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Cut Comb Honey

Probably the easiest way to produce comb honey

If you Google "Cut comb honey" you will get a lot of information from American, Australian or New Zealand websites. That's fine for them because their weather is good for any sort of honey production, but in the cooler shorter summers in the U.K. and Ireland we aren't likely to enjoy the success they do. Having said that I think that cut comb honey is as easy to produce as extracted honey. You don't need any specialist equipment, because you are just using what you already have in a slightly different way. If it doesn't work you simply revert to producing extracted honey.

Cut comb honey is probably the easiest way of producing comb honey and certainly in the U.K. and Ireland has largely replaced sections. I think it is so easy that I would be happy encouraging beginners to work their bees, or some of them, for cut comb. If something goes wrong it doesn't matter, you still have comb honey, it's just not as tidy as it could be, but it will still taste good!

Instead of trying to persuade bees to build comb, fill and cap it in small boxes as we do with the more traditional sections, we use standard super frames, effectively the same as for extracted honey, but using unwired specially milled thin foundation to produce a thin midrib. You can buy both worker and drone cut comb foundation. For show purposes I think worker cut comb looks a little better and I suspect a judge would probably favour it. For your own purposes or for sale I really don't have a preference.

The frames are put on narrow spacing in the same way as ordinary super foundation. That's 11 frames in a B.S. National, Commercial or Smith and 10 in a WBC super. To put the frames on wide spacing will still give you cut comb, but the bees will probably build it in the gap between the foundation. I have tried to use the wider 10 spacing per National box, that Manley frames give, but unless there is a good nectar flow on I find the bees tend to build comb between the foundation. It also results in wider comb which doesn't always allow the lid of the plastic container to fit properly.

The bees draw out the comb, fill and cap it as if they were super frames used for extraction. The comb is cut up and put into containers.

You need to know that bees will treat the middle combs of the super immediately above the brood box differently if it is worker or drone. They prefer to store pollen in worker comb, but they will leave drone comb empty. For that reason I would put a super for extraction above the queen excluder, with the super of cut comb above that. Keeping cut comb supers away from the brood area also reduces travel staining.

The combs are built out best if all frames in a super have foundation in, not some comb. They could all be for cut comb, but if you want to have some cut comb and some for extracting, then I suggest the cut comb are in the middle, so they have a better chance of being fully filled. One problem is the identification of supers and frames, so I put "CC" in felt tip on the top bars of the frames I use for cut comb. I also mark the outside of the super, so I know which one has cut comb in. This could also be with a felt tip or perhaps a coloured drawing pin.

The timing of putting frames on for cut comb is quite crucial. You need to avoid granulation, so if you are in an OSR district you should put frames on after it has flowered. If you put them on too late in the season, apart from for heather, the bees may not build them fully and finish them.

When the combs are sealed, remove them quickly, otherwise the cappings will become travel stained where the bees have walked over them. If the honey is for your own consumption it doesn't matter much, but if it is for sale it won't look quite as attractive.

I am not in a heather district (sometimes I wish I was), so have no experience of heather honey production, but beekeepers I know who are, tell me they prefer to produce heather cut comb because it is much easier to cut comb up than press it. They also have the benefit that owing to the amount of comb honey produced in heather districts it is understood by the public and is very popular.

The cutting of comb needs to be carefully done. There are standard oblong plastic containers with transparent lids available from appliance dealers. They are usually 8oz size, but I have seen 12 oz on occasions. The aim is to cut up comb so it fits neatly into the container. There is an item called the "Price Comb Cutter" that is made from stainless steel. It is pressed through the comb to cut out the comb, which is ejected into the container by pressing a spring loaded handle. These work well, but for the ordinary beekeeper the comb can be cut up with a sharp knife. There are different views on whether the comb should be drained or not, so there is little liquid honey in the container. If you wish to drain it then place on a cake rack or wire queen excluder. There are others who favour adding liquid honey to give a standard weight. As with everything else in beekeeping, do what you like as long as it is safe and legal!

When the lid is placed on, put the whole package in a domestic freezer for a week to kill off any wax moth eggs and larvae.

If your cut comb is for sale, I suggest you seek advice from the website of the relevant authorities, otherwise if I put information here it may become out of date.

Pieces that are too small for cut comb can be cut up for chunk honey. Despite there being no wire in the combs I find that any incomplete combs not suitable for cut comb can be extracted. If the comb does break it doesn't matter.

Instead of using full sheets of foundation you can use starters. These are strips that are cut lengthways from a standard sheet. A B.S. shallow sheet is about 5" (125mm) wide so you can get 5 strips, more if you wish. The bees will build natural comb underneath, but almost certainly drone, even if the starter is worker base. Don't mix full sheets and starters, otherwise the bees will favour the starters.

Roger Patterson.