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Clearing Stores From Combs

A simple way of dealing with a common problem

A common problem for beekeepers is finding a way of removing stores from combs they may wish to discard, or are unable to extract. This could be for such reasons as following a comb change, shook swarm, bees taken from a wild nest or perhaps granulated honey in super combs.

I have seen and heard a number of ways of dealing with the "problem", including melting combs down or simply throwing away or burning them. I rarely see or hear advice on how to recover the stores so the bees can have it. I don't like waste, especially when my bees have spent so long collecting and processing the stores. It seems daft to dispose of all this effort with little thought. Perhaps it is a result of the throw away society we now live in.

Why is stores in a comb seen as a problem anyway, when it is a simple matter to overcome? All we need do is help the bees recover the food, so they can use it or store it. You need to be aware of what is in the combs, as it may not be suitable for placing in supers, e.g. sugar syrup.

I explain what I do below.

Bees don't like food below the brood, so they remove it and place above. They also like to be able to defend it, which they will have a problem with, because the bottom entrance is larger than their access hole in the plastic sheet.

This operation should not be done when there is a possibility of robbing, so only do it when nectar is coming in.

This method is very simple and doesn't need any special equipment, although I have made a board that does the same thing.

There are many situations when stores in combs becomes a problem, but they can all be dealt with in this way. If there is granulation, then uncap it, soak it in water for an hour or so, as the bees will remove it quicker, then put it on the bees. There is no need to uncap liquid stores, as the bees will do this and in any case it may drip, possibly alerting robbers. Uncapping can be done by scratching with an uncapping fork.

If you have a number of boxes, you need to make sure you don't overdo it, otherwise the bees may struggle to manage the amount. In general, I would only put one brood box or one fairly full super on a colony. If supers are half full or less then put two, but remember that granulated stores will take bees much longer to remove as they have to liquefy it first.

If you have several boxes that need stores removing from, this can be done using one colony. Spare boxes can be kept bee and wasp proof until needed. One way is to place them above a crown board on the hive you are using, but closed off from bees below, otherwise they could store the food they have just removed from the bottom box, and closed from the top to prevent robbing. You need to make sure there is enough room for the bees to store what they are moving, otherwise you may crowd the queen out. This can be supers if the stores is suitable or another brood box. The resulting combs are useful for feeding nuclei.

I find this is much better than the usual advice of putting combs of stores above the brood box for the bees to clean out. If above them they can defend it better because there is no large opening and it is where they expect stores to be, so they may not remove it. In my experience bees are reluctant to remove uncapped stores above them, even though there is only a small opening. This is a different situation than when cleaning extracted combs, where they are obviously uncapped.

When empty, simply remove the box and return the hive to normal. The bees will soon use the bottom entrance again.

This is so simple and much better than wasting all that food the bees have spent so long collecting.

Roger Patterson.