"They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb."
Modern Approaches to Comb Honey Production in North America
The 1970's saw a renaissance of producing section (comb) honey. The eminent Russian
beekeeper, Peter Prokopovitch (1725 - 1850), was the first to produce this kind
of honey over 160 years ago.
Section (comb) honey was popular and shipped regularly in railroad car lots in the early 1900's -- acknowledged leaders in the field at that time were Dr. C. C. Miller and G. F. Demuth. The Killion family in Illinois is one of the few remaining contemporary producers of this specialized product.
Most recently, introduction of the plastic circular section has promoted renewed interest in comb honey.
Section (comb) honey is the purest product available from the bees. It's virtually untouched by human hands or man-made equipment. The honey remains in the comb until removed by the consumer. In this era of over-processed foods, it's one of the most "organic" treats available to consumers and demands a premium price.
1. There are seven different methods of comb honey produced today:
a. Traditional cut sections of comb honey: wooden frames with comb foundation or starter strips.
b. Foundationless Frames
c. Round combs produced with plastic equipment with or without comb foundation: Ross Round Sections
d. Pre-waxed plastic square sections: Hogg Cassettes
e. Wooden sections, usually sections are square and made from the finest basswood.
f. Romanov Comb Sections
g. Unwaxed plastic frames with rectangular sections:Bee-O-Pac System
2. Managing Bee Colonies During the Comb (Section) Honey Production.
Comb honey production is considered to be one of the highest forms of the beekeeping art - certainly in the same league with rearing quality queens. It, therefore, requires more work and attention to detail than other management techniques. The end product, though, is well worth the extra effort. The best advice is to start small and increase production as you gain experience.
- Vigorous honey flows are needed to produce comb honey. The beekeeper must know the honey crop in his area. If a good flow does not materialize or if the colony swarms, it is often better to give up the idea of comb honey and revert back to normal honey production.
- The beekeeper can determine the beginning of the flow by the presence of new white wax on the combs and on the top bars of the brood frames. There also will be new honey in the brood combs that falls out easily when shaken.
- Comb honey should not be produced in the fall from the nectar of wild flowers, since this honey crystallizes more quickly than most summer honeys. Fall honey should be produced in supers used for liquid or extracted honey.
- Put equipment together before the honey flow.
- Timing is extremely important in comb honey production. Bees of field age are a must. That means the queen must be stimulated to lay a maximum number of eggs 4 to 6 weeks before the flow. Since the sections are worked from the rear toward the front, supers should be reversed every few days to promote uniform filling.
- You have to select very strong (swarming strength) hives. This will require you to keep young queens in hives, and will required swarm management techniques. You might be cutting queen cells every eight days or so. If you wait for 10 days, it might be too late.
Although beekeepers can't control conditions to maximize honey flows, they can influence dramatically the strength of their colonies. It can't be emphasized too much - hives should " boil over " with bees! In order to achieve this, some people use the two-queen system; others a single queen. Some run double-brood chambers; others insist that only singles are needed. Some dequeen colonies and give cells or young queens to prevent swarming; others stick with a queen-right system and try to prevent swarming by other means. Most beekeepers reduce double- and triple-brood chambers to singles and doubles, respectively. It's generally agreed that the bees must be crowded in order to "make" them go up into sections. They apparently don't like to work in sections and must be forced to do so.
- A two queen management techniques are not suited to all locations, but are best suited for temperate climates with short but intense honey flows. That makes some areas like upstate NY an ideal candidate for such techniques.
Crowding, however, produces two management problems -- swarming and pollen storage in the sections. Both are undesirable, and so a balance must somehow be achieved in determining how much room to give a colony which is used for comb honey. This is only acquired through experience.
- Try to reach the maximum colony populations prior to the main honey flow to take advantage of the honey storing capacity of the bees.
- The hives must be checked every seven days without fail and timing is critical.
- Do not give room before it is needs.
- Supers must be in place at the start of the honey flow rather than at the end.
Top supering is recommended by many, but some bottom super. Two supers are added by most at the beginning of the flow; additional ones are put on as each preceding super is one-half to two-thirds full. Any error means incomplete sections - a waste of bee and beekeeper time! Add supers as earlier ones are 1/2 to 2/3 filled. Remove filled supers as soon as they're completed.
- Giving enough room to reduce swarming and pollen storage yet forcing the bees into the sections
- Proper handling of completed sections to prevent wax moth damage.
- To produce good quality honey in the comb it is necessary to produce it quickly to avoid staining of wax cappings. This browning of the wax makes the product less appealing. It is called travel stain.
- If the honey produced granulates in the comb, the comb honey will be less attractive to the consumer.
- Bees must be forced up into the comb honey supers. The queen must be kept out of the comb honey supers and a queen excluder is required. Use a queen excluder to keep the queen from laying eggs in the foundation/comb and avoid the storage of pollen in the comb.
- Always bottom super and check to make sure the bees have capped completed sections before removing from the hive. Part filled sections are of little value and all comb honey producers face this problem. The cost of comb honey sections/boxes/rings ruined by partial filling will discourage many who try.
- For some reason bees prefer to work a little better in the sections to the back of the hive. When sections are filled to the back, one can turn the super a full 180 degrees and the unfinished sections will then be filled and the comb honey will be more uniform.
- Harvest the crop when section boxes, ring, or cassettes are capped over. Often this will require the beekeeper to move supers up as new supers are added. The bees must be crowded to force them to fill the sections.
- You can check all sections for pollen in cells by holding the sections up to a strong light. Pollen filled cells are easy to see: honey will allow light to pass through, pollen will not.
- Do not remove sections with smoke because the bees will chew holes through the cappings during smoking. In addition, the honey may absorb the flavor of the smoke and become distasteful.
- Bees can be removed from comb honey supers by using chemicals sparingly. You are producing a product for human consumption. It would be best to use no chemicals to remove the honey. Best would be an escape board - either an inner cover with a porter bee escape or a triangular escape board. A neat idea for several hives with comb honey supers to be removed is to stack the comb honey supers over an inner cover with a porter bee escape on top of a weak hive. This will add strength to the weak hive and also empty the comb supers of bees.
For the Comb Honey Production also you can use "Juniper Hill Plan" management technic.
3. Storoging Comb honey
"Filled and capped sections must not be left on the colony after they are finished. They can become travel-trained and, therefore, unmarketable in a short period. Finally, there is the matter of storing completed sections. Even in strong colonies wax moth eggs are always present. There is no fumigant now labeled which can be used for comb honey. The best alternative is freezing the sections to kill wax moth eggs. To reduce condensation, sections should be sealed in air tight plastic bags while being frozen and during thawing."
4. How to Sell Comb Honey...
February 10, 2007
Last Modified: December 29, 2012