Cross comb

It has been uncharacteristically hot and sunny here for weeks now and the bees have been making honey. I’m a bit mindful that we desperately need some rain otherwise the plants will reduce their nectar reward in order to conserve moisture, so the bees will need their stores. However, they are still producing prodigiously at the moment so I am taking off top supers when I can.

I don’t use foundation as I crush and strain the honeycomb. Ideally, I just take a few frames at a time but if the bees have built cross comb (ie rather than straight along each frame, they curve or cross over on to the one nextdoor, making it impossible to lift them out individually) then the whole super needs to be taken off. As I don’t use a queen excluder, this is usually the second super. You can lift the box up and check underneath to see if there’s any brood – this will be dark comb and usually grubs will be exposed in the cells between the boxes. If this is the case, gently replace the box, trying to squash as few bees as possible.

If, however, the super is full of honey, the cells will obviously leak honey so this is a good indicator that you are brood-free. Remove the box and place an empty super on top of the lower box. Replace the crownboard with porter bee escapes (holes uppermost). Put the full super on top of the clearer crownboard then place another crownboard on top of the full one. Remember, if you have a WBC you’ll need escapes facing out (so flat side uppermost) on the top crownboard otherwise the bees will just crawl up the sides and go in. Been there…!

So, here is our super full of cross comb:


As you can see, it’s impossible to take out any frame singly…

One of the best pieces of equipment for crush/strain honey processors is the uncapping tray from Thornes. This is a good, frame-sized holder and I gently sit the whole super in the under tray, on a towel:


Then, with a combination of hive tool and knife, remove the frames. The first one will be a mess, a bit like the first pancake (or is that just my pancake making…) but persevere as the tray will catch the leaks. Sit your strainer bucket next to the super so you can lift the broken combs directly in to the sieve.



Ok, so it’s all a bit sticky, but when isn’t it? There will be a generous amount of honey in the bottom of the tray but you can scoop this up and feed it back to the bees. My estimate is that there is about 5% more leakage doing this than from regular frames so really nothing to worry about. Sometimes the bees build beautiful self-sealed tongues of honeycomb which can be cut off and kept whole.

There’s a lot of pressure in the beekeeping world to ensure and oblige the bees produce honey and organise themselves in such a way which makes life easy for us to manage and harvest them. I think that it’s up to the bees to do what they do and for us to take a creative and sympathetic view regarding their work. Of course, if there is the opportunity for us to mitigate issues such as ensuring the frames are aligned correctly or the hive is level then that’s fine, but if the bees end up building a bit wonky, well, surely we have the ability to work around that.

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