I raise a lot of nucs and as we approach the end of bee season in the fall, I condense all the hives in my yard from production colonies to any remaining nucs by removing all unused comb out of the hives. It’s best to only have enough comb in your hive that your bees can cover and with cooler temperatures coming, they will start to cluster. Keeping warm will be easier in a smaller space.
Because I prefer NOT to use wax foundation with my bees and have them draw all their own comb from scratch on empty frames, good comb is like gold because it can be used again the following year in nucs. Of course, if it has seen better days or I suspect that there may be a health concern with the comb, I just let the wax moths clean it up or toss it in the garden for compost. Speaking of wax moths, I know a beekeeper that routinely stacks all of his unused comb under a shed roof in supers and deliberately lets wax moths consume all of it. If you let the moths do their job, they will consume every last bit of the comb right down to the wood frames. Then he has clean frames ready to go for next year.
But if your goal is similar to mine you might like to know a good way to store your comb for the next year. It saves the bees energy and resources if they do not have to build as much comb. Remember it takes approximately 8 lbs of sugar for bees to create 1 lb of wax. Good comb is especially useful for a brand new nuc or a newly started package. The bees go right to work cleaning it up and getting it ready for whatever they sense they need whether it’s comb for the queen to start laying in, or for food storage – they will be eager to get to work on it pronto!
Because the wax moth is really the biggest threat to storing your comb, I thought about using cedar shavings mixed in with my wax comb stored in supers. I generally will put 2 or 3 fewer frames of comb into a super than what it is designed to hold. So, if I’m storing frames of comb in an 8 frame super, I will only put in 5 or 6 frames in, so the cedar shavings will fill in around the comb I want to save. You only need about 2-3 handfuls of cedar shavings per super and you’ll have all the protection you need to keep your comb pest free until next spring. You can stack the supers up as high as you want. I use a bottom board and a lid just to keep everything all together nice and neat. You can stack them as high as you can reach and keep them in your garage or barn. I get my cedar shavings from the local feed store and whatever I don’t use for the bees, the dog gets to keep in her dog house as winter bedding.
This method has worked well for me for the past few years now, and I found another cool way to use this method to give myself a head start for setting up springtime nucs at the same time. Basically, what I do is set out enough nuc bodies to store the amount of comb I want to save onto my hive stands in the apiary. This year I had enough comb left over to fill 19 nuc bodies with 3 frames of comb each. Again, I put my bottom board down, then the nuc body with 3 good frames of comb and throw in 2 handfuls of cedar shavings and then put the cover on it. It stays out in the bee yard until spring. Then soon as the weather is nice and the bees are starting to kick it into high gear and a colony is just about ready to split, I head them off at the pass and grab 2 good frames of bees with eggs, brood and some honey and place them into one of my nucs that I’ve stored since last year. I just dump the cedar shavings out first and put the 2 frames from my split into the middle of the new nuc. Sometimes I take the old queen and artificially swarm her with some bees, other times I just make sure there are eggs and lots of nurse bees and just let them generate a new queen. Of course, you can install a package of bees with a queen into this nuc box also. They will get busy as soon as you put them in.There are lots of options for beekeepers when it comes to making your splits in the spring. The main concern I want to address in this article is to show you that you can give your bees a head start by giving them stored comb, and as odd as it may sound it actually boosts morale for your bees.
I hope that this tip will help you and your bees. I have posted a video below that shows me setting up my spring nucs for next year and storing my old comb with cedar shavings – check it out!