One of the key ways we can ensure that our bees stay healthy is to change the beeswax comb that makes up their home every two to three years. Viruses, bacteria and pesticides can all build-up in the comb over time and with the added pressure of the dreaded Varroa mite potentially passing disease from bee to bee all puts the colony under pressure.
We mark each of the frames containing the brood combs so we know how old they are at a glance and at the beginning of the Spring we review the colonies and then start something called a Bailey comb change.
This is a relatively low-stress way of changing the bees comb where we place another brood box with bare frames each containing a starter strip of foundation comb on top of the existing brood box and remove any Queen excluder to allow the colony to move up into the new box freely. We put a feeder containing 10l of 1:1 sugar/water syrup on the top to give them the energy they need to build a lot of new comb early in the year and leave them alone.
Over the course of the next few days, the bees move up into the new box attracted by the free food and use the syrup to start building large amounts of fresh comb in the top chamber using the foundation as a template.
We returned to the hive after about a week to top-up the feeders and in doing so, we had a quick peek inside the top brood chamber to see if the bees had been busy. They had indeed from the picture on the right. Most of the central frames of foundation in the brood chamber were already being built up with new fresh beeswax comb.
Unfortunately the weather started to turn rather cold and windy, so we decided to stop at that point and leave the colony alone for another day when we start part two of the Bailey comb change process where we encourage the colony to move up into the new box - but that will be the subject of another post...