Failed Comb

The Idea

It's best to harvest failed comb.

It’s best to harvest failed comb.

Properly managed tbh comb seldom fails. But comb can fail when:

  • handled improperly
  • a tbh is moved too soon after being worked
  • a tbh is worked and it’s too hot

Mishandling induces stress on a single comb. It’s failure doesn’t endanger the colony. As the colony can easily replace the failed comb which can be salvaged. It’s no big problem.

A more serious comb failure occurs when a tbh is moved immediately after being worked. Failed comb inside a tbh that’s being move rattles around and causes additional comb failures. Much comb can be lost but the colony usually survives.

Comb that overheats and fails when a tbh is worked when it’s too hot, is serious. It’s a warning that more comb failure is imminent. And it’s too late for a beekeeper to do much to correct the problem. The colony will probably be lost.

The Details

No Problem

Combs can fail for many reasons. They can become physically stressed by:

  • removing top bars without cutting all the attachments
  • cutting attachments the wrong way
  • poor top bar handling techniques
  • handling new, heavy comb too soon

When a comb is physically stressed it is the only comb at risk. The failure of a single comb posses little risk to the entire colony.

When a comb fails this way, don’t worry. Bees easily construct natural comb. Damaged comb is quickly repaired or replaced. And failed comb can easily be salvaged:

  • put the comb containing honey in a container at the hive’s far end
  • the container must be large enough to contain all the honey
  • honey will be moved back into the broodnest
  • combs without honey can be set on the bottom board
  • sealed brood will hatch
  • don’t set sealed brood comb flat on the bottom board and trap emerging bees
  • open brood gets cannibalized
  • stored pollen is infrequently worked, especially in a dearth
  • empty salvaged comb is sometimes used to temporarily store incoming nectar
  • make sure the bees can get to all comb surfaces
  • when the comb is empty, remove it

To avoid mishandling comb check out my comb page.


Comb can fail when a tbh is moved too soon after work it. The bees need time to re-attach combs that were cut free of their attachments. After all, they attached the comb for a reason. And it’s usually because the comb needed reinforcement.

A heavy comb, free of attachments, can break off its top bar during a rough or bumpy move. Then it rattles around in the side the hive causing other combs to fail. Many combs can be lost this way. But most of the bees usually survive.

To avoid this trouble, don’t work a tbh just before moving it.


What more can I say! It was too hot, the comb too new, I tarried and the colony suffered.

The worst kind of comb failure occurs when a tbh is:

  • not preparing for hot weather
  • worked when it’s too hot

These kinds of failures always put the entire colony at risk.

When a comb fails because a tbh was worked when it’s too hot, the failing comb isn’t the end result. It indicates all the colony’s combs and the colony itself are at the greatest risk. And there’s no ready solution.

Collapsed overheated comb is the precursor to a catastrophe:

  • honey flows down the bottom board
  • the bees retreat toward the entrance
  • ventilation is lost
  • other hot, weak combs fail
  • this process continues until all the combs have fallen like Dominoes

When the first overheated comb fails, the temptation is to quickly get the broodnest back together, and the hive buttoned up so the bees can cool things down. But:

  • simply moving or touching worked comb now can cause it fail
  • it takes hours or longer for bees to re-establish normal hive activities after a hive is disturbed
  • additional comb failures won’t be noticed until honey runs out the hive entrance
  • honey running out an entrance indicates a hive is doomed

Leaving an overheated hive open allows a beekeeper to monitor and handle additional failed comb. But it isn’t a better solution:

  • all worked comb will continue heat up and probably fail
  • failed combs draws robber bees risking a bee war
  • a beekeeper gets to watch the colony perish one comb at a time as a hive can’t be left open and unattended

Some other solutions might involve using ice or driving all the bees from the hive, saving the bees while loosing the comb. But why get to this point?

Always prepare a tbh for hot weather. And when it’s too hot just stay out. Check out my heat page.


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