Storing Frames of Drawn Comb

Capped honey comb

Frames sure take up a lot of space. Storing them can be a real problem. Just look at this photo of my shop after making a batch of new frames one year. They wrap around two sides of my shop, and mine is not a small shop. Fortunately I have a small building just for storing beekeeping equipment, so my shop was soon available for other work.

Of course, these were new frames without any wax yet. They might be at risk from termites, but normal beehive pests aren't really a problem until you have frames with wax in them. So what do you do with a bunch of frames once you've put wax foundation in them?

Or better yet, suppose you've just finished extracting your fall honey and now you have all those frames of empty drawn comb to store. You definitely want to protect all of that comb; it'll give your bees a tremendous head start filling supers next year. But how do you store all those frames so the wax moths won't destroy them?

You don't want to put them back on the hives. If the bees aren't using them they'll just become a foothold for wax moths and other critters to infest the hive. The bees simply aren't going to defend a bunch of empty space they aren't using. And even if they try (depending on the bees, some might), you're really just putting a whole bunch of unnecessary stress on your bees at a time when you should be trying to alleviate as much of their stress as you can.

Okay. Then you put all of those frames with all of that drawn comb in whatever space you have for storing equipment when it's not in use. But if the bees won't defend all of that comb wax on their hive, they certainly aren't going to come defend it in your storage room.

So how can you protect all of that comb until next year?

Most beekeepers have heard that you should freeze your empty comb for storage, but I get the impression that not everyone is clear about either why or how.

First of all, you do not need a walk in freezer to store your drawn frames. Freezing the frame is not about preserving the comb; it's about killing any larvae that may be hiding in the cells. If you just store your drawn frames without freezing them first, no matter how well they're protected, you may well retrieve them in the spring to discover a fresh crop of wax moths or some other infestation.

But that doesn't mean you have to keep them frozen all winter. You only need to freeze them for a few days to make sure any little critter larvae are dead. You can then store them at room temperature (or more likely at outside temperature unless you have a climate controlled equipment storage locker) until spring.

"Oh, but wait!" you say. "If I just store them on shelves, won't wax moths just find them and infest them anyway?"

Indeed they will..., if they can get to them. But if those drawn frames of empty comb are sealed up inside plastic bags, the wax moths (et al) can't get to them to infest them.

So here's how you can preserve all that comb for your bees to use again next year.

Step 1: Clean the Comb 

First, set your freshly extracted combs outside but well away from your hives (a few hundred yards if you can). The bees from your apiary will happily come and clean out every last tiny speck of honey left behind. This is why you don't want them close to your hives; you don't want to start a robbing war.

Step 2: Protect the Comb 

Once your drawn frames are clean, place them in plastic bags and seal them tight with duct tape. Go ahead and bag and seal them all. The longer they remain exposed, the more opportunity wax moths will have to find and infest them.

But don't get the wrong idea. You don't need, or want, to put them all in one bag. Just bag as many as you can set in your freezer, or as many as you can handle and store easily, in each bag.

In general, fewer frames per bag is better. Large stacks of frames shifting can easily damage drawn comb. Moreover, suppose that despite your best efforts, some wax moth larvae manage to infest one of your bags. Would you rather lose 2 or 3 frames, or 10?

Step 3: Kill all the Larvae 

Once all of your frames are sealed in easy-to-handle packets, place the first of them in your freezer for 2 or 3 days. This will kill any larvae inside.

And yes, if you have time, leaving them in the freezer longer won't hurt anything. But really, 2 or 3 days should suffice.

Step 4: Store Your Clean Frames of Drawn Comb

After 2 or 3 days move the frozen frames into normal storage. Any larvae in the frames are now dead, and the bag should keep new larvae out (if you sealed it well). These frames are now ready to be put back into service next year.

Step 5: Lather, Rinse, Repeat 

Put the next batch into the freezer and repeat. It may take you several iterations to get them all done, but that's okay. The point is that you don't need to buy a special freezer to keep them in all winter. And next spring, you will save your bees a lot of extra work drawing out new comb.

Now eventually you will need to replace the comb. It can't be reused indefinitely, but that's another topic for another day. Nonetheless, you can reuse it a lot before you start making candles.