When & How to Throw Away Aging Frames and Comb
As with many topics in beekeeping, there is much room for debate on comb rotation as well. There is no hard and fast rule as to when combs should be rotated. The problem is not that comb darkens or gets dark. The darker and heavier the frame becomes with wax and debris is simply an indicator of the age of the combs.
Why is the Comb so Dark?
I have some good news and bad news. The good news is, comb darkening with time is completely natural. The bad news is that eventually, it is best to replace old, dark combs.
Bees continually track debris over them as they walk causing some darkening. Brood combs darken even faster, due to cocoons shed by the developing bees, which are stuck to the inside walls of each cell
Comb darkening is not a bad thing and doesn’t affect the hive. Again, age isn’t necessarily a problem. The problem is that wax is very absorbent and tends to soak in chemicals we put in the hive to control Varroa mites, as well as chemicals brought in on the bees from the environment outside. How many chemicals are brought in, or put in, and thus absorbed into the wax is hard to determine on a per hive basis. Not knowing exactly what the levels are, we typically rotate out old BROOD frames and replace them with new ones every 7-10 years.
When you purchase new frames, it is a great idea to write the year on the top bars so that you know when they need to be replaced in the future. Frames that we use exclusively for supers tend to last longer, since they are not on the hives year around, thus get less use. They also don’t typically have any, or as much brood being laid in them. As a result, you may never have to rotate and discard frames used exclusively in the honey supers.
When it comes time to replace old brood frames, if they have honey in them, you can set the frames 20-30 feet from your hive and let the bees rob the honey out before discarding. If the frames have brood, move the frame so that it’s the very outside frame of the brood nest. Now being on the outer edge of the box, wait till late winter/early spring, and that frame will often be empty and can be pulled out and discarded. Using this method, of always moving older frames towards the outside of the box, is a great way to rotate through combs.
One final note - when you add in new frames, don’t put them in the very middle of the brood nest, since it’s never a good idea to separate frames of brood. You always want to keep frames of brood together. So, put the new replacement frames on the outside edge of the box, or on the outside edge of the brood nest