This question is asked frequently, not by beekeepers but by people who just want to buy a chunk of honeycomb. “You don’t even have to do anything to it,” was the complaint I heard recently.
A number of factors affect the price of comb honey, some more than others. The following issues (in random order) all play a part:
- The production of wax comb is energy expensive for the bees. Estimates vary but bees need to eat approximately 6-8 pounds of honey to produce a pound of beeswax. So if you priced the bees work based on the number of calories consumed, honey plus wax costs a lot more than just honey.
- Related to the above is the fact that comb honey production is a one-time use of wax comb, whereas extracted honey producers can use the same comb over and over again. So instead of spreading the cost of beeswax over many harvests, comb honey spreads it over only one.
- Beeswax is valuable, so even if a beekeeper did not plan to re-use his combs, he can make more money selling the wax and the honey separately—unless his comb honey price is high enough to cover the difference.
- A lot of “waste” is associated with comb honey production. Although this waste (imperfect combs, damaged combs, combs with brood, etc.) is put to other uses, it reduces the total yield from a crop of comb honey.
- Comb honey equipment is expensive. Whether the beekeeper uses basswood boxes, plastic boxes, or even just Styrofoam trays, there is a large outlay for all the materials necessary to prepare the honey supers and package the product. Also, storing and marketing is more expensive because the product is fragile and easily damaged—unlike honey in a jar.
- Comb honey production is more labor intensive for the beekeeper than extracted honey production. Especially if section honey is produced, bees must be managed at the brink of swarming to get them to fill those cute little boxes.
- Comb honey is not so sensitive to the effects of cheap imported honey dumped on U.S. markets. Most imported honey is extracted and so affects extracted honey prices to a greater degree.
- The fact the “pure, natural comb honey straight from the bee to you” has been embraced by both upscale restaurants and uppity food catalogs has given comb honey a boost. It is not hard to find catalogs selling comb honey at $24.95 for 12 ounces. While that is not the norm, comb honey at farmers markets and small retail outlets often hovers around $1 an ounce–especially in urban areas.
We produce comb honey and are looking for buyers.
“Estimates vary but bees need to eat approximately 6-8 pounds of honey to produce a pound of wax.”
My numbers could be way off because my methods are haphazard, but I estimate I get about a pound of wax per medium frame of honey (after crushing and straining), and about 5 pounds of comb honey per medium frame.
So the bees have to eat 6-8 pounds of honey just to produce the wax comb that will hold approximately 5 pounds of honey. With those numbers, how do they ever get ahead of the game?
That’s the main reason beekeepers hang onto comb for so long . . . it’s worth its weight in gold.
How do I “hang on to comb?” I will hopefully harvest my first honey as a new beek this year. I do not own an extractor and will likely use crush and strain method, but I believe that will destroy the comb to get the honey.
Do you really need extracted honey? Most of us eat extracted honey because that’s the way it’s sold in the grocery store. But in the old days, it wasn’t extracted. We eat comb honey in my household, and if I need some extracted honey for a recipe, I just collect the drips from the bottom of the honey dish.
My wife uses honey in her bread recipes, but if I did not extract the honey and used the comb and honey, I am still taking the comb. Since it takes the same energy and resources for the bees to produce 6 to 8 pounds of honey for each pound of comb, my goal is to save the comb, so the bees won’t have to reproduce as much comb. Is that feasible?
Sure, you can do that. As you said, you will need to buy or rent or share an extractor if you want to preserve your comb. I admit, I am biased in the other direction. I’ve been doing this for years without an extractor and I will never get one. My two largest objections are the cost and the storage problem. People have offered to let me use their extractors, but they have always been so dirty I just couldn’t do it. My third objection is that I can buy extracted honey anywhere, anytime, but I can’t get the unique fragrance, taste, and texture of comb honey nearly so easily.
But we all do this for different reasons. My daughter, of all people, likes extracted honey, so I just crush and strain for her. But, as you pointed out, that ruins your comb . . . but you can make candles with it, though!
Did you read this? How to eat comb honey
To produce comb honey the beekeeper needs additional equipment like frames and honey supers made of special wood and after the honeycombs are taken out he needs to store these supers for the next season. The comb honey is produced by raising combs on fresh comb foundation sheets which is an additional expense. During the process the bees consume honey to produce wax in the ratio of 8:1. The handling, packaging and transportation of comb honey is roughly three times more expensive.
I tried to get comb honey this year and was not successful. My biggest ‘mistake’ was letting the bees have the comb for another week to finish it .. when I went back to remove the shallows, the bees had already moved all the honey from the comb honey frames back down into the brood boxes. I got about four frames I could use, but the rest will have to wait until next year. Lesson learned: don’t give the bees another week to ‘finish it out’ .. too funny ! Next year, I will put shallows on earlier and remove them as they get filled. At least the bees made out because I left the partial frames in there so they could move them down as well. Bees! Gotta luv em! They are always way ahead of us humans!
I too left my comb honey supers on to be finished, and they ended up eating everything as we moved into dearth. To me, though, it’s okay. They wouldn’t have eaten it if they hadn’t needed it.
I’ll be honest, ‘you dont even have to do anything to it’ was my first reaction to the price on the tag as well. :^) Didn’t know comb was essentially reusable or consider the net drain incurred by bees needing to (re)produce it. The breakdown of the less obvious factors was interesting too.