New thoughts about old comb

If you look at most any list of “best beekeeping practices,” you will probably find this item:

Remove old comb from the hive and replace it on a regular basis.

It’s one of those items that gives people like us — who are trying to be good beekeepers — a guilty conscience. We may remove old comb, but it’s not likely that we do it regularly or have any system about it.

But it could be that in not being aggressive about removing old comb, we have been doing the right thing all along.

My thinking has been directed this way as I have been considering the presentation that Jim Tew made to the Blount County Beekeepers Association in August. Tew is a retired beekeeping expert for Ohio State University and is now working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service.

In one of this presentations to the BCBA, Tew talked about what he had found over the years in feral hives. The bees would often build long combs, the lower part of which was dark and apparently unused — just like the old combs that we have in our hives. We’re not sure what this “old” comb is used for, he said, but it could be storage or it could be that this wax absorbs toxins and allows other parts of the hive to stay clear and clean.

That thought — that the bees have a use for this old comb even when it doesn’t look like they are using it — combined with another experience that I’ve had in managing hives. On many occasions I have had hives where bees simply wouldn’t stay in the lowest box of the hive. That’s where the oldest and darkest comb was, and while all the books said they should be using this box for brood, they stubbornly refused.

So, I’m thinking: Maybe they were using this old comb as they would in a wild hive — using it by staying away from it and letting it do a job they don’t have to do.

And then that brought me around to the first thought: Maybe we’re not doing the bees any particular favor by removing old comb from the hive. Maybe they’re using it for something we don’t see or understand.

Here’s the video where Jim Tew talks about the dark comb in a feral hive:



Key words: honeybees, bees, wild bees, feral bees, beehives, comb, honeycomb, removing old comb from a hive, Jim Tew, Ohio State University, best beekeeping practices, Alabama Cooperative extension, Blount County Beekeepers Association, toxins in the hive, comb absorbing toxins, bees’ use of old comb

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