comb honey production

Why I don’t extract my honey harvest

People are sometimes surprised that I don’t extract any of my honey. I’ve gotten comments like, “Don’t you understand how energy-intensive that is? You are wasting the bee’s work! You could make a lot more money by extracting!” And so on[1].

So here goes. I will try to explain why I prefer to produce only comb honey.

  • This first reason is the most important: I like comb honey. I’ve had trouble finding it over the years, so I decided to produce it myself. (Although I shouldn’t need any other reason, some folks find this insufficient.)
  • I don’t want an extractor. In the first place, I don’t have room to store one. Also, they are expensive, hard to clean, and usually look unsanitary. (I’m sure most are very clean; this is just an impression I’ve gotten over time.)
  • To me, extracting seems wasteful. By the time you cut cappings, manipulate frames in and out of the extractor, load buckets, run the honey through sieves, and fill bottles you’ve got honey and wax and stickies all over the place. You’ve lost a little part of your crop at every step.
  • I’m a hobbyist—not a honey producer—and I have very little use for extracted honey. If I want to use some in a recipe, there is always enough dripping from the bottom of a cut comb.
  • Related to the last reason is the fact that I don’t believe honey should be used for cooking. Honey produces hydroxymethylfurfural when heated to even very low temperatures, so I only use honey in uncooked recipes.
  • I can get more money for comb honey than extracted. Although I seldom sell it, I get many requests for comb honey. The interest in natural and local foods has made comb honey very popular.
  • You don’t need much equipment for comb honey production. Although you can buy supers for producing square or round sections, you can also just cut sections from a regular frame or from your top bars. You not only save on the extractor but you don’t need uncapping knives, buckets, sieves, funnels, jars, and lids.
  • The use of an extractor requires either plastic foundations or heavily wired wax foundations which can stand up to the centrifugal force. This is a personal preference, of course, but I try to keep plastic out of my hives altogether. Plastic off-gases in the heat and can impart odd “plasticky” flavors to foods, especially high-acid foods like honey. Some people can taste this and others can’t but, in any case, I strive to keep my honey away from plastic.
  • The last reason goes with the first. Comb honey has more flavor and aroma nuances than extracted honey. The wax comb is aromatic and differs depending on the forage the bees consumed while building it. Eating honey without the comb is like eating peanut butter and jelly without the jelly.

So there are my reasons. I have nothing against beekeepers who extract honey, of course. But don’t feel compelled to do it because someone at your local bee club (or your college) thinks you are a few cards short of a full deck.

[1]Commercial producers like to re-use their frames because it does take a lot of bee energy to make comb. Estimates vary, but the bees have to eat about 7-8 pounds of honey to make a pound of comb.

Honey Bee Suite

Honey pouring from a honey gate into a bucket. Don't extract if you want to retain the seasonal flavors of honey.

Although it looks beautiful, I much prefer to taste the seasonal flavors of honey, cell by cell. Pixabay photo.

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  • Hi Rusty
    I’m with you comb honey is the best!!!

    I’m in Germany looking at honeybee trials with pesticides and working out how to use them safely with bees. We have some great results!

    hope things are going well for you

    best regards

  • Yup, comb is the way to go. I’ll add to your list of reasons that some of the frames I’ve seen still in
    use are downright unsanitary. Using a clean frame with a small starter strip of wax attached to the top
    bar gives the bees all the encouragement they need to start building fresh, thin, white wax and, as long as
    you have a nectar flow going, filling it up with honey and capping it. Not only is it clean and pleasant
    to look at, it also tastes good, too.

    Oops! you got me started… reason number two for comb is that it’s sealed by the bees. You -know- that
    what’s in there is what the bees put in there, not some adulterated mix of three-year old stores and sugar
    water. If you have fresh, clean comb you can also be reasonably sure that no traces of medication are
    in there, either.

  • You are absolutely right, John. Some of the things I’ve witnessed during the extraction process are anything but sanitary. To be fair, I’ve also seen extracting operations that were sparkling clean and highly maintained. But unless you have personally seen the facility, how would you know?

    As you point out, sometimes the combs themselves have been used way too many times. So while it may be more energy costly for the bees to produce new comb every year, you are getting a different product when you buy comb honey–one that is clean and fresh and prepared by the bees themselves. It costs more to make and it costs more to buy, but it’s worth it.

  • If all goes well, this summer will be my first for harvesting honey. I’ve never had an interest in extracting honey. I’ve been attracted to the crush-and-strain method since I first saw a video of it on the Backwards Beekeeping website. Raw cut comb looked great, too.

    I picked up some Bee-O-Pacs, but I no idea I could create square sections in the frames for easier removal of the comb honey. I have yet to find a Canadian supplier for anything like that. If I can make happen this summer, though, I will.

    Most beekeepers in my area, as far as I know, follow all the conventional methods of beekeeping and harvesting honey. Frames with plastic foundation and honey harvested in an extractor. I’m going foundationless and I’m not using an extractor. I’m all alone (in more ways than one).

    I’m slowly working my way through your older posts. So far so good.

    • As you mentioned before, many things are done just because everyone else does them that way. I try not to let “everyone” influence my decisions. You will really enjoy your comb honey whether you eat it all of a piece or crush it. It is the best honey in the world. This reminds me that I have a bunch more posts to write for my “comb honey” series. I should get to work.

  • Rusty,

    Do you have your comb honey process outlined somewhere? I like your idea of staying away from plastics and I too don’t have the money or space for an extractor. I am starting new hives this spring with all new equipment, so this would be a time to start this process.


    • Bill,

      This is my fourth year of blogging and I intended to do a complete series on comb honey/section honey from day one. It’s a complex subject and I keep putting it off. With so much interest in it, though, I think I finally need to write it. I’ve got a section honey system that really works, so I will try again . . . I hope . . . maybe.

  • Is there an off gassing problem with the Flow Hive?

    I tried comb and it was like eating those wax candies they used to sell years ago. Remember there would be a sweet juice inside a wax fake little bottle and you would bite the top off the wax bottle and drink the sweet liquid inside.

    Maybe I haven’t had good comb either.

    Great article – enjoy your writing style. Especially your analysis of the Honey Dripper.

    Keep up the great work

    • Alan,

      That’s funny. I remember those bottles. I used to think they were the coolest thing.

      New plastic always off-gasses for some period of time. Because of that, many folks—myself included—do not like to use plastic in the hive, especially plastic that comes in contact with the honey. I’ve read many times that the ability to taste the plastic flavor varies tremendously between individuals. Some people taste it and some don’t. It’s probably genetic. But for that reason, some people will say you’re crazy, that you don’t really smell it. In fact, they are the ones that can’t smell it.

      We are getting into the realm of opinion here, but I don’t think plastic belongs in a bee hive. Off-gassing is worse at high temperatures, and a hive gets pretty hot in summer. I also don’t like honey that’s been in a plastic bear, but that’s just me. Honey is worse than many other foods because it is extremely acidic, so a good non-flavored container is important.

      • No its not crazy at all Rusty. As you say some people are more sensitive to certain things.

        For example, When I get my American at Starbucks and doctor it up just like I like, then use one of their ‘wooden’ stirrers – I can taste the wood from the stirrer in my coffee.

        I’m just curious when your eating your comb isn’t just like eating a piece of wax?


  • We rescued a hive from a tree in the fall, they did not make it but we have honey. The comb is light in areas and dark like burned, Is that safe to eat? We would extract by hand sieve. Thanks.

    • Ken,

      The honey is absolutely fine. Comb starts out light colored but becomes darker with age and use, but the honey inside the comb will be normal. If you don’t want it, you can send it to me!

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