How to Avoid Cross-Comb in Top-Bars and Langstroth Hives

Cross-combing is a huge pain to deal with and is common in top-bar hives and in Langstroth hives with foundation-less frames. Following are a few pointers on how to avoid the hassle.

  • Place new top-bars and foundationless frames between combs that are full of brood, pollen, or capped honey. DO NOT place new frames or top-bars next to uncapped honey. If you do, the bees are liable to continue drawing out the cells, leading to bulges in the comb. All you need is one bulging comb for a domino effect in the hive.
  • After hiving a swarm, use follower boards (in Langstroth hives) or divider boards (in top-bars) to limit the space the bees have. They are more likely to draw straight comb when their space is limited.
  • Make absolutely certain that the hive is plumb. Yep, get out your level, your shovel, wood shims, whatever it takes. Bees draw their comb with gravity, so a hive that sits unevenly will lead to similarly uneven comb.
  • Check early, and check often. If you find cross-comb, attend to it right away. Remove the offending comb entirely, or use a knife to detach comb that bends or runs between bars, and gently straighten it and press it onto the tab you want the bees to follow. However painful it may seem to perform this kind of hive surgery now, rest assured that it will only be a hundred million times worse if you wait. No, really.
Cross-combing in an established top-bar hive. Each comb connects to multiple bars, making it impossible to lift the bars without ripping comb. Ugh.

Cross-combing in an established top-bar hive. Each comb connects to multiple bars, making it impossible to lift the bars without ripping comb. Ugh.

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And here is what happens when you do remove top-bars in such a hive. (Actually, this photo is minus the bees. Their presence makes the whole situation 100 times more traumatic).

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Crazy comb in a Langstorth hive with foundation-less frames. When we added a second box, the bees disregarded the frames entirely and made something of a wax and honey pyramid, instead.

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