As much as we love our honey bees, we can’t always control them. Even the most docile and productive hive is going to go its own way once in a while. After all, honey bees are still wild creatures that pay more attention to natural instinct than their friendly neighborhood beekeepers. Unfortunately, this can create problems for said beekeepers. One such complication is the production of cross comb. What is cross comb in a beehive, and how does it affect beekeepers? You can learn more about this occurrence with our beekeepers’ guide to cross comb.
What Is Cross Comb in a Beehive?
Simply put, cross comb occurs when honey bees build their comb across the hive frames or anywhere else their beekeepers don’t want comb. Beekeepers prefer their honey bees to build comb in neat, parallel layers that make it easy to perform hive inspections or harvest honey at the end of the season. Unfortunately, honey bees don’t always work that way. Instead, they might build perpendicular to the intended direction of the frame or top bar, or even across multiple frames.
Why Is Cross Comb a Problem?
Cross comb is a natural process for honey bees, so they face no direct consequences. Unfortunately, the production of cross comb turns a simple hive inspection into messy, dangerous work. You might have to break comb to lift a hive frame, thus destroying the honey or brood that your bees have stored within it. This can lead to honey bee deaths, aggressive worker bees, and a frustrating mess that you have to deal with.
How Can You Prevent Cross Comb?
There are a few ways to prevent cross comb, most of which revolve around providing a stable and clear structure for your honey bees to build upon. One of the most common causes of cross comb is a leaning hive. Gravity influences how your honey bees build comb, so even a subtle lean can influence the comb structure. Use a level to make sure your beehive sits evenly on the ground. Of course, if you use a solid bottom board, make sure you tilt the hive slightly forward to let water drain out. You can also use honey bee frames with foundations to encourage your honey bees to build straight, even comb. Pay attention to the space between your hive frames. Try to leave enough bee space—about 3/8ths of an inch—between your frames so your honey bees can move without feeling the need to close up the space or build cross comb through it. You should also leave an equal amount of space between the frames and the hive box on each side. Finally, keep an eye on new foundation as this is where honey bees commonly build cross comb. This will help you catch and remove cross comb as your honey bees build it so it doesn’t become a major problem.
Have you had to deal with cross comb in your honey bee hives? Let us know your best tricks for preventing and managing it in the comments below.