I’ve been pretty impressed with how well my colonies have been building straight combs this year. In a top bar hive, it’s good to check frequently to make sure that the combs are built straight. Since there is no sheet of foundation for them to build on, like in most Langstroth hives, the bees are free to build their combs in whatever shape they want. I give them a strip of wood (kerf) along the top as a guide and others make tapered bars, but in the end, how they build from there (straight down, off to one side, etc) is up the the whim of the bees. The beekeeper can help by placing newly forming combs between two straight combs.
All this changed a couple of weeks ago, when I went in to check on BnB1. One of the first combs I encountered was attached to the comb next to it, so when I moved it, I tore a big hole in the comb and made a mess of honey and wax in the hive. Another comb was attached to the bottom. (This comb was one I put in the freezer for a while to kill any potential mites in the drone cells. I wonder if it altered the structural integrity of the comb and they feel it needs more stabilizing). I cleaned up the broken comb as best I could and put it between two straight combs, but it still had a big hole in it.
BnB2 was a different story. The combs were still straight, but they started expanding the combs beyond the width of the bar which butted into the comb next to it. This forced the bees to build off to the side of the kerf instead of in the middle of the bar. I added some spacers and gently pushed the comb back into the center of the bar. I flipped it around thinking they would then build off to the other side.
We’ve now entered what I call the “stoopid season”. The bees are building honey combs (as opposed to comb built for raising brood) and they seem to want to build them wider and weirder. It’s also a very hot time of the year and they attach the combs to the sides for stability, so cutting these heavy combs away from the sides and moving them around introduces the possibility of the combs collapsing. I try to get into the hive early in the morning, so that they can shore the combs back up before the real heat of the day.
When I looked in BnB1 yesterday, they had filled in the hole in the comb I broke last time, but instead of just connecting the combs together, they decided to go perpendicular to the bar. This had the effect of messing the the comb behind it as well.
This nice new comb is pretty malleable, so I just bent it around and then stuck it between a couple of other combs. The comb that they attached to the bottom was stuck there again. It’s a real pain to release the comb from the bottom, but I managed to do that without breaking anything.
In the end, it just takes a little more time to do the manipulations of the combs to keep things in line. But at this time of year, the bees are more ornery because they have honey to defend, so it’s not as pleasant for either of us. But they are making some nice honey and I think we’ll get to steal some this year. Here are some videos on a late summer’s afternoon.