Reusing Boxes of Comb
For over 150 years, reusing frames of drawn comb has been standard procedure in this country (Langstroth beekeeping). Some caution has always been needed in order to prevent wax moths from invading these combs when in storage. Unfortunately, with the appearance of the small hive beetle during the past several years, extreme caution must be taken to prevent the introduction of SHBs to healthy hives by reusing drawn combs. Many beekeepers use chemicals to fight SHBs and other pests, allowing them to store and re-use comb without too much worry. But as chemicals in the hive should be avoided, we would recommend destroying any used combs over acquiring this harmful habit.
In Warré beekeeping, drawn combs are not usually recycled. However, as Warré wrote in Beekeeping for All, there are times when it might be beneficial to do so. The best example would be if, when preparing your hives for winter, you find that a hive (that has three boxes or more) has a box of drawn comb on the bottom that is empty (no honey) and unoccupied (no bees). Since empty comb below the winter bee cluster can encourage high moisture levels within the hive, and is likely to be prone to pest invasion, it's a good idea to remove this box. So, you may find yourself with an extra box of drawn comb. Now, if you have another hive (perhaps a late season swarm) that has only one box of drawn comb, you could use the extra drawn box to add to the bottom of that hive (replacing its totally empty lower box) and then feed that colony heavily (until their upper box becomes filled with stores) so that they can overwinter successfully. Other reasons for keeping drawn combs include maintaining drawn frames for honey production in supers (see Supering a Warré Hive and this video) or keeping full or partial boxes of drawn comb to give a new package a head-start the following year. Although these are still acceptable practices, a beekeeper must be very cautious and think about the possible consequences of his or her actions. If you are thinking about recycling a box of drawn comb, consider all of the following:
- Anytime comb containing honey, nectar, pollen or even residue from any of these is left without bees to guard it, it becomes a very powerful SHB and wax moth attractant. Pests can move in very quickly, without your knowledge, and begin to lay eggs. By leaving a box of drawn comb off of a hive for even a few hours and then adding it to another hive, you may be introducing pests and/or eggs to one of your hives.
- Bees can only protect the comb within their hive from pests if they can reasonably cover it. Colonies that do not have the population to protect the drawn comb that you are considering adding may well end up with a pest infestation if you do. Colonies that are too weak to manage two boxes of comb should be combined with other colonies before winter sets in.
- Any time that you do decide to reuse a box of drawn comb, it may be best to place the box in a plastic bag and then deep-freeze it for at least 24 hours (48 is better) to kill any SHBs or wax moths, their larvae and/or eggs that may be present.
- Always store drawn comb inside, in an environment that you believe to be insect-free. Store boxes on a flat surface and then place a hive top feeder, a shim or a varroa treatment screen over them to keep out any potential invaders.