a problem at the ends--I hope!

    I also have some cotton thread or zip ties that I can secure the comb with. Will the bees chew through the cotton? Would the plastic zip ties be better?
    Kate - since 2013, 4 colonies, 3 8-frame Langs, 1 TBH, mostly TF, zone 8b

  13. #13
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    May 2012
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    Hyattsville, MD
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    With such new wax, it will be VERY soft. It doesn't look like they have made a mess of it yet, the ends are just getting curved. You should go in ASAP and take a knife and cut ONLY the end part of the comb where it is starting to curve away from your guides. Just push that end part back towards the center and the bees will re-attach it there. Be careful though...as I said it will be very soft. Once you have some fully built out combs (i.e.) built out to the ends), you can start placing empty bars in-between straight combs. One of the major differences with a foundationless TBH is that you need to really stay on top of it at the beginning to catch any deviation or curving at an early stage. It looks to me like you have caught this at an early stage and you should fix it without delay. You might have some hairclips and zipties on hand just in-case something goes wrong or things are off more than what you can see through the window, but I think you should be fine to just push them back into place without cutting off any whole combs and re-attaching.

    Matt M.

  14. #14
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    Aug 2002
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    Nehawka, Nebraska USA
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    >How should you deal with this?

    I'd make a couple of frames that fit the hive so you can rubber band or tie them into frames if they are not straight...
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  15. #15
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    Feb 2014
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    Leon County, Florida, USA
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Thank you, Matt. I went out armed with a knife and a bottle of sugar water. It actually did look better than it appears in the picture because they had built it out more. That picture is a couple of days old. I did exactly as you said with the wonky comb. There was an extra piece on one side, just about the size of a thumb pad and that seemed to be what pushed the comb off center. I cut that off completely, then just detached what was off center. When I tried to press it into the guide, it tore so I just cut it off altogether. The whole comb was so fragile I couldn't do any more than that. Sorry, no pictures.

    I feel bad for the bees. Some brood was lost and stored pollen and nectar, but hopefully things will go forwards better from here.
    Kate - since 2013, 4 colonies, 3 8-frame Langs, 1 TBH, mostly TF, zone 8b

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    One good comb leads to another. One bad comb leads to another...
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  17. #17
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    Feb 2014
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    Leon County, Florida, USA
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Michael, I think about this admonition all the time. I have a very bad comb in my one of my other (Lang) hives. The bees built the comb on top of the foundation instead of up from it. It was my first year, and I of course thought it was beautiful, but that comb haunts me to this day. I finally cut off their work, but they dutifully built it back just the way it had been. Now it's half capped with honey and I'm just waiting for them to finish capping it and it will be chopped up into tiny, tiny pieces and replaced with a foundationless frame.

    I have become much more practical, so when I saw the wonky comb in the tbh, I knew it was even more important to get it straightened out. No coloring outside the lines!

    Sometimes they can be so amazing the way everything fits together so perfectly and looks so precise and sometimes it can be such a mess!

    Thank you for all your wisdom. It gives me the courage as a newbee to do the right thing (remove comb) even when I don't want to. I don't know why the girls in the tbh put that piece of comb where they did, but I sure wasn't going to let that remain.
    Kate - since 2013, 4 colonies, 3 8-frame Langs, 1 TBH, mostly TF, zone 8b

  18. #18
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    Dec 2009
    Location
    Canada BC Delta
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    426

    Default Re: Crooked comb

    There was an extra piece on one side, just about the size of a thumb pad and that seemed to be what pushed the comb off center.
    Just curious Kate. Did you happen to hang the queen cage around that area?

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Think in these terms... a "wonky" comb isn't really a problem if it's not in the place where the next comb is going to get drawn. In other words, if you move it to the front or you get at straight comb after it, that's the main thing. It's not that all the bad comb has to be out, but the comb before the next one should be straight. And if you feed bars into the brood nest they should be between straight combs.
    Michael Bush bushfarms.com/bees.htm "Everything works if you let it." ThePracticalBeekeeper.com 40y 200h 37yTF

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Leon County, Florida, USA
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    55

    Default Re: Crooked comb

    Delta Bay, these bees are from a very small swarm that I captured a little over three weeks ago. No queen cage. At first, they huddled on the south wall by the follower board and build out the comb from there. They still start the new comb a little left of center. This "comb tag" was more than halfway over on the right. If you said it was on the "front" of the guide, then the main comb switched to the "back" of the comb guide thus curving the main comb. I knew I would regret not having my cameraman there with me.

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