What to do About Burr Comb in Your Hive
Beekeepers encourage bees to build comb in removable panels called “frames”. Sometimes bees build comb in undesirable places (at least from the beekeeper’s point of view). We call this “burr comb” and it can be a big problem. Dealing with it is one aspect of hive maintenance when keeping honey bees.
The home of a honey bee family is called a hive. Inside the hive you will find many sheets of honeycomb. Each sheet contains thousands of beeswax cells used for storing food and raising young.
Modern hive design is the work of a beekeeper called – Rev Lorenzo Langstroth. He and other early bee researchers noticed that bees built their honeycombs using a special method of spacing.
Each sheet of comb would be about 3/8” apart. This became known as “bee space” because it gave the bees just enough room to travel between the combs.
Honey bees are very industrious and wish to use every inch of available room inside the hive. We beekeepers want them to build comb only in the removable frames.
Otherwise, comb is destroying when we are preforming hive inspections. It can be rather a big mess.
Even though our modern hive is designed with the concept of “bee space” in mind, there will be some exceptions.
Most hive parts are not cut to strict specifications. Also, the size of boxes or frames may vary just a little bit from one manufacturer to the next.
This results in bees having a bit too much space here and there which they don’t want to waste. They will attempt to fill that space with burr comb.
Common Places with Excess Comb
One of the most common places a beekeeper will find burr comb is on top of wooden frames.
Many hives do not have precise measurements between hive boxes. This results in worker bees placing comb here.
It is a good idea to remove the extra wax during inspections. If for no other reason, it makes future inspections difficult.
How the Beekeeper Contributes to Burr Comb
No beekeeper is perfect and we sometimes make mistakes. Failure to push all of your frames close together at the end of an inspection can result in messy burr comb.
Did you forget and leave a frame out of the hive box by mistake? Oh no, that’s not good but it does happen.
Remember, your bees will use all of the available open space for comb construction.
Bridge Comb and Cross Comb
In addition to common burr comb located on the top bars, we sometimes find bridge comb or cross comb.
These are sections of comb that connect 2 frames together. This is the most dangerous type of excess honey comb. It can cause comb to be torn from the frames during hive inspections.
It can occur in any hive but is seen more often in hives with new plastic foundation. Sometimes, the bees attempt to add another sheet of wax in between the frames.
Often this is done rather than building out wax cells on the foundation itself.
When using any new foundation in the hive, monitor the comb building progress to ensure your bees are building comb properly.
Removing Burr Comb in the Hive
As you perform routine inspections, clean up bits of burr comb. This can be accomplished by gently smoking the bees down. Then, use your hive tool to scrape off the excess wax.
Realize that the bees will most likely build it back if your bee space is off. And, that’s okay. Burr comb will happen and I would not replace my equipment or go to any extreme measures.
Clean it up when you see it. The longer you leave the extra honeycomb in place the bigger mess it is to clean. As the bees continue to add to the wax, this makes boxes difficult to separate.
Burr Comb with Larvae
It is common to find bee larvae or brood in burr comb between the boxes. This is very upsetting to many new beekeepers.
However, they are usually located on the outside perimeter of the brood nest because they are not as valuable to the colony as female worker larvae.
It is possible to have worker brood here as well but finding drone larva is the most common situation.
It is always sad to think that our actions resulted in the death of any bees. However, take advantage of the opportunity to look inside the brood cells.
Do you see any mites? Varroa mites prefer drone brood.
Any time you expose drone brood take the time to look carefully at the white larva for reddish spots. If you see mites, it may be past time for a varroa mite test.
Why is Burr Comb a Queen Killer?
Another reason burr comb is undesirable is the risk involved for the queen bee. She will lay eggs in these sections of misplaced comb.
As you clean away the comb, it is possible that the queen will be in there. She can be damaged or killed in the process of removing frames for inspection or discarding extra wax.
Maintain a Clean Bee Yard
You might be tempted to casually throw the extra wax on the ground. This is not the best practice. The aroma of honey and wax attracts more pests to your bee yard.
Use a collection can or box to take debris away from your hives. In time, you may accumulate enough excess wax to clean and use for a small project.
Finding burr comb in your hive is not a big problem. This common issue can be handled easily with routine hive maintenance.
Remove excess wax while the problem is small and always check carefully to ensure the queen is not in danger.