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Black Comb

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New Bee

Joined: 15 Jul 2017
Posts: 6
Location: Western North Carolina,usa

PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2017 4:19 am    Post subject: Black Comb Reply with quote

How long does it take for a top bar comb to turn black? Should black comb be removed?
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Site Admin

Joined: 27 Jul 2011
Posts: 1857
Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2017 6:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote


Pretty much the same length of time as it takes comb in a framed hive to darken.
There are many advantages to old dark comb though.....
It is significantly more impregnated with propolis than new comb, which has health benefits.
It is better able to buffer moisture in the hive thereby helping to prevent condensation.
The consecutive layers of cocoons help to reduce the cell size thereby helping the bees to transition naturally to small cell.....which may or may not help them to cope better with varroa mites depending upon what you read and believe.
It is more stable and much less likely to collapse during very hot weather.... this is probably more important in a top bar hive where comb collapse is a risk.
There is however an optimum point, after which the old comb starts to become detrimental rather than beneficial. Cells get too small to be useable for brood and the risk of infection with chalk brood etc increases. Also many pesticides are lipophilic and are absorbed into the wax, so if you live in an area where there are a lot of agricultural crops, cycling out old comb earlier may be better to remove those toxins.

In my experience and with my bees and local conditions, the optimum may be somewhere about the 6-8 seasons mark. I have some comb older than 10 years and there are definitely signs that it is becoming problematic for them.

Another consideration is that some bees build wax readily, whilst others do not. I have bees that are not enthusiastic wax workers, so forcing them to build new brood comb every couple of years would change their natural cycle and potentially put them out of sync with their environment.

If/when you are going to cycle out new comb, I would suggest you do it on a rota basis and maybe just replace 2 or 3 a year, so that you benefit from old comb and new.

Of course the above is only this one person's opinion and others will have different ideas and experience.


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Golden Bee

Joined: 30 Nov 2009
Posts: 1137
Location: UK, North Yorkshire, Bentham

PostPosted: Mon Jul 17, 2017 7:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with Barbara, especially that there is no fixed time - it's very dependent on your conditions.

I'd add that some see wax as a hive product (used for candles, cosmetics etc.) and may therefore take more sooner. So, it also depends on your aims.

If/when you opt to remove old comb, keep some of it (sealed in bags to keep wax-moth out) to use in bait hives.
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Golden Bee

Joined: 31 May 2010
Posts: 1551
Location: Cambridge, UK

PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 6:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The one caveat about keeping black comb would be in areas such as mine where in the monocrop deserts of East Anglia there is a lot of pesticide use and pesticides do build up in the wax.

I still cycle comb out less often than most in the area and as I don't treat for mites routinely that is one route fewer for pesticides to get in.. I also have two new country parks run by wildlife trusts within spitting distance. So forage patterns for my bees on the Southern edge of Cambridge may be changing. Certainly this year is the best I have known for honey production since I started.
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