Replacing Old Comb – The Bailey Method And The Shook Swarm Technique

This information is taken from Information Sheets prepared by John Hauxwell, former Chair of the North London Beekeepers. Many thanks!

Bailey Method

All new/additional hive parts should be new and/or sterilized.

1. Remove all unoccupied peripheral brood combs, without disturbing the brood nest. Insert dummy boards tight to each side of the brood nest. (wax & any left over stores can be recovered)
2. Place on top of the old brood box, another brood box with new brood frames with fresh foundation (the same number as there are existing below) with dummy boards each side. The new frames must be exactly above the old ones.
3. Feed the bees with thick sugar syrup in a contact feeder until there is a nectar flow. This helps the bees to produce wax for comb building. (small quantities at a time to avoid too much syrup storage).
4. The bees should now start to expand their nest upwards into the new frames, and extra frames can be added to accommodate the expansion.
5. Once the queen is laying well in the upper box, separate the 2 brood boxes with a queen excluder, ensuring that the queen is in the upper box!
6. 21 days later, the worker brood will have hatched out from the original frames, so the old brood box & queen excluder can be removed. Put the new brood box on a new/clean floor. (it is not worth the while sterilizing the combs or trying to recover the wax)
7. Keep feeding if necessary.
8. Now revert to your normal beekeeping practices.

a. new comb = healthy comb
b. mimics the natural wild colony process of new comb building
c. improved colony build up
d. good for the wax builders & can delay swarming
e. end product = a vigorous, healthy colony

The Shook Swarm Technique

A colony must be strong enough to withstand a Shook Swarm, i.e., at least six brood frames of bees and have a satisfactory laying queen. The colony must be able to draw out the foundation, and therefore the ideal months are from late April to June.
The beekeeper must have ready for use clean/sterilised equipment for a new hive. This is your opportunity to give the colony a clean hive to start the season, similar to the hiving of a natural swarm.

1. Move the colony a short distance from its original position.
2. Place a clean brood chamber with clean frames with foundation, with a clean floor and entrance block, on the original position. Use a queen excluder between the floor and chamber to prevent the queen from absconding. Find the queen, and cage her for safekeeping during this manipulation.
3. Remove approximately 3 central frames of foundation from the new hive.
4. Shake all bees from the original hive into the center (do this by lowering the frames, one at a time, into the gap and shaking all the bees into the depth of the chamber) and brush any remaining bees.
5. Put the old frames without bees into a bag for destruction later. In foundation replacement & swarming situations, it is a good idea to put 1 original frame of open brood into the new chamber.
6. When all old frames have been shaken into the new chamber, replace the 3 frames with foundation gently into place, then carefully release the queen into the brood chamber.
7. Feed the bees with sugar syrup until the foundation is at least 75% drawn out. If there is already honey in a super or good nectar flow, feeding may not be necessary, but be careful.

Best Beekeeping Practices – Replacing Your Old Combs

Many US beekeepers do not routinely replace their old combs. Older beekeeping books suggest that combs be reused to save money and energy that bees could use to make honey instead of wax. It is not unusual to find beekeepers who have combs that are over thirty years old.

In the wake of Colony Collapse Disorder, bee experts are recommending that combs be replaced more frequently. Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology recommends that comb should be replaced every 5-7 years. In Europe, it is recommended that combs be replaced every three years. In the UK, my beekeeping friends Emily Heath and Emma Sarah Tennant replace their combs annually.

Why the change? We now know that bees wax absorbs pesticides, both those used for treatment within the hive and those used in agriculture. Old combs may also retain disease spores, such as foulbrood and Nosema. American Foulbrood spores can remain viable in combs for as long as thirty-five years. Replacing combs may also be helpful in managing varroa mites.

Old Bee Comb

It is easy to tell when comb needs replacing. It appears dark brown or even black in color. A good rule of thumb is to hold the frame up to the light. It should be replaced if light cannot be seen through it. The comb above looks very old.

There are three major ways to replace old comb: the Rotation Method, the Bailey Method and the Shook Swarm Technique.

The Rotation Method is the simplest, and the one I use.  At the beginning of spring, when it is warm enough to separate the brood nest, remove the two outer frames from the box, which should be empty. Insert two new frames into the center of the box and move the frames left of center to the left and the frames right of center to the right. This will give you a full rotation every five years in a ten frame box.

In my next post, I will describe the Bailey Method and the Shook Swarm Technique.