Bee space is 3/8". This is the ideal space for bees to move throughout the hive. When you leave more than 3/8", the bees almost always connect the comb in a variety of directions. We call this burr comb and it makes it almost impossible for the beekeeper to inspect a hive.
It's not an ideal situation, but it's fairly easy to fix, though leaves a big sticky mess. Here's how you can fix burr comb.
I've done this more times than I would like to admit. Usually what happens is that I don't have enough frames on hand and tell myself "I'll go get more later." Then I forget and a week later I open the beehive and see a box full of burr comb. It's super interesting to see what the bees do when given a big empty space, but not fun to fix.
It's important to have ready and waiting:
- Frames with rubberbands on them so you can put the straight pieces back in the hive for the bees to finish filling up.
- A bucket with a lid or large tupperware containers with lids
- A smoker PACKED with as much fuel as you can fit in there. Having a little folding table is also helpful and two rags - one wet and one dry for your hands.
Helpful tips for removing burr comb:
- Start at one end and start cutting at the joints where it meets another piece of comb.
- Use A LOT of smoke
- Move quickly. The bees won't put up with you for long.
- Don't wear gloves. This is optional but the process is a lot easier without them. If you're not comfortable with this, try wearing nitrile gloves.
Most of the comb in this box was too fat for me to put into frames. I harvested it all using the crush and strain method. This is a really easy, fast and cheap way to harvest small amounts of honey when no foundation is used.
How to crush and strain honey:
- Squish comb in a large, flat container with a fork. (I use a large tupperware container made for serving casseroles)
- Pour squished comb and honey into a strainer. Get one of those bucket strainers. They sit perfectly on top of a 5 gallon bucket or a soup pot.
- Let it sit in the strainer and pour into your pot or bucket below.
- Leave for at least 4 hours. You can cover with a bag, or aluminum foil or put in the oven to keep safe from insects and if you have a dog or cats, fur. Just make sure you put a note on the oven to not turn it on!
- If you enrolled in our Beekeeping for Beginners class, I have a full lesson showing you how to do this in the Honey Harvesting chapter.
Burr Comb Art
Before starting my own apiary, I worked for a bee farm called Big Island Bees. The owner took over the company from his father when he was looking to retire. Before taking over the apiary, he was a sculptor. He was known for his apiscultpures. He would create a sculpture out of wax and/or metal and put it into a beehive. The bees would build comb off of it. He has shown his work in museums all over the world including the Guggenheim in NYC.
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