Combs can fail for many reasons. They 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
A single comb failure 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 often used to 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 fails when a top bar hive is moved too soon after working it. The bees need time to re-attach combs cut free of attachments. After all, the comb is attached for a reason. The bees sensed it needed more strenght and attached.
Heavy comb, free of attachments, can break off a top bar during a rough or bumpy move. Then it rattles around inside causing other combs to fail.
To avoid this trouble, don’t work a top bar hive just before moving it. Give the bees enough time to re-attach the comb.
The worst kind of comb failure occurs when a top bar hive is:
- not prepared for hot weather
- worked when it’s too hot
These conditions stress all the comb in a hive.
When comb fails because it’s worked when too hot, the failing comb isn’t the end result. All combs and the colony itself is at the greatest risk. And there’s no ready solution.
Collapsed, overheated comb is a 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 combs have fallen like Dominoes
- most bees are trapped or drowning in honey
- the entrance is blocked by honey
- colony organization fails
- the bees can’t cool the hive
When the first overheated comb fails, It’s temptating to quickly get the broodnest back together, and the hive buttoned up, so the bees can cool things down. But it’s too late:
- simply moving or touching worked comb causes it fail
- it takes hours or longer for bees to re-organize
- additional comb failures, in a closed up hive, 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 good solution:
- comb continues to heat up and probably fail
- failed combs draws robber bees
Other solutions using ice or driving all the bees from the hive, could save the bees. But the comb is probably lost.
Always prepare a top bar hive for hot weather before it’s too hot. And when it’s too hot just stay out. Check out my heat page.