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My husband and I have been extracting honey and collecting beeswax from our hives for quite a few years now. This year, we decided to try something new – producing comb honey. We were lucky enough to be in contact with a beekeeper who has produced large amounts of comb honey, and was able to guide us through the process. Here is what we have learned.
First, a little background. Comb honey is an amazing product of the hive. It is the most unprocessed form of honey – not extracted, filtered, or heated, and still in the comb. It is great to eat as is, to spread on toast, or to serve on crackers with a mild blue cheese- yum! If you sell your honey, it can be a great product to add to your current offerings.
The first step in producing comb honey is to identify your strongest hives coming out of winter. The bees will have to make both new beeswax comb and fill it with honey before capping. Using only very strong hives ensures that you will have full supers of honeycomb before the end of the season.
You will also need to decide what type of comb honey you will produce. There are several ways to make comb honey, but we decided to make two types this year – cut comb and Ross Round. I will explain how we produced these two types below.
Producing Cut Comb Honeycomb
To produce cut comb honey, you will need a shallow super, with ten empty shallow frames. You will also need to purchase cut comb honey boxes and covers for the final product. Put the super on one of your strongest hives, above a queen excluder. While this shallow super is on the hive, it is important to not use smoke on the hive, except for just a small bit at the front entrance. If smoke gets into the honeycomb super, your honey comb may end up with a smoky smell and taste to it. Check the super periodically, and when the frames are completely filled with capped honey, remove the super. Our method of removing the super is to put an escape board underneath the super two days ahead of time. After the two days are up, we go to the bee yard with a spare super. We pull the frames out one at a time, brush off any remaining bees, and put the frames into the empty super with a cover to keep out any curious bees. When the frames have all been removed, we take off the now empty super and the escape board, replacing it with a new empty super for the bees to begin filling up. Again, we do not use smoke on the comb honey super!
When you have your cut comb frames inside your honey house (or in our case, our kitchen), it is time to start processing them. We lay the frame of honeycomb on a cutting board, and use a comb cutter to score the beeswax cappings to the correct size to fit in the cut comb boxes, as shown in the picture here.
We then use a sharp knife to cut the comb following the scored lines from the cutter, and place it on a wire rack over a cookie sheet.
Finally, we let the squares drain overnight. The honey from the cells on the sides that were cut open will run out into the cookie sheet. If you skip this step, your honeycomb will be “swimming” in honey, and the boxes may leak. The next day you can gently place the squares of honeycomb in the boxes, and put on the lid.
Gently stack the boxes in a plastic bag , I usually double bag mine, and put them in a freezer for two to three days. This will ensure that any eggs left by pests in the hive (small hive beetles, wax moths, etc.) are destroyed. After two to three days, remove the boxes from the freezer, and allow them to defrost in the plastic bags. This will help minimize condensation on the outside of the boxes. When they are thawed you are now ready to put on your label, and sell them, give them as gifts, or save to eat yourself!
Producing Ross Round Honeycomb
To produce these “rounds” of honeycomb you will need to purchase the Ross Round Comb Super Kit which can be found at most beekeeping supply companies. The kit (for a 10 frame hive) contains a 4 ½ “super, 16 half frames, and 64 rings. Each half frame holds 4 rings and then are snapped together around a piece of foundation. When fully assembled, each frame will yield 4 comb sections. The foundation, covers, and labels are sold separately. At the end of the season you can clean and then reuse the super and frames for next year but will have to purchase additional foundation and rings.
Similar to cut comb, place the 4 ½ “super of Ross Rounds on a very strong hive. Again, use a queen excluder underneath the super. Check the super periodically, and when the circles (or rounds) are completely filled with capped honey, you can remove the super. Again, we use an escape board to clear the bees from the super, and then remove the frames one at a time. Brush off any bees, and place them in an empty super to bring indoors.
Up to this point, producing Ross Round honeycomb is very similar to producing cut comb. Processing the Ross Rounds is very different. The plastic rings that are filled with honeycomb can now be removed from the frame and placed inside two Ross Round covers. No cutting or draining is required though you may have to trim excess foundation off of the outside of the rings prior to placing them in the covers. The Ross Rounds should then be placed in plastic bags and frozen. After 2-3 days they can be removed from the freezer, and allowed to defrost in the bags. At that point you can add the Ross Round labels and the honeycomb is ready to sell, give as gifts, or use for yourself!
We have found that both types of honeycomb sell well, and commands a higher price than an equivalent amount of honey. Also, our customers also seem to appreciate being able to purchase honeycomb from us. Whatever method you decide to use, we hope you consider giving honeycomb a try next season!
Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith Freeman. You can visit them at www.beesofthewoods.com.