The most important part of foundationless beekeeping is getting the bees to build straight combs. Once you remove the foundations, there’s nothing to stop the bees from building in any direction they please. It’s not uncommon for the bees to build across multiple frames if you give them the chance. The result is that you will have a very hard time pulling up frames without destroying comb and angering your bees.
The best way to handle cross-comb is to avoid it in the first place. Use comb guides, press all the frames together tightly into the middle of the box, and perform regular inspections as the comb is being built out. This way, you can correct any cross comb before it becomes an issue.
What to do if your bees do build cross comb:
Fixing mild cross-comb:
- In most cases, the bees will initially build straight and then flare out and connect to the neighbouring frame. Remove any empty or straight frames from the brood box to give yourself room to work on the crossed-comb. Separate the comb that has started to attach from the neighbouring frame by cutting the comb away from the top, bottom and side/s of the frame. Pull the next-door frame (now no longer attached) out of the way, and gently push the flared piece of comb into its correct frame. Use a rubber band to secure it in place.
- Once you have corrected the combs, you may want to reorder your frames to prevent more cross-combs. For example, you may move a frame where the comb has not been completely drawn out between two straight frames that have already been drawn. This boxes in the partially empty frame and will prevent the bees from building it crooked again.
Fixing advanced cross-comb:
- In extreme cases, you may find yourself with several frames or even an entire box of comb built perpendicular to the frames. Once again, your first step is to remove any empty or straight combs to give yourself room to work.
- If this cannot be done, you will need to break comb to pull out the first frame. Select one of the outer frames and smoke the area heavily to drive the bees out of harm’s way. Then pull the frame up the best you can. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid damaging the comb with advanced cross-comb.
- You may want a container with a lid to place leaky, damaged combs. You will likely not be able to save them and are better off harvesting or discarding them. Now, you perform a bit of surgery. Try to make the least number of cuts to extract whatever straight pieces of comb you can. Separate them entirely from the frames and then use rubber bands to secure them within the frames again, ensuring to align the comb vertically.
- Once again, you may want to rearrange your frames to prevent further crossing. The trick is not to place two frames with gaps in the same place next to each other.