Secrets to Drawing Comb
By: Blake Shook
In most circumstances, bees draw out comb much faster, and more cheaply, with the help of supplemental feeding. While bees can absolutely draw out wax on their own without feeding during a honey flow, remember it takes about 10lbs of honey to make 1lb of wax. If you can sell your honey for $10 per lb, that’s $100 worth of honey to draw out one super of comb! Compare that with syrup which costs many times less per pound. It can take gallons of honey to get bees to draw out their brood box, second brood box, and get started on a super! There are 4 primary categories to discuss when we talk about using feeding to help bees draw out comb faster.
- Drawing comb in a brood box with a new hive or split
- Drawing comb in your second brood box
- Drawing comb in supers pre-honey flow
- Drawing extra comb for next year during early summer months
Let’s tackle each one of these individually:
Drawing comb in a brood box with a new hive or split
If you’ve just purchased a nuc, package, new hive of bees, or made a split, chances are several frames in your brood box are new foundation. It will greatly increase the speed at which your new bees can draw out comb if you feed them heavily. Whether it is summer or spring, feeding as much as they will consume until they begin drawing out the two outside frames in the bottom box is ideal. At that point, you can add an additional box. This leads us to our next topic:
Drawing comb in your second brood box
Once your bees have begun drawing out about a fist size piece of comb on the two outside frames in your bottom box, and your bottom box is 80% full of bees, it’s time to add another box. Assuming your second box is a brood box, and not a super for honey, simply continue feeding your hive as much syrup as they will consume. This will help them draw out the comb in the new second brood box as quickly as possible, so you can move on to adding a super and making a honey crop.
Drawing comb in supers pre-honey flow
Once the top brood box is 80% drawn out, or 80% full of bees, it’s time to add your honey super. Remember, don’t add your queen excluder yet, since bees won’t get started drawing out foundation through a queen excluder. So, with no queen excluder in place, add your super, and continue feeding. Check back every few days, and once your bees have drawn out a fist size piece of comb on 3-4 frames in your super, you can stop feeding, add your queen excluder, and allow the bees to finish
drawing the comb and filling it with natural nectar. This will ensure you have honey in your super, not sugar water. If the bees stop drawing out comb when you stop feeding them, start feeding back up for a few days, then stop again. Sometimes it takes some starting and stopping to get them going strong on their own, especially if the honey flow hasn’t quite started yet.
Drawing extra comb for next year during early summer months
One fun thing to try is using feeding after harvest to encourage your bees to draw out an extra box or two of comb for next year, thus jump-starting your new hives or splits next year with already drawn comb. After pulling off and harvesting your supers, add a deep box of foundation to your hive, above the brood box(s) and feed a 1:1 syrup at a rate of 1-2 gallons per week until the box is drawn and full of syrup. That additional box can be left on over the winter or removed and stored in wax moth crystals. This works far better in early summer than late summer, as the later in the year you go, the more bees resist drawing out comb.