Comb Honey Corner
by Ray Nabors
One of the most important activities in comb honey production is preparing supers with wax foundation. This needs to be done early in the spring before your honey flow begins. Obviously, no two years are the same regarding climate. It would be difficult to find two years when the honey flow in any location would start on the same day or even in the same week. In many places there are two flows, one minor and one major. The first flow is usually in early spring, the second maybe in summer or fall. Having supers ready to go on the bees as soon as nectar comes in is paramount in comb honey production.
You never want to allow burrcomb to be built up in your single story comb honey production hives. That burrcomb is part of your profit. For beekeepers in the extreme southern states, spring honey may come in during February. On the Canadian border honey may not begin to come in before May or June. One advantage for those of us north of the southern tier states is that we can figure out an approximate honey flow start date if we know when honey plants come into bloom along the Gulf of Mexico. The trick is to use A. D. Hopkins bioclimatic law. A given biological event such as clover bloom will occur 4 days later for every one degree latitude north or every 4 degrees longitude west or every 400 feet elevation higher. It pays to know when honey plants are blooming south of you. Add 4 days for every 1 degree north, 4 degrees west or 400 feet elevation. If you are east 4 degrees subtract 4 days.
Once you know the approximate honey flow start-up date, you can estimate how many supers you will need for that first or only honey flow. How long will it take you to put wax in those supers? It has been my experience that you need to start early enough so that you have your supers ready at least a week before the flow begins. I begin getting supers ready to go before I make my spring splits and install new queens. Now you know the subject of next month’s column on preparation of colonies for production. Any hobby or sideline beekeeper can only do so many beekeeping duties at one time. Get your supers ready before time to make splits and increase colonies.
I have explained my bias toward cut-comb honey production. The wooden box sections are rarely used by anyone nowadays. If you want authoritative information on that technique, read Honey in the Comb by Eugene E. Killion. Round Sections are more common these days. Round sections are more rare in general than cut comb. They are smaller and cut comb, side by side, will outsell sections because the customer gets more for his/her money.
Cut comb is more economically beneficial because, at this location, I can produce three cut comb supers on a colony that would produce only two supers of sections. In the case of round sections, they would produce only 32 sections per super in 2 supers if all are completely filled. Compare that with three supers of 40 cut-comb boxes and you see that more money is made with cut comb every time. Bees also work cut-comb frames more quickly and easily than section frames .
With comb honey foundation the most desirable foundation is the thinnest and clearest foundation you can find. I use Dadant’s Extra Thin Surplus Foundation for shallow supers. There are 22 sheets to the pound and the wax is clear enough to read this article right through it. If there is another source of foundation out there like that, I have not found it. Your customers do not want to bite through thick wax in the centers of your cut-comb honey.
I recommend shallow supers for production because they are lighter to handle (dropping a super of comb honey will ruin your day). Medium-depth supers have too much waste. Mediums only yield 4 boxes just like the shallow supers. Full depth supers will give 8 boxes of cut comb, but if they are not filled completely, there will be too much waste. Full depth supers also must be left on the bees longer and have more travel stain. Use shallow supers for comb honey.
I do not mix comb honey frames in with extracted honey frames, although this is a common practice. This can make very good comb honey when you put 4 or 5 frames of comb honey, alternating between frames kept straight with crimp wires, but comb honey sells at a higher price. Proper hive manipulation can make comb honey frames full all the way across. Always use 10 frames in every shallow super for comb honey. Supers with 9 frames are spaced too far apart.