Comb Honey and How it's Done
By: Denessa 'Nes' Yaschuk
Owner - SweetNes Honey Apiaries & Beetique
The creation of comb honey is an art form in the field of beekeeping. Before the invention of the honey extractor almost all honey produced was in the form of comb honey. Today, most honey is produced for extraction, but good old fashioned comb honey remains popular among consumers. From spreading on toast, to serving with crackers and cheese. It’s beautiful, delicious and makes an excellent sweet garnish to just about anything!
So, what exactly is Comb Honey?
Comb Honey is the most unprocessed form of honey. It’s never been extracted, filtered, or heated, and is still in the comb just the way the bees put it there! Honeycomb varies in taste (just like honey) depending on the environment and which flowers the bees predominantly pollinated to produce nectar.
Choose your method:
There are many different techniques for creating comb honey, such as the Hogg Halfcomb System, which is pre-waxed plastic square sections. Ross Rounds, which are combs produced with plastic equipment with or without comb foundation. Wooden Sections, usually made from the finest basswood. The Bee-O-Pac System which uses un-waxed plastic frames with rectangular sections. Romanov Comb Sections, wooden frames with comb foundation or starter strips, and even just foundation-less frames. So many choices! Comb honey can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Everyone does things a little differently and that’s okay. Find what works for you and go for it! Here at SweetNes Honey Apiaries, we like to use ultra-thin comb foundation when preparing our comb honey supers.
When to put on Supers:
When preparing for comb honey production you want to pick out your strongest hives coming out of winter. Those strong colonies will be the ones to produce your comb honey. Timing is extremely important in comb honey production. The most tender comb is made early in the year, so get your comb honey supers on as soon as the major spring nectar flow begins. When you start to see snow-white wax in the hive, and 8 out of 10 (or 6 out of 8) frames are being used for brood and food storage, it’s time to super!
Comb honey production is more suitable for areas with an intense prolonged honey flow. The beekeeper must know the honey crop in his or her area. If a good flow does not materialize or if the colony swarms, it is often best to give up the idea of comb honey and revert back to normal honey production. But do try again next time. Wooded areas are not as suitable for comb honey production, as bees tend to collect more propolis, making the harvesting of comb honey more difficult.
Once you have established which colonies you will be using for your comb honey production, you need to prepare your honey supers for the method you choose to produce comb honey. We began by installing our thin comb foundation into the frames. A little trick to help hold the wax sheet in place is to add a few drops of beeswax into the groove the sheet slides into and allow to dry. The bees will attach it the rest of the way. Before placing our Comb Honey Supers on our strong hives that we’ve picked out, we place a queen excluder on top of our brood box to ensure the queen does not venture up into the comb honey supers and begin to lay eggs.
Removing Comb Honey Supers:
Removing the Comb Honey supers as soon as they are fully capped is ideal. When removing boxes of combs or individual combs it is important to prevent and avoid any robbing by field bees. Robbing bees will chew holes in the cappings of combs and end up destroying the beautiful, capped honey that you are wanting. Handle your comb boxes with care, placing them away from robbing bees as soon as you remove them from the hives. Ensure they remain clear of dust and moisture. Also, we found it extremely helpful to mark our comb honey boxes so we can easily see from the outside of the hive, which supers are honey and which supers are comb honey.
Cutting Comb Honey:
Now the fun part! Place your comb honey frame on a stainless-steel baking pan tray with a cooling rack.
If your comb has been stored in the freezer and is frozen, allow the comb to thoroughly defrost. Once the comb has reached room temperature (warmer is best) you can begin removing the wooden frame. Using a very sharp thin and warm knife, cut the comb along the wood edges of the inner frame to release it from the frame.
Once the frame has been removed, clean up the outer edges of the comb honey using your knife. Doing so will release the honey along the edges and allow it to flow. We find that following the lines on your cooling rack help keep your cuts straight, giving the outer edges a nice clean edge. Leave on wire bakers rack overnight to let the honey drain for a bit, so it’s a little less messy to place into your clear plastic container or container of your choice.
Next using your Comb Cutter tool, gently place on the area of comb you are wanting to cut out. Cut comb is about 4”x4” and weighs from 12oz. to 16oz. depending on how deep the honeybees drew out the comb as they produced it.
But you can cut your comb any size or shape you want it to be. You can easily cut into the comb with your comb cutter tool and gently lift up the cut piece contained inside the comb cutter and place it into your clear plastic container. Some people use the Comb Cutting tool to lightly outline where their cut lines are going to be and freehand their cuts. I’ve also heard of people using dental floss to cut their comb honey; both methods work just fine. Personally, I think it’s much more efficient lifting the cut comb with the comb cutter tool, and easily slipping it into your plastic container.
Especially if you are cutting a lot of it!
Storing your cut comb:
If you are not planning to use, or sell your cut comb right away, it is best to freeze your comb until you are ready to use them. Combs should be stored in a freezer to avoid damage from insect and pests. Freezing for 24 hours will kill all stages of most insect life cycles, such as the despicable wax moth! Long-term refrigeration however is not recommended as this will promote crystallization. We wrap the entire honey super containing our comb honey frames in plastic air-tight bags and place into a deep freezer. If you do not have the space, you can also precut your comb honey and place into freezer safe containers until you need them.
We at SweetNes Honey Apiaries & Beetique encourage you to explore the many different techniques when it comes to comb honey production. No matter what technique you plan to use to create your comb honey, HAVE FUN doing it! If things do not work out, try a different method the next time. Eventually you and your bees will get the hang of it and produce some beautiful comb honey! Good luck and happy beekeeping!
Danessa 'Nes" Yaschuk