Cross-combing in top bar hives


My wife and I are first-time beekeepers, though we both have a familial history of tending hives and harvesting honey. Her dad and my late-date both kept bees while we were children. Neither of us was very involved in the hobby back then, but today we both feel a need to get back to basics and start providing for ourselves. Besides, have you seen how expensive honey is these days?! Yikes!

Our neighbors decided to try their hand at beekeeping, too. Learning is always more fun when more people are involved. We went with a traditional Langstroth hive (the box style that you probably picture when you think “beehive”). Our neighbors went with a top bar hive.

Top bar hives are supposed to closer mimic nature, and are easier to get started with — or at least that’s what the marketing material states. Regardless, it’s a different way of keeping bees, and variety is never a bad thing, right?

We’ve been checking on our bees twice a week. So far, so good. When we went out with our neighbors to check on their hive yesterday evening we were met with some surprises!

First off, the bees had turned bare wooden bars into beautiful, white comb about 6-inches in length.

The bad news? They’ll pulled the comb down at a 45-degree angle to the bars — crossing six or so when the comb, making it impossible to pull the bars out without destroying the combs.

For a brand new hive — let alone a first-time beekeeper — this was confusing, frustrating, and disheartening. What to do?

hair-clipsCombs growing across bars can’t be tolerated, and combs that aren’t centered on the bar need to be fixed — the sooner the better.

In our case, we simply removed the combs, we couldn’t “tweak” them on the bars.

Not wanting all that comb (and brood) to go to waste, we attached some hair clips (the claw style) to the bars with zip-ties, then grabbed on to the detached comb. We doubled up the combs (two smaller combs on each bar) to encourage the girls to build along the bars in the correct orientation (instead of across the bars like they had been doing).

Over the next new weeks the girls should pull the comb properly, and permanently attach the “clipped” comb to the bars. Once they’ve done that (and have build some support structure on either side) we’ll cut the clips out (and save them to be used later). The girls will fill in the holes with more comb and we’ll be good to go!

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