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beehive box of cross comb

Big Mistake! How to Fix a Box of Cross Comb / Burr Comb

Aug 17, 2020

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

beeswax scultpure made from honeycomb

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. 

Here's a link to some of his work. 



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