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One hive makes messy combs, why, what to do?

1945 Views 3 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  psfred
I have two hives. I picked them up this past May. They belonged to someone who moved away and were unattended most of the previous year. I went and feed them during the winter and in very early spring. A part from that they were unattended until I brought them home. I discovered just how heavy a deep can be in the dark one night. These hives were a single deep each.

Anyway, a few days after I put them on my property I opened them up and looked inside. The wax foundations in the hives had been installed loosely with out wire and had fallen and warped. The hives were quite messy and convoluted inside. I was able to get one hive straightened out pretty quickly but the other is still messy. By messy I mean wild and disorderly. The fallen foundations crossed between several frames and the bees built on them. There were many many layers of combs with twists and turns. You cannot brush bees with a bee brush from such combs. LOL. This made my first honey extracting experience interesting. I had to cut chunks away then remove bees a little at a time. My brush was a little sticky... ehem, and I lost 6 bees to this process.

The messy hive's deep was only partially filled out when I first looked so I replaced the warped and fallen unbuilt or patially drawn frames with new straight foundation. I removed a pair of frames that were a single convoluted mass and this was my first honey experience. (4.5 quarts) I replaced these with new frames with new foundation also. So this hive was a deep box with 5 or 6 combed frames and 4 empties as of may31. I tore apart the remaining frames into pairs and inserted empty frames between them. I did this in hopes that they would fill in the new frames in a more orderly fashion. I selected them such that only a few cells were torn or cut through by doing so. Later they had filled in the empties and it seemed that the brood was relocated towards the center to the new frames. I then removed two more convoluted messy frames. When they had filled up everything in the lower box, I moved the last two messy frames into another deep above them and put two more empties. At this point, I have two joined frames and all empties in the upper box. I felt okay about moving them because they seemed to be mostly capped honey. The bottom at this point is looking well in that it the brood was filled in properly, I think they had made a new queen about midway through this all, beginning of June or so. On another check, I noticed that they had packed the bottom with honey and there were few frames involved in brood. However it was this inspection that I realized a new queen must be in play because they were totally filled in and grubs were everywhere and I had a rainbow of pollen and all that jazz just like the book show. I noticed that no action was taking place in the upper box...........nothing. All action was in the lower box . So once again I moved some honey only frames upstairs and brought some empties down stairs. I put them in at about 4 and 7.

Today, I checked the upper box to see if there had been action. They had connected the frames together with wild comb. Not just bur comb, but stripes of cells between the honey filled frames. They had expanded the honey combs in some places to much thicker than average taking up all of the space next to the undrawn combs. So I have two sets of frames that look like a ladder from the top due to the come between them, and they buldge heavily on the sides next to the empty foundations. All foundations have some drawing but minimal. They have spend way more time building wild comb. I have all 10 frames in place to encourage them to draw the frames correctly.

This is occurring between both old and new frames and foundation. I at this point do not think it is an issue of the foundation because the other hive had the same stuff.

Part of me wants to get them organized, the other part says just steal honey two frames at a time and be glad they are producing. Am I doing something wrong of is this just part of how bees work. Should I try some frames with just a strip of foundation and let them build free form. I don't have an extractor and will be crushing anyway. I did not want to mess with these girls this much but felt I needed to gradually remove the disaster they had made in the fallen wax foundation. Its getting close but they are doing it again.

In the mean time the other hive has a deep and two supers. They have loaded the first super and are drawing a bit on the second. I have not looked in their brood box this week. The difference between the two is amazing.
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Your problem started when the foundation crumpled. After that your issue is that they build parallel combs. One good comb leads to another. One bad comb leads to another. So unless you get all the bad combs out, you'll keep having issues with that box. Going foundationless won't fix the problem. You get all the messed up comb out first. Then you can do either foundationless or foundation. Sometimes, though, it's also that some bees just don't want to follow "instructions" at all...
I bought another deep and some frames and foundation. I will take out and set aside any well built frames of just honey. I will then keep moving any poorly built frames of brood away from the middle of the nest. Perhaps by the end of the summer I will have nice frames of brood in the bottom box and some nice frames of honey on the sides and above them. I guess I can hope that the last pair of brood frames that are messy will be backfilled with honey by fall due to being on the outside of the box.
I had a swarm capture given to me (I supplied the solid wood nuc box and base, etc) where some foundation had warped badly. I never did get it completely straightened out, and lost the hive to small hive beetles and robbing in the end.

I would put a new box of fresh wired and crosswired foundation above the current box and feed them well. They will draw out the new comb as well as they are going to, and with some luck next spring will have moved up into that box to cluster by spring, in which case you can simply remove the bottom on and discard all the comb.

As for "fixing" the mess, straighten anything you can, and honey containing comb can be cut back to proper size and placed next to properly drawn and capped comb and the bees will re-cap it at the correct height. Or you can extract it and put it back next to capped brood or honey and they will fix it.

Unfortunately, since the foundation was not cross-wired, it is cupped, and the bees will NOT fix that, they will continue to build curved comb so long as that stuff is in the hive. If it is still soft enough, you can sometimes shove it over and flatten it out, but not after it's been used for brood a few times.

Another option is to do a shaken swarm -- some time when there isn't much brood in the hive, shake all the bees out into new equipment with foundation properly wired. Comb with brood can be put back in a box above a queen excluder until the brood emerges, then extract all the honey and feed it back (or keep it). that will give them a fresh start.

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