comb honey production honeycomb

Wet cappings vs dry cappings

The thin layer of new wax that bees build over the top of cured (or dried) honey is called capping wax. Although bees cap brood cells one at a time, they cap honey cells in groups. Once an area of comb is ready to cap, the bees may cover many square inches at once. This different way of capping partially accounts for the flatter surface of honeycomb as compared to brood comb.

Depending on their genetics, bees either place the capping wax directly on the surface of the honey, or they may leave a little air pocket between the surface of the honey and the wax. These two methods make no difference in the flavor, color, or quality of the honey, but they make the finished combs look dramatically different.

The honeycomb with the air pockets is said to have dry cappings. The comb appears white or very light tan. Honeycomb with wet cappings is not actually wet, but it looks like it might be. The appearance is darker and may have a variegated pattern due to scattered mini air pockets, which have a lighter color.

While some honey bees produce both types of capping, some consistently build one kind or the other. Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) are known for producing white, dry caps. At the other end of the spectrum, Caucasian bees (Apis caucasica) produced wet caps almost exclusively.

Producers of comb honey have found that consumers prefer dry cappings. Especially back in the heyday of comb honey production, beekeepers found they could get better prices for light-colored, clean looking combs. The desire for white combs is one of the reasons that Italian bees became so popular in the United States.

The practice of producing chunk honey, which is just a piece of honeycomb submerged in extracted honey, was one way in which beekeepers could sell their wet-capped honey.

Rusty

These combs came from the same super. One has dry cappings, one has wet.

18 Comments

  • Great post, I was not aware of the tendency for Italians to “dry cap” honey. I know my first colony was Italians and the cappings were very bright white, while some later colonies of Carniolans provided the wet capping alternative. Thanks for the information.

  • Interesting – so might this be one way I can guess what species my bees (from a swarm) are?

    Seems they make both kinds of cappings in about equal ratios.

  • Rusty,

    Did you make those boxes up for your comb honey and insert within a frame? Just curious how you produced the square comb. After my first honey harvest I am dedicating at least one colony next year to comb honey. Bees are amazing little creatures.

    Thanks

    • I buy section honey boxes (the squares) and section honey supers from the Walter Kelley company. Somewhere I have instructions on how to make homemade ones. I’ll see if I can dig it up.

  • The “comb” honey boxes are a bit more difficult for the bees to fill for a couple of reasons and you may notice a slight decrease in production (maybe 30 percent). Comb honey typically brings a higher price so that makes up for the lower production (if you are doing this to sell). Otherwise it is more productive to use normal frames and just cut the comb into squares to fit your containers.

  • My first hives were package bees with Italian queens and I have both sorts of capping. To me it looks like the wet capping was done as they packed away the heavy syrup just before they stopped for the winter.

  • I have noticed that anytime I’ve fed sugar syrup the capping a were wet, regardless of the variety of the honeybee.

  • Can I get a copy of the plans as well, please?

    Joseph

    VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV
    Jeff

    October 3, 2011 at 4:14 am • Reply

    Rusty,

    Did you make those boxes up for your comb honey and insert within a frame? Just curious how you produced the square comb. After my first honey harvest I am dedicating at least one colony next year to comb honey. Bees are amazing little creatures.

    Thanks

    Rusty

    October 3, 2011 at 6:54 am • Reply

    I buy section honey boxes (the squares) and section honey supers from the Walter Kelley company. Somewhere I have instructions on how to make homemade ones. I’ll see if I can dig it up.
    >>>>>>>

  • Thank you Rusty! You always provide great information. We had a new beekeeper asking about this just the other day. I knew most of it, but didn’t know it was genetically determined.

  • Great info Rusty. Would you also send me the info on the cut comb squares or direct me to where I can find instructions on how to build them.

  • After extracting honey from wet or dry capped honey can the frames of already drawn out wax be used in a brood chamber of another hive to help the hive move along and buildup faster?

  • Yes, this is true, I have kept bees for 52 years since the age of 13, all the old commercial guys told me that Caucasian bees cause wet capping in the honey supers, all the commercials plus myself regard Italians as the best of nice snow-white capped waxed honey frame, but the problem with Italians in winter is that they consume a lot of honey compared to Carniolan and Caucasian honey bees.

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