What Is Drawn Comb?

What Is Drawn Comb?
What Is Drawn Comb?

Drawn comb is a sheet of beeswax foundation whose cells have been drawn out into three-dimensional hexagonal cells using beeswax manufactured by the bees.

Drawn comb has several purposes. It is used by bees to either store honey or pollen, as insulation and a place for bees to cluster. 

It is also used by the queen to lay eggs. The comb houses the eggs which develop into larvae, pupae and eventually adult bees.

Drawn comb extracted from bee frames

Drawn Comb vs Foundation

Foundation is the sheet of wax (or plastic) placed in a frame that is imprinted with a hexagonal pattern. This pattern guides the bees to build drawn comb, which are the hexagonal, three-dimensional cells bees build on top of the foundation.

Drawn comb is much better than foundation because it is ready for the bees to use immediately and is used by bees for every key function in the hive. 

They raise young in the brood comb, store nectar and pollen in the cells, perform communication dances across the comb, use it as insulation and to form a Winter cluster. Having drawn comb in the hive means the bees have the space to perform all their duties.

With only foundation to use, the colony cannot function properly because the bees have no cells to work with. Instead, they have to build the cells using beeswax. This means they have less time and energy to devote to raising brood and storing nectar.

This is especially true in Spring when the colony is focused on growth and needs the maximum amount of space to rear brood. Also in Spring flowers bloom, nectar begins to flow and the bees need room to store the incoming nectar.

If they don’t have enough drawn comb to do store food in, the bees will be forced to put the nectar into the brood cells (cells in which the queen lays eggs). This leaves fewer cells for the queen to lay in, meaning fewer bees and a weaker colony.

What Does Drawn Comb Look Like?

Drawn comb is similar to the color of straw, almost white, especially when it is used for the first time. The color of new comb depends on a few factors, such as the current sources of nectar, the race of bees in the hive and what type of pollen they’re collecting. As the same comb is used over and over, it will darken in color.

The drawn comb has a wax-like feel. This is because bees make comb from wax secreted from the eight pairs of wax glands under their abdomen. The wax is chewed by the bees and they mix it with enzymes from their saliva which softens the wax until it is able to be molded like clay. 

Each cell of drawn comb is hexagonal in shape. The six-sided shapes fit together perfectly and they can hold the queen bee’s eggs and store the pollen and honey the worker bees bring. 

How Long Does It Take For Bees To Draw Out Comb?

There are several factors that will affect how long it takes for bees to draw out all the frames of foundation in a honey super. If all factors are working together perfectly, it will take 1 to 2 weeks for a strong colony to draw out all the frames in one super. In fact, some colonies can take less than a week even though this rarely happens.

The factors that affect how long it will take to draw comb are:

Nectar Flow

When there is plenty of nectar for the bees to eat they are much stronger, more productive and will take a shorter time to draw comb.

Number Of Bees In The Colony

A larger number of bees means there are more foragers to collect food for the colony. This also means a healthier queen that can produce more eggs to sustain a strong colony. A strong colony is able to draw a single frame of comb much faster than a weaker colony. 

Age Of Bees

Worker bees are most productive during their early stages of life and their wax glands are at peak production. As we know, drawn comb relies on the availability of wax. Therefore a younger bee population will draw a frame much faster than an older group of bees.

Temperature

Bees use wax to build comb and this becomes brittle if subjected to cold temperatures. Wax produced is not useable unless the temperature is ideally 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit). Therefore, comb cannot be drawn out during the colder months.

What Do Bees Use Drawn Comb For?

Bees use drawn comb for the following main purposes:

  • Store honey – bees collect nectar from flowers which is stored in their honey stomach. The nectar is turned into honey by reducing its moisture content as it is passed from one bee to the other before being stored inside the cell and sealing it with a wax cap. 
  • Store pollen – bees collect pollen from flowering plants and mix it with nectar to form bee bread which is stored inside the cells of drawn comb. Bee bread is the protein source fed to bee larvae.
  • Store eggs, larvae and pupae – the queen lays an individual egg into each cell of drawn comb. After three days the eggs hatch into larvae which are fed a mixture of royal jelly and bee bread. Within five days the larvae are 1,500 times larger than their original size. At this time their cells are sealed with wax and the larvae spin a cocoon. Inside the cocoon they pupate and develop the features of an adult bee. After twelve days they chew through the wax cap and join the colony.

How Long Does Drawn Comb Last?

Drawn comb can be reused in the hive, but will need to be replaced eventually. When you replace it depends upon the condition it is in. 

Over time the cells in the brood comb become smaller, because after each bee birth some of the cocoon is left behind. The comb becomes dark and damaged because of the thousands of bees that walk across it every day, leaving traces of dirt and debris from their legs.

After approximately two years some of the frames of old dark comb in the hive should be replaced with either fresh drawn comb if you have it, or foundation. Replace no more than half the frames at any one time – and make sure there is no brood in them when you change them over.

Comb that has honey stored in it will last longer than brood comb. It may need to be replaced eventually because it can become damaged when removed for extraction. 

How To Store Frames With Drawn Comb

Drawn comb in good condition can be stored and used again when needed. Here’s how to store frames with drawn comb:

  1. Before removing the frames for storage, make sure they have no brood in them. Do this by placing them above the queen excluder and wait until all the brood has hatched out.
  2. Remove the frames from the hive and place each one in a large plastic bag and secure them.
  3. Place each frame in the freezer for two days to kill any wax moth larvae.
  4. Store the frames in an airtight plastic tub or storage bin.

If you would like more information on storing frames with drawn comb, check out to my article ‘How To Store Bee Frames’ here.

Can You Re-Use Drawn Comb?

Drawn comb can be reused in the same hive provided it is not old, dark or damaged. However, drawn comb should never be placed in another hive because it could harbor disease that would be transferred to the new colony.

Brood comb can be re-used in the brood nest but not in the honey super. The cells could contaminate the honey because they contain remnants of the bee birth. It will discolor the honey too.

Conclusion

Made by the bees from beeswax they secrete, drawn comb is used by bees for all the essential functions they perform within the hive. They use it as a storage facility, a nursery and as insulation, and it is the foundation of a strong hive.

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