The Honeybees in April: Swapping frames using the Bailey Comb Change
The Colonies need Fresh Brood Comb
Last month while I was inspecting my bees it struck me that I haven’t given them fresh frames of beeswax foundation in a while. The beeswax in the brood chamber (where the Queen lives) was old and dark and damaged in places. Though there was no sign of disease or pests I decided it was time to change them out.
Why is old beeswax dark?
While honeybees can raise baby bees in old beeswax, it’s better to give them new frames every couple of years. The main issue is that theyy reuse the cells to raise baby after baby and over time the cells shrink in size. Small cells mean small bees.
The other issue is hygiene. The dark colour of old beeswax comes from a build up of bee waste, pollen, propolis, and probably other things. Giving bees fresh foundation wax to build new comb onto will help keep the colony healthy and clean.
The Bailey Comb Change
Usually a beekeeper will change out frames gradually — you move old and damaged ones to the outside of the brood box and take them out when no baby bees are in them. I haven’t been diligent about this so I’ve decided to instead change all of the frames out at the same time. The method that I’m adapting is called the Bailey Comb Change.
Basically, I’m putting a brand new Brood Box filled with fresh frames onto each of my National Hives. The bees draw up fresh cells over the sheets of beeswax and then I move the Queen into the new Brood Box. Eventually you’re able to remove the old Brood Box and change out the floor at the same time.
Building New Frames
The first step in changing out the old frames for new is building the new frames. I ordered twenty flat-pack brood frames, along with sheets of beeswax foundation. It took me several hours to build them all and then I placed ten into each new brood box. They can hold 11 or 12 so I’m going to look through the old frames again when the time comes and move one or two old ones into the new brood box.
You’ll notice that the sheets of beeswax foundation have a pattern on them. The bees actually use this pattern to build out the cells. These size cells are for worker bees so the idea is that you get more of those little ladies and less Drones. Drones are male bees that need larger cells to be raised in. They also don’t really benefit the colony except for mating with other Queens.
The New Frames are On
I’m adapting the Bailey Comb Change slightly since I’m not sure where the Queens are right now. I’ve left the colonies without a Queen Excluder (that yellow screen in the above photo) all winter. It keeps the Queen from moving outside of the Brood Box and up into the other areas where honey is stored.
I’ve put the Queen Excluders on underneath the new Brood Box rather than on top of it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can isolate her down there so that it’s easier to find her when the time comes. There’s also a chance that the royals are now isolated above the excluders now. If that’s the case, my idea is that she’ll move down onto the new comb when its drawn and I can get both Queens moved into the new brood box that way.
Not Feeding with Syrup
Another change to the set-up is that I’ve decided to not feed them with sugar syrup. You do this to give them the energy to build up the new comb — it helps them to build without depleting their honey stores.
Both the colonies have a lot of honey left after winter and I really want them to use it up. Some of it is dark and thick ivy honey that I don’t want to extract. I also noticed a few queen cups in both my colonies which means that the bees have enough time on their hands to think about swarming. Maybe giving them a new project in building up those frames will help keep them from doing so.
The Waiting Game
Now it’s a matter of waiting for the bees to do their work. I’ll be back in the colonies having a look this week and within the next month the old frames and brood box should be sitting in my garage. At the same time, the Queens should be on new and fresh combs and laying the eggs for this year’s baby bees.