We often talk about rotating old comb out, as it helps to lower the risk of pathogens and disease that can be held within the old comb, but we usually skim over the logistics of the best practices of doing so. In the July 2022 issue of American Bee Journal, Jamie Ellis addresses the how in culling comb and more importantly, how to do so over a short period of time.
Question: I was donated a swarm from last year that, when given to me, the donor said the five frames accompanying the swarm were very old. The colony overwintered and is currently housed in a single deep. The original five frames from the nuc housing the swarm are in the center of the hive and being used by the bees. I would like to cull them when the weather warms here in Michigan. I would obviously like to have them empty or near empty when I do this. How do you go about this?
Answer: Essentially, you have bees using combs in the brood nest, combs that you want to cull from the nest due to their age. There is an easy way to do this.
First, allow the colony to grow to the point that it fills/uses all ten frames in the brood nest. You may have to feed the bees to do this if they are outside of the nectar flow. Once the colony fully occupies the brood nest, add a queen excluder and an empty deep box above it. Move the five old frames from the lowermost brood box, bees and all, above the excluder into the upper brood box. Make sure that the queen remains in the box below the excluder.
At this point, you will have five newer frames with bees/brood/queen in the lower box, an excluder, and then the five older frames with bees/brood in the upper box. Add five frames of foundation or pulled comb to the lower box and five frames in the upper box. (You can also add five pulled combs or five frames of foundation to complete the uppermost box, especially if you are in a honey flow. That way, the bees do not build burr comb in the empty space.)
Allow all the brood to emerge from the frames in the upper box. It may take three weeks, or slightly longer, for this to happen. Once done, remove the frames from the upper box, shake the bees from the frames into the lower box, and sit the frames outside of the hive to be robbed. You have to do the latter because the bees likely will have stored honey in the frames while they were in the upper box. At this point, you can discard the frames, or melt the wax for rendering purposes.