Comb honey: how to make cut comb
By far the easiest type of comb honey to produce is called “cut comb.” It requires no special hive equipment nor any special bee-handling techniques. It can be obtained from just about any type of hive and the options for packaging are many. Since the requirements are few, it is the most economical comb honey to produce.
Cut comb honey is produced by cutting the honeycomb free from its frame or top bar and then subdividing the comb into smaller pieces. These pieces—generally square or rectangular—are packaged for sale or for gifts in some type of container such as Styrofoam trays or clear plastic clam shells.
Some of the bee equipment suppliers sell a square cutting tool—a thing that resembles a cookie cutter—that will assure your pieces are of uniform size. However, since the comb will vary in thickness, most beekeepers who sell cut comb honey price it by weight.
Those beekeepers using Langstroth hives often use shallow supers for cut comb honey, although medium supers will work just as well. However, I don’t recommend using deeps. Since you don’t want wire running through the comb, deeps are hard to use because, unless you keep the frames absolutely vertical, the weight of the delicate comb can cause it to break apart. That said, some beekeepers wire deeps with fishing line, and then gently pull the line out from the side before cutting the comb.
Here are some tips for preparing cut comb honey:
- This may seem obvious, but remember that you can’t use plastic foundation if you intend to make comb honey. The supply houses sell ultra-thin foundation for making comb honey—a product that is more tender than the thicker sheets used for wired frames. Alternatively, you may use foundationless frames and thus avoid using commercial foundation altogether.
- Many beekeepers put nine frames in a ten-frame box (or seven in an eight-frame box) to get thicker comb. If you try this, space the frames as evenly as possible throughout the box.
- A queen excluder is usually placed above the brood boxes to keep the queen from laying eggs in the comb honey supers. If your bees seem reluctant to go through the excluder, it helps to smear the empty frames with honey.
- The most tender comb is made early in the year, so get the comb honey supers on as soon as the major spring nectar flow begins. When you see deposits of snow-white wax in the hive, it is time to super.
- All comb honey should be frozen after harvest, a practice that will kill all life stages of wax moths and hive beetles. You can freeze the combs before packaging or after, as long as it is done within a day or two of harvest.
- If you freeze the entire frame, be sure to wrap it in plastic before freezing and then leave the plastic in place until the comb is completely thawed. In this way, condensation will form on the outside of the plastic instead of on the comb. You can freeze after packaging as long as your outer packaging is something that will not be damaged by condensation.
- The length of freezer time needed to kill moths and beetles depends on how cold your freezer is. Any creatures living in there need to freeze hard. Overnight is about right in most freezers, but many people like to go two nights.
- Drip management is very important when working with cut comb honey because you want to keep your pieces as clean and dry as possible. After cutting away the frame, take care that it doesn’t drip on the comb by lifting it straight up and then sliding a cookie sheet or piece of cardboard under it.
- Use a very sharp knife or cutting tool so that the comb is cut rather than squashed. You want to damage as few cells as possible so care must be taken to keep your cuts clean. It is best to wash the knife or cutting tool between every cut to avoid smearing honey on everything. A hot knife makes a better cut than a cold one.
- My favorite method of cutting comb is to use a piece of dental floss. Directions for cutting with floss or thread can be found here.
- After your comb is cut, place the pieces on a cooling rack with a cookie sheet underneath. Allow the honey to drip overnight so all the damaged cells have a chance to drain completely. Cut comb prepared in this manner is attractive and not messy.
- Once the pieces are drained, carefully transfer them to trays or containers. The pieces can then be wrapped, weighed, priced, and marked in any way you like. Remember, however, that cut comb is very delicate and easily damaged. Even little things—like pulling the plastic wrap too tight—is enough to compress the comb and create a leak.
- Stacking can cause a problem as well. If you must stack your cut comb pieces, consider using rigid plastic containers.
- A final word of advice: All this neatness has its place, but it is not the only way to go. Here is a link to a video I love because it demonstrates the pure, unadulterated joy of cutting comb honey without rules—the love of bees shines through every gooey moment and the honey is gorgeous.