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Comb honey in glass jars

The glass jar comb honey super shown below is a refinement of the one made by beekeeper Morris Ostrofsky of southwestern Oregon. A detailed description of Morris’ equipment and process can be found here: Glass Jar Beekeeping—Creating Edible Art.

After reading his account, I decided to make several tweaks to fit my own situation. The first has to do with the lay of the land. Although I adore Oregon—it is my favorite state—the Willamette Valley is as flat as a bowling alley. In fact, if that crazy river weren’t in the way, I’m sure a ball released in Eugene wouldn’t stop rolling until it reached Salem, some 70 miles away.

Drilling-with-hole-saw
Drilling with a hole saw.

In contrast, my hives are perched on a hillside. To get there I have to climb a steep path crisscrossed by streams, mossy stumps, viney things with spines, and downed trees. It would never work for me to have glass jars sitting loosely on top of holes. No, my jars need to be anchored in place—virtually earthquake proof.

The second tweak has to do with being a tightwad. I have hundreds of narrow-mouth mason jars and very few wide-mouth jars, but using a smaller opening meant I needed an easier way of mounting starter strips inside the jars.

Because I am not a woodworker, I started with Mann Lake’s wintering inner cover. The thing I most like about it is the rim on the bottom (about 1/4-inch deep) which provides bee space under the jar rims. I also like the thickness of the board. The small entrance below the board is great for honey collection, but the entrance above the board must be blocked. The board comes with a pre-drilled hole in the center for a jar feeder, which I thought would be helpful, but it is in the wrong place and ended up costing me one jar space.

Drilling-holes-in-inner-cover
All the holes are mathematically spaced.

I designed the jar spacing around the pre-drilled center hole and settled on a 4-3-4 pattern. Without the pre-drilled hole, 4-4-4 would have been better. I could have fit even more jars in the super if I had spaced them differently, but I wanted to maintain the strength of the board. Eleven jars—even when they are empty—is quite a load, so I decided to stop there.

I let my husband do a bunch of math to find the exact location of each hole. The hole that was pre-drilled is actually slightly too big. A mason jar lid fits into it, but it is loosey-goosey. So I purchased a 2-3/4″ (70mm) hole saw that turned out to be perfect. The lid of a mason jar fits tightly in the hole with no play at all. The jars won’t fall out even if I hold the board vertically—something I do not recommend.

Paper-template
I made a paper template and then used it as a pattern to cut the foundation.

As Morris explains in his paper, keeping the jar rims covered with mason rings keeps the threads free of propolis. The sticky rings can be removed and replaced with clean ones when you market the honey, and you can re-use the sticky rings in the hive.

Next, I wanted to put starter strips in the jars. Morris’ method works with wide-mouth jars, but it’s a bit finicky with the narrow ones. What I did instead was cut two pieces of foundation and then slit each one halfway up the middle. The two pieces can then slide into each other to form an “x” (a picture is worth a thousand words here, so have a look).

When the foundation is warm you can bend it enough to fit into the jar and then open it up once it’s inside. I used a square stick to open the foundation once it was in the jar.

I have not yet tried this foundation method, nor have I discussed it with the lucky colony that will receive this contraption. I believe it will work. Bees normally attach any bits of foundation firmly in place, and I think they will start this project by doing just that. It doesn’t have to be perfectly square or symmetrical or even. In fact, one of the charming aspects of comb built in a jar is the shape of it.

If it doesn’t work as is, my next step will be to put a drop of molten wax in the center bottom of the jar, right where the x is, just to hold in it place. Some people have succeeded using glass jars with no foundation or starter strips at all, so that is always an option, especially if your bees are properly crowded.

Foundation-in-the-jar
Foundation fit into the jar.

Once the jars are ready, the entire super can be put on the comb honey hive. Many people put a queen excluder under the super, but I don’t think it is necessary or wise. A queen in her right mind will not put eggs in the jars. If she’s not in her right mind, she may leave a few up there, but she won’t persist. It is hard to get bees to fill odd-shaped spaces, even without an excluder, so I never use one.

An empty super is needed to cover the jars, and a telescoping lid is placed over that. Here are some additional considerations:

—Remember that the jars will get very hot because there is no ventilation through them. It is best to place this type of super on a hive that is not receiving direct sunlight.

—Do not allow bees into the area surrounding the jars. If bees get between the jars, they will build a mess for you to clean up, and they may decide it is easier to construct comb between the jars rather than in the jars.

—You can use the center hole for a jar feeder, if you wish. Give the bees 1:1 sugar syrup to stimulate wax production but remove it before the nectar flow begins.

—A small upper entrance just below the super will aid in nectar storage since the bees won’t have to travel so far. It will also give the hive a little extra ventilation.

—When you are ready to remove the super, use a one-way bee escape below the super to remove the bees. Smoke should not be used because smoke odor and/or ash can persist in the jars.

For details on how to manage your bees for glass jar supers, please read “How to manage bees for section honey.”

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Testing-for-fit
Testing the fit with canned goods.

Comments

Morris Ostrofsky
Reply

Rusty,

Wonderful job on describing the technique. The tweaks are very clever, too. I had used large mouth mason jars because I thought the bees would have an easier time getting moisture out of the unripened honey. I never tried the narrow mouth so it will be interesting to see how it comes out. Please keep us posted.

Rusty
Reply

Thank you, Morris. Yes, I will keep you posted. I can’t wait to try the new system so I’m hoping for the right hive. Thank you for all the inspiration.

chuckarama
Reply

I have had the hardest time getting bees to do this. I have had to seriously overcrowd them to make it work and then fight swarming because of it. Your little foundation trick might actually make it work! Keep us posted this year!

Rusty
Reply

That’s the problem, isn’t it? Any time you try to make honey in sections, no matter the shape, you have to crowd like crazy . . . and that means constant swarm control. The things we do for fun.

boyd young
Reply

Have you considered, instead of a cross of honeycomb, take a strip and fold it into a U shape, and with a small bit of hot wax, secure the starter strip to the bottom of the jar with both sides of the U hanging parallel? I don’t think you would need full-length starter strips, but maybe just hang the sides of the U down 1 inch and let the bees make the rest.

Just thinking out loud.

Rusty
Reply

It certainly sounds like a possibility.

Deborah
Reply

It is nice to see that some beekeepers go through the trouble of using wax inserts into the hives.

Where I live, (and I hear it is becoming more popular due to “ease”), that beekeepers are using plastic inserts into the trays. From what I know from my local beekeeper, the bees are more prone to mites and other such horrids.

Bees are natural – they don’t like plastic.

Just my opinion.

ron severt
Reply

Good morning. I have done this several times with great results. Only a few occasions did I have to use a drinking straw and a bit of suction to remove a stuck bee. I never use foundation but instead melt some wax and allow it to run into each jar in about 4 runs down each side. They easily build onto that.

Rusty
Reply

Ron,

What a great idea. I will definitely try that next spring.

Peter
Reply

How did comb in jar work out for the 2014 season? Any pics? Thanks!

Rusty
Reply

Peter,

During fruit bloom last year, I had a pesticide kill in my apiary. I spent most of the summer rebuilding so, sadly, no comb honey. I intend to try again this year.

Felix
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Ever tried it again? How did it go? Thinking about trying this on one of my warre hives this season.

Cheers,
Felix

Rusty
Reply

Felix,

Last year my bees filled the jars with interesting comb, but then the weather turned hot and they never filled the combs with honey.

Mandy Sheridan
Reply

How about this year??

Rusty
Reply

Mandy,

Maybe. I’ll see how things go.

Kathy
Reply

I just might try this next year.

Kathy
Reply

I love to see the little quilt blocks in the corner of your posts. As a summer bee mommy and a winter quilter I do enjoy seeing them.

Rusty
Reply

Kathy,

I’m a quilter too!

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