Inside: Beekeepers should assure their comb honey is free from wax moth larvae. Freezing the honeycomb eliminates wax moth eggs quickly and easily.
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So gross! A few days ago, I received a message from a purchaser of honey. She had just acquired her very first sample of honey-in-the-comb from her local farmer’s market. Based on her description, I would say it was “chunk honey,” a piece of comb in a jar surrounded by extracted honey.
When she got home, she opened the jar to find three larvae floating on top of the honey. Not only floating, but swimming. They were still alive! She said she returned the jar for a refund, but she wanted to know how the larvae got there and how common it is to find them.
A customer lost forever
This turn of events irked me no end. I have been eating comb honey since I was in diapers, yet I have never once shared it with larvae. Furthermore, I have spent the last decade preaching the virtues of comb honey, producing it, writing about it, and giving it to anyone willing to try a sample.
In fact, my friends in school called me “Johnnie Comb Honey” after “Johnny Appleseed”, the early American nurseryman who tirelessly extolled the virtue of apples and gave away seeds and seedlings. As many of you know, I even include printed “instructions” on how to eat comb honey, and I often provide substrates as well: crackers, muffins, nuts, and cheese—anything to persuade people to have a taste.
So after all that hard work, some slapdash bee possessor comes along and sells comb honey with a protein supplement he doesn’t even disclose. He labeled the product “raw,” a claim of which I have no doubt. Still, raw does not mean “currently inhabited” or otherwise “fortified.”
Who floats within?
The purchaser of the honey seemed to think the larvae were bees, but more likely they were wax moths. Nearly any how-to on producing comb honey recommends that you freeze the honeycomb after removing it from the hive. Freezing will kill all stages of wax moth, including the tiny eggs, if any happen to be there. In truth, however, wax moths are seldom interested in freshly made honeycomb.
The wax moth female is looking for a protein source and is delighted to find shed bee cocoons, bits of pollen, or other hive debris to feed her young. Such delectable items are usually found in comb that has been used for brood rearing, but they are seldom found in freshly secreted wax like the kind we prefer for comb honey.
To freeze or not to freeze
Several weeks ago on this site we had a discussion about the definition of “raw” when used with honey. Most sources agree that raw honey is honey that was never heated. However, some people say that to be raw, honey should not be frozen either.
I can see their point, although freezing does not degrade honey the way heat does. And since honey is only about 20% water, the honey doesn’t even expand enough to break the cells. Personally, I doubt that freezing does much damage at all, but that is a separate discussion.
According to the Mid-Atlanic Apicultural Research and Extension Consortium, the eggs of the greater wax moth, Galleria mellonella, will hatch into larvae within 5 to 8 days. So if you are a comb honey producer who does not want to freeze your honey, you can simply protect your combs from further infestations while you hold them at room temperature for this period. After the eighth day, check the comb for tunnels beneath the wax cappings and broken or leaky cells. If no damage is present, you can sell the comb honey without worry.
Not dangerous, but really?
Yes, I get it. A few larvae won’t hurt you. But honestly, a trio of synchronized swimmers splashing in your jar of breakfast spread can be off-putting, especially to someone getting up the nerve to try comb honey for the first time. I would hope that beekeepers have enough pride in their product to prevent this kind of sloppy business dealing and half-fast beekeeping.
In any case, the beekeeper should have given the buyer a free jar of honey. Or maybe he did and she declined. I don’t know. But if I knew where she lived, I’d send her one myself.
Honey Bee Suite
Save the Bees……….in the name of Jesus! be good to nature!
I’ve added slatted racks, eco bee 26 frame comb honey supers, double screened bottom and inner covers, among other things recommended here… I will be freezing my comb honey sections. lol I don’t want any “swimmers”. You’r the best Rusty! Common sense mixed with an education. You’ve helped me so much being my first year bee keeping! Thanks!
Oh and I will be adding 2 frame queen castles to the mix soon. Would love to have spare queens when I need them! (I live in Englewood FL so the wintering factor is kinda non-exsistant here.)
Yuck! ?. Yes, a little exogenous protein never hurt anybody but if the label says “raw chunk honey” then it ought to contain contain honey and chunks of comb and nothing else.
I hope this was a one of a kind “larvae happen” accident but I fear it’s an indication of some combination of carelessness and incompetence. And was the “chunk honey” truly honey cut from capped comb or was it a chunk of comb from Gawd Nose Where dropped in a bottle with honey poured over it and a dollar added to the price?
I suspect that if this seller is managing wax moth infestations that badly, his days in the honey business are numbered… but he’ll be in good shape to open up a bait shop. Wax worms go for about 10 bucks for 250 worms in my part of the world.
It seems wax worms are good for all kinds of things. I keep hearing about more uses.
Yes, Rusty, my cut-comb is in the freezer, waiting for Christmas!
I never would have tried doing this if not for your blog. Thank you!
I have been checking my hives. I noticed a very weak hive. The queen is not replacing brood. Is it too late in the season to replace her?
You can still find mated queens for sale this time of year. The real question is whether it is worth it. See, “Should I try to save a failing colony?“
I was interested to read recently that greater wax moth larvae have been found to digest polyethylene and are being investigated as a possible method of removing plastic from the environment.
Mid-Atlantic Apicultural Research & Extension Consortium – What sort of bees live in the Mid-Atlantic
Love your blogs!
A little bit of protein never hurt … ha ha … she didn’t pay extra for the critters did she?
Wrist slapping with a smile, as only Rusty can administer.
Thanks. I just finished extracting, and kept a frame back to make chunk honey. I’ll be sure and freeze it before cutting.
For some reason the run from this hive was the thickest* honey I’ve extracted. A small hand-cranked extractor is plenty for my 4 hives, and I tie a mesh produce bag over the gate instead of setting a strainer under it. The honey seemed to sort of roll out thru the strainer bag, instead of flowing. Thought it would never be finished! So I wondered – is there a home method to test the concentration, without a hygrometer?
So sorry for the beekeeper who sold the larvae. The “Eeeuw” factor is the worst obstacle in marketing. Farmers have been threatened with lawsuit over a “corn worm.”
*Mostly White Clover, some Red and a significant proportion of Burdock 😉
I think you would need a honey refractometer to measure the percent of water.
A few bee larvae are not as disturbing a finding several small hive beetles in the jar.
Rusty, I have seen this when I leave my supers in the honey room for a few days. I thought that it was hive beetle larvae. I have always frozen the boxes after the beetle larvae showed up in my extractor. I enjoy reading your post. Thanks for your help.
One of the questions on the WA journeyman test (a long time ago!) was how best to store honey. The answer was freezing. Freezing actually preserves the floral flavor, where heating destroys it. Not to mention that freezing kills wax moth eggs/larvae, and prevents crystal formation!
Best to you,
That is what I was taught as well, and that is what I still believe. But lately, whenever I mention freezing, there is a sub-culture of beekeepers who get pretty bent up about it. So I just have to assume that there are those out there who do not want to freeze under any circumstances. For that reason, I suggested one alternative.
My bees have never been aggressive but tonight I walked out to check the flow hive and found thousands of bees outside (almost like bearding…but not) most flying and facing the hive. They were also very aggressive even standing 18 feet away.
I’ve never seen this behavior but am a beginner. I’m thinking it could be:
1. We have several wildfires and the air is filled with smoke. Could this be a reaction to perceived danger?
2. (And less likely) we’ve had a series a small earthquakes in Soda Springs, Idaho (I’m in northern Utah). Could the earthquakes be affecting them?
3. Overcrowding? I recently combined a failing hive with my healthy hive.(I have 2 brood boxes and my flow hive without much honey yet).
Another odd behavior occurred tonight. I have some frames with nectar that I had to freeze because of wax moth. I placed them in a brood box in my garage and put a lid on them. They’ve been there 4 weeks.
As of 3:30 MST there were no bees. 2 hours later my garage is filled with very loud somewhat aggressive bees going after these frames.
I just don’t know what us normal.
Thank you in advance.
Let me start with the smoke. We, too, have smoke from wildfires and my bees were nastier than normal today. So that may be having some effect on your bees, but I don’t think that’s the major issue.
I sounds to me like you are experiencing robbing bees. You are in the middle of a nectar dearth, I assume, and stronger colonies are attempting to rob the weaker colonies of their stores. Bees that are aggressive, bees that are raiding your stored honey, and bees hovering in front of the hives all sound like robbers.
You need to put the stored honey some place where they can’t smell it. You need to reduce your entrance to the smallest possible opening, and you need to add a robbing screen if you have one. If you do nothing, your bees could possibly be killed by robbing bees or have all of their winter stores taken away.
I can’t say from here, of course, but it could be your own bees going into the garage or it could be bees from another colony in your area. In any case, you need to shut down the “bad behavior” as soon as you can.
Sorry to post his question here but I wasn’t sure how else to get in touch with you.
I live in Western Canada, this is my second year beekeeping and I’ve come across a major road block. Our honey is very fast to crystallize. Most of the nectar sources just make it that way (canola, alfalfa and mustard to name a few). I’ve had some honey crystallize on me and though I don’t mind crystallized honey my customers preferred creamed. My question to you is, is there certain types of honey that just will not completely decrystallize without extreme heat? I’m trying to use as little heat as possible to decrystallize but it’s been 2 weeks in my bottling tank and it’s not coming close to being decrystallized!
Any wisdom you can give me would be so appreciated. I feel like I’ve completely failed this year.
You shouldn’t feel like you failed just because your honey crystallized; that’s just a fact of beekeeping life. Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to your question. Even if lots of heat were to dissolve the crystals, as soon as it cools off it’s going to re-crystallize. I don’t get much crystallization where I live, but when I get some, I usually use it for bee feed.
Maybe someone with more experience could chime in here?
Instead of wax moth. I would venture shb larvae unless you know there are no shb in the area the honey was purchased. Still same YUCK outcome.
I thought of that, too. But based on some other things she said, I went with moths. As you say, same yuck factor.
I’m producing comb honey in the tropics of Bolivia, where it is constantly warm and as you can imagine we have quite problems with the wax moth. We are thinking about freezing overnight, but we are concerned with faster cristalización on the honey or change in the structure. Do you have any experience or comment on that topic?
Thanks for the great blog. Amazing information. I have learned so much here.
I’ve never had honey crystallize due to freezing. In fact, some people freeze it to keep it from crystallizing.
Venko, I think it needs to be frozen, cooled down to zero degrees Fahrenheit for two or three days to kill all of the eggs and larva. In a freezer overnight, as you said, will barely cool the product down to that temperature.
The time it takes to freeze is very dependent on the freezer temperature. If it just barely freezes stuff, it could take a long time. Or, if it’s really cold, it happens fast. I recommend a freezer thermometer. Also, once the honey is frozen, the job is done. It doesn’t need to be frozen for any length of time, just as long as it becomes truly frozen. Time and temperature work together.
When living cells freeze, the water in them expands and breaks open the cells. That’s what does the killing.
I once left some wax-mothy frames in a freezer for the recommended 48 hours, without allowing for the fact that I had JUST turned the freezer on, and it apparently took a long while to get down to freezing. Let’s just say that after those frames were moved to regular storage and had a week or two to warm up, I had an opportunity to learn a good deal more about wax moths than I EVER wanted to.
Freezers with nothing in them are notoriously bad at getting down to the right temperature, so I’m glad you mentioned that. Sorry, though, about all that education. Beekeeping introduces innocent people to the laws of thermodynamics.
“Half-fast” made me laugh – I knew what you really meant 🙂
Love reading your site and all the valuable information you give. I came across this today and curious as to the best time to freeze it. Before it’s cut from the frame or after it’s put in the jars?
If you’re going to extract it, you don’t need to freeze it. The problem arises with comb honey.
What is the chance of a pest’s egg getting through a 200-micron filter, into extracted honey I plan to sell, and then growing into a wiggly larva? Do you recommend that people freeze all honey before selling it, or only honey with comb?
Well-filtered honey usually doesn’t cause any problems because, as you suggest, eggs and larvae get caught in the filter. But comb honey isn’t filtered, so that’s the problem. I’m not aware of people freezing extracted honey before sale, although there would be no harm in it.
Thanks Rusty! You’re the best.
Rusty, just watched a video on checkerboarding nucs as a way to get faster drawing of foundation. I’ll be getting two nucs at the end of May and was going to install in standard 10 frame deeps with a section feeder. Doing the checkerboarding would mean getting two additional nuc boxes, but if it means better, faster buildup, maybe worth it. What does your experience say?
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of beekeepers who do not know what checkerboarding really is. The person who invented the procedure specifically says that checkerboarding is performed above the brood nest, not in it. See How to checkerboard a hive and Checkerboarding: the X-file of Beekeeping.
What you’re talking about is called opening the brood nest, which I don’t think is a great idea. Especially in cold weather, I believe the integrity of the brood nest should be maintained, and expanding it with cold spots is playing with fire.
That said, people do it and some are successful, so it may work for you.