Right now in the US there are two comb honey systems that include embossed plastic foundation in a plastic tray. You put these plastic trays in a honey super and the bees build their comb right on the base of it. Once filled, the beekeeper only needs to add a lid and a label.
Previously I wrote about the Bee-O-Pac system. A similar system, Hogg half-comb cassettes, actually disappeared from the market following the death of John A. Hogg, the inventor of the system. But recently the patent was sold to Herman Danenhower of Pennsylvania and the once-popular equipment will soon be available through BetterBee.com.
So what is a half-comb cassette? The cassettes are plastic units, called trays, that interlock to form columns. The columns are pre-assembled and fit into a modified comb honey super. The supers are available for both ten- and eight-frame hives. Altogether, a ten-frame super holds four columns of ten trays each, for a total of 40 trays. An eight-frame super holds four columns of eight trays each, for a total of 32 trays. A complete set of columns is purchased as a unit called a “superpack.”
The base of each polystyrene tray is pre-stamped with a hexagonal pattern that is coated with unbleached beeswax—a system that gets the bees started without additional foundation. The trays are designed to allow proper bee space on all sides.
The name “half-comb” comes from the fact that the bees build just one layer of cells against the embossed foundation. So instead of your comb honey having two layers of cells with a scaffolding of wax between them, these have just one layer of cells. If you have trouble visualizing this, just think of a frame with plastic foundation. The bees build one layer of cells on each side of the plastic, so each side holds half of the completed comb. Since the Hogg cassettes are embossed only on the inside of the tray, the bees build only half a comb.
The half-comb aspect is one reason that consumers like these sections. Because there is no mid layer of beeswax, there is less wax per bite. People describe this type of comb honey as very light and delicate without the chewiness that is often associated with more waxy combs.
I have not used these myself, but beekeepers report that the system is easy to use, and once the sections are full, they are a snap to prepare for market. You just scrape the bottom of the completed super, pull out the trays one-by-one, add a lid, a label, and you’re done. The beekeeper does not touch the comb at any point.
With a strong colony and good timing, bees can easily fill every tray. The completed sections sell well for several reasons: the packaging is clean and neat, the product is completely visible, and the unit is small enough that the price can be moderate. These are attractive features, especially for first-time comb honey purchasers.
On the other hand, the cassettes must be continually replaced and they are expensive. Natural beekeepers may object to both the plastic and the sprayed beeswax coating. And although polystyrene is considered food-safe, it is non-biodegradable. When tossed in a landfill, it will persist for hundreds of years.