Brood comb must be replaced regularly in the hive to help with colony hygiene and disease control. Opinions on this topic do vary but the NBU (National Bee Unit) say that brood comb should be used for no more than 3 years. The old comb should be rendered or burnt.
There are a few different ways you can change the comb. Below I have detailed 3 common one. The one thing they all have in common is that you will need to offer your bees syrup to help then to draw out the new foundation you have given them.
Replacement of just 1 third of your brood frames early in the season
It is suggested that you replace 1/3 of your brood frames each year, this way you will never have frames older than 3 year.
This is relatively easy to do but its not a quick way of changing frames. The process involves you gradually moving the frames you want to change so that at the end of the season they are sitting at the outer walls of the brood box. The following spring you can remove these frames and replace them with new frames and foundation. Remember to feed them syrup, especially important if changing the frames in spring when the season is only just getting going.
Bailey Comb Change
This sounds like quite a complex procedure however its really not. This is a way of changing all the frames in one go.
You will need a new brood box with a full set of new frames and foundation. Place this new box on top of your existing brood box, put a feeder and syrup feed on top and let the bees start drawing out the comb. Once the bees have drawn out some of the comb find the queen and place her up in the top brood box. Put a queen excluder in-between the two boxes, so that the queen cannot get back down.
You can use a split board if you have one; this is a queen excluder with an entrance on it. If you do use a split board open the entrance and close off the bottom entrance. You can, if you prefer, rotate the floor so the bottom entrance is now at the other side, the bees will leave by that entrance but return to the other side of the hive and find the new entrance above. Close the bottom entrance the following day. If you decide to not rotate the floor but just close the entrance in the position it is in, the bees will find the exit so don’t worry.
Equally, if you don’t have a split board just use a queen excluder and the original entrance. The advantage of using the split board is that the bees won’t travel through the lower box storing pollen around the brood that is still down there. Instead, they will store pollen in the top box where the queen is now laying. Make sure you put a feeder with syrup on the bees and keep feeding for as long as needed.
After 3 weeks all the brood will have emerged from the frames in the lower box and you can now remove it along with the queen excluder. The wax can be rendered or burn along with the frames.
This is a very effective way of quickly changing all your brood frames and will result in removing all pathogens from the hive, it can however be quite stressful for the bees, so you need to ensure you have a good quantity of young bees in the colony before you carry out the shook swarm.
The best time to do the shook swarm is late spring, you should have plenty of young bees by this point. The method is quite simple: Lift your brood box off the floor and move it to one side. Place a queen excluder on the floor then place a a new clean brood box, containing brand new frames and foundation, on top of the queen excluder. Remove 5 or 6 of the center frames to create a gap. Now go to your original brood chamber and remove the first frame. Shake all the bees off this frame into the gap you created in your new brood box. Repeat with all the frames, look for the queen as you go. Personally I would lift the queen off the frame and place her into the new brood box, you can just shake her in if you prefer. If you didn’t see the Queen throughout the procedure do check the walls of the old brood box and make sure she is not there. Shake any bees left on the brood box walls into your new box too.
Gently replace the 5 or 6 frames back into the gap in your new brood box, place the crownboard on top along with a feeder full of syrup. Keep this feeder topped up until your bees have sufficient stores in their new frames. The queen excluder on the floor will stop the queen from leaving and taking the bees with her. Once your queen is happily laying you can remove the queen excluder (2 weeks is a good bet)
The old frames you removed that have stores in them can be extracted and the wax rendered, any frames with brood in are best burnt. If you do extract stores from these frames, make sure you are confident they are stores of honey and not syrup that you may have offered in your winter preparations.
Carrying out a shook swarm on a colony with a good volume of young bees will very quickly work the new foundation in your frames, you may be quite surprised how quickly this happens. Do ensure they have a constant supply of syrup.