comb honey production

Comb honey: the alleged series begins

So you want to make comb honey. Well, I know many of you don’t care about comb honey, but an entire cadre of readers has been hassling me for nearly four years to write this series. However, since this is your idea of what I should do, instead of mine, there are rules. That’s right, rules. Here goes:

Rule #1. I am going to write this as a series of posts. As I go along, I will refine the info into one long document so that future readers can click on a tab and get the whole thing. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow along and let me know if you get confused. I don’t want to keep going if you are lost, so I could use your help here.


Rule #2. During these posts I will be referring to specific manufacturers. Here in the states there are few manufacturers of comb honey equipment, so it’s hard to be vague. So when I diss a piece of equipment—and I will—understand that I’m referring to a specific item and not the entire company.


Rule #3. I take a different view of comb honey production than most, and I disagree with a lot of the conventional wisdom. So please don’t bother to tell me that what I’m saying is “merely opinion.” Of course it’s opinion. That’s why I’m writing it. If you are unhappy with that, by all means go elsewhere. I’ve come to my opinions through experience and I’m happy to share what I learned, but I don’t want to begin every sentence with “In my opinion.”


Rule #4. Making comb honey can be simple or difficult, depending on the type you choose. I’m not advocating one type over another because that’s a personal decision. Wherever possible, I will try to give the pros and cons of each technique.


Rule #5. Don’t forget who is doing all the work. Comb honey is definitely a bee thing, not a beekeeper thing. We can take steps to encourage certain behaviors, but sometimes you get a colony that refuses to cooperate. When that happens—when I can’t coax a colony into doing what I want it to do—I walk away and let the bees do it the standard way. This actually has beekeeper benefits that I will discuss later. But for now, just remember that you can’t do this alone.

Now that you know the rules, I will give you my first opinion. It is often stated that making comb honey—especially in squares or rounds—should be left to experienced beekeepers. In other words, new beekeepers should wait until they have a few seasons of practice. I disagree.

In fact, I look at it in the opposite way: If you start your beekeeping career by attempting comb honey, you will learn so much, so fast, you will be an experienced beekeeper in a flash. Seriously.

Now, story time . . .

Ages ago when I was in college, I had a summer job as a sailing instructor/camp counselor. When we all arrived at camp, the owner explained we would be given the use of a Volkswagon van on our days off. He said, “Can anyone drive a standard transmission?”

My hand shot in the air like lightening and no one else moved. With that simple gesture I became the official driver and was given a set of keys. Very cool.

The problem was this: I had no effing idea how to drive a stick. It was something I wanted to learn and I saw this as an opportunity. I admit we had some pretty rough rides for a few days. I blamed it on the potholes, the weather, the visibility, the mud, the transmission—whatever I could think of at the moment, but I kept at it.

In the end, no one complained about a few bruised elbows and wrenched necks—after all, no one else could drive a stick either, so they could endure the thrill or stay home. Within a few days we were tooling around Cape Cod, and by the time I had to pick up kids at airline terminals throughout Boston, the ride was smooth as silk. Okay, maybe not silk . . .

So anyway, if you want to make section honey in your very first year, I totally believe you can do it. If you want to wait, that’s cool too. Just don’t let people tell you what you can and cannot do. We are all capable of much more than we think.

Rusty
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30 Comments

  • I like Rule #3. Please keep it coming. I’m a first year beek and plan on producing comb honey this spring by supering my TBH. All the experts say it can’t be done. And that’s why I like Rule #3. I also love that you are encouraging new beekeepers to give it a try. I think sometimes the experienced group is a little too cautious and doesn’t want a new beek to be disappointed with failure. I say that’s the way you learn, by experience. So read up on beekeeping, until you’ve got your bearing, and then jump in with a hive or two.

    • I am biting my tongue and not making a comment about the “experts.” Kudos to you, Ruth, for supering your TBH. Mine is too little to put a section super on it, but a Warré sized box is perfect. While I did not get sections, I did get some beautiful comb honey, and I totally encourage you to GO FOR IT!

  • I’m so excited you are doing this. As I was perusing my bee catalog just this past Monday getting ready to place my order, I landed on the comb cutter and the Ross rounds and all the comb honey related paraphernalia and I was just dying to dive in and order it . . . but I didn’t. I placed my order and decided I would wait till around Christmas and do some more research. Then VOILA! You are doing it for me!! Thank you for the Christmas gift!!! You rock!

  • When I bought my hive to begin my venture into beekeeping this spring, I decided I wanted to make natural comb honey along with regular frame honey with foundation. As you alluded, most beekeepers I’ve talked to have told me I’m going to regret trying this on my 1st hive. They may be right, but that’s not stopping me.

    That being said, when it came to the frames, I glued wood paint sticks into 1/2 the frames to be the natural honey frames. The other 1/2 have the plastic foundation that came with the kit. The plan was to stagger open frames and foundation frames to discourage “crazy comb.” As you said, some colonies are just not going to cooperate and they are going to do what they want if you give them too much room to work with. I’ve seen pictures of TBHs where the bees weren’t well managed and were allowed to make a royal mess. But here’s hoping my hive will be kind.

    Now after I’ve learned and read a bit more, I’m having regrets about gluing the paint sticks into the deep frames. At the time, it made sense when I thought I might use a deep as a honey super. But after realizing how heavy a 10 frame deep can get, I’m not sure that plan was so smart. I may be digging paint stick out of those deep frames before long. Time will tell on that one.

    Point being, I too am very interested to read this series so I can start next year with more knowledge. But most importantly, I’m glad I found at least one keeper that doesn’t believe a newbie can’t do it if they are determined. And as you can tell, I could use some guidance to avoid avoidable pitfalls.

    • Chris,

      Two things: I made square sections on my first hive, first year. I still think they are the best ones I ever got, but maybe that’s just a fond memory. Also, a deep full of honey weighs almost as much as I do, but I use them anyway. When I have to move a deep, I just pull out half the frames, put them in an empty box, move the deep, and then put them back in. You wouldn’t want to do that for hundreds of hives, but a few? No sweat.

  • I would like to echo Chris’ comment: “I like your style”. I have been out of the loop for the last couple of weeks and have missed your posts. Hopefully I’ll have time to catch up on what I’ve missed. Meanwhile, this should be a fun series to keep up with. I do a few comb honey boxes each year with varying success rates. Each year I promise myself to research it more and produce more, and each year I end up saying ‘next year’. Lord knows I sell all I produce very quickly. We have a vibrant Arab community in and around Detroit that is more than happy to drive the 60 miles or so north to purchase all I have. I produce my comb the old standard way in a 10 frame comb shallow, and those Arab folks prefer to buy it box frames and all. I set the price on the box and frames at a premium to try to discourage them but they don’t flinch. That’s how they want it so they’re willing to pay the extra just to have it in the ‘original packaging’.

    Have a wonderful Holiday Season, Rusty. Our love to you and yours.

    Jim

    • Hi Jim,

      Best of the season to you and your family as well.

      I know how you feel about the comb honey. Officially, I don’t sell honey. But there are people in town who offer me such a premium for honey in square sections that I can’t possibly say no.

      I have a lot of it around right now. I suppose I should put up a sign . . . before the holidays it would go in a heartbeat.

    • Morris,

      Thank you so much! I was thinking about that today—about how the subject fits so perfectly with the series. By the way, I have a hole saw on order; I’m really doing it this year. I just finished canning 99 jars of pears, but I have some jars left!

  • I’m not terribly excited about this subject, but I know I’ll learn something as I always do with you Rusty. LOVE THE SNOW!

  • Not only do you have some of the best and most practical information on beekeeping, I truly enjoy your writing style. I marvel at your ability to make the academia of the science fresh and enjoyable….. thank you for publishing your works.

  • Rusty and Morris, Where can I find the article regarding Glass Jar Beekeeping. Using the search bar on this site leads to much jar and glass and keeping information in general but not an article by someone called Morris. Can you help please? Thank you

    • Glass Jar Beekeeping: Creating Edible Art
      AUTHOR(S): Ostrofsky, Morris
      PUB. DATE: May 2012
      SOURCE: Bee Culture Magazine; May 2012, Vol. 140 Issue 5, p 57
      SOURCE TYPE: Trade Publication
      DOC. TYPE: Article
      ABSTRACT: The article offers step-by-step instructions for creating glass jar [comb honey].

      Lindy, I first read it in the magazine stated above. I believe I have also seen it, or a variation of it, online . . . maybe at Washington State Beekeepers? I’m not sure. Morris? Can you help here?

  • Thank you in advance for this series. I like your rules, especially #3. I also was told when beginning not to try to produce comb honey. Only the “experts” can do that.

    When my daughter was first beginning to drive, I taught her to drive my 5 speed Toyota pickup, just in case she ever needed to drive a stickshift. A few years later, on a college trip, she was the “hero” when she was the only one that could drive the truck to pick up supplies.

    My point: It never hurts to learn how to do something even if you think you will never need or want to do it. Learning to produce comb honey you will probably learn something about bees that will help you in other areas of beekeeping.

    • David,

      Good for you! And congratulations to your daughter. My husband and I made our daughter take her driver’s test with a stick shift. Some people thought that was cruel, but it has served her well over the years. By the way, I still drive a five-speed Toyota pickup.

      • All my kids learned and passed the test with an stick shift.
        No big deal.

        And as of beekeeping, I just jumped straight into it this year without a bee keeper club….they wanted to much money to join them. So the internet is my friend and mentor.

        So far, so good.

  • Rusty,

    Sometimes you really make me laugh!! I just bought all the equipment to make square rounds, and am really excited to try it out this year. This series couldn’t be more timely. You blog is by far my #1 source of beekeeping education. Thanks for all the great advice!

  • Thanks to you Rusty, and your contributors, for making this blog so fun and informative. We gain a wealth of knowledge, yet you’ve probably only shared a small percentage of what you know!!

    At first I didn’t think I had time or money to venture into comb honey… but after checking out that link to glass jar beekeeping, that seems too simple not to try. I think it would be cool to try different jar shapes, too. The possibilities are endless.

    One question: What do I say if someone asks how they’re supposed to eat it?

    Aaron