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How tender is your comb honey?

The very best comb honey is melt-in-your-mouth tender with minimal chewiness. The honey itself should be front and center, while the comb should be a pleasant addition to the texture, not a tasteless wad.

When I first began making comb honey, I used the extra-thin surplus foundation that is designed for this purpose. But even that is impossibly thick compared to what the bees can build themselves. I now use starter strips instead, cut just wide enough to attach to the frame and extend about 1/8-inch into the comb building area. The small strip tells the bees to “build here” and, much to my continued amazement, they do just that.

I use strips in all my comb honey supers, including Kelley squares, Ross Rounds, Nick’s supers, Eco Bee Box frames, and ordinary shallows. I still use the thin-surplus foundation, but I lay a sheet on a cutting board and, using a ruler and a Rotary Cutter (the kind used for quilting), I cut the sheets into strips.

The foundation is easiest to work when it’s about room temperature, ± 70° F. In case I have trouble getting a strip to stay in place, I keep a small pan of melted beeswax close by. A dribble here or there inside the slot works wonders, especially since the strips are so light.

The photos below were both taken from the same honeycomb. The first photo shows the midline of the comb that contains the starter strip made of thin surplus foundation. You can see that the wax looks thick and chewy. For the second photo I cut the comb below the starter strip. You can see that the midline—where foundation would normally be—is about the same thickness as the cell walls. This makes a very tender comb.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Honeycomb-with-foundation
The comb midline in this photo is made from thin surplus foundation, the kind normally used for comb honey. It appears to be quite thick. © Rusty Burlew.
Honeycomb-with-no-foundation
The midline in this part of the comb was built by the bees with no foundation. You can see that the midline is almost as thin as the cell walls. © Rusty Burlew.

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Comments

Erik
Reply

Thank you so much for posting this!!! I haven’t done comb honey yet and was wondering about this recently. The photos really bring out the difference, much appreciated.

Erik

Adam Rose
Reply

I am a top bar beekeeper, so all my honey is comb honey!

I use top bars with no foundation. The bars have a triangular comb guide made of wood nailed in to them. Other people use popsicle sticks. For honey bars, a 38mm spacing is pretty good. The bees usually build straight comb. But even if they don’t, well, this is honey comb which you’re going to take out anyway, so it doesn’t matter too much.

There is nothing better than comb honey on toast with melted butter. I have friends who say they don’t like honey but who love that!

Adam.

JoeC
Reply

We made some comb honey ‘by accident’ this year. I had a deep super that must have had a couple of medium frames mixed in with the deep frames. The bees built the comb down from the bottoms of the short frames and made some beautiful comb honey with no brace comb confusing the issue.

Michael
Reply

I’m looking forward to trying some foundationless frames next year. I may start converting my brood comb to foundationless also.

Nancy
Reply

This is really helpful and enlightening.
How do you get the strips into a Ross Round?
Thanks!
Nan
Kentucky

Rusty
Reply

Nancy,

With the frames open, I just lay the strip across the top of the circles, end to end, in the same why you would place the foundation in there, except just at the top. When you snap the frames closed, the strip is held in place.

Anton
Reply

I love reading your site and I adore honey comb. There is just nothing quite like eating comb, a mix of utter fascination and heady deliciousness. The fine delicate textured bite releasing the oozing golden sweet thick honey is something else completely. Usually I keep my comb for at least a week as I can’t bring myself to destroy it, I just look at it, holding it up to the sun inspecting it, loving it like some treasured jewel. Here where I live it’s very rare and not often found for sale and when it is its extraordinarily expensive. The only one I’ve found is Langenese Acacia honey which is very fragile heavy light coloured honey. I have bees in my garden, some in the stone wall others in tree holes but I would love to keep them for the honey. I wonder if I can catch some and put them in a hive when they swarm. No idea what kind they are but they are very big bees in one hole and smaller ones in another and a free standing comb in the roof of the pool house with tiny longish bees. Does it matter if it’s wild bees? I live in Hong Kong is it difficult keeping hives water tight and will they be ok for our months of heavy rain in summer. I think temps could be very stable in the wall but in a hive with 35%c and 90% humidity I wonder if they will die? Anyway I’m still learning, I don’t even know if the hive must be in the sun or shade what direction height etc. I think I would have to build my own hive too as they aren’t for sale here……anyhow I will keep reading sites like this. Also I’m terrified of being stung as I puff up like a balloon but strangely these bees has only ever stung me once in bed on my foot. They get in the window then climb up the glass and some how got into my bed. My foot was huge but just for a half an hour or so. I need to get that bee suit to catch them as its billions in big dripping clumps. Thanks for all your info it helps a lot.

Tom
Reply

I’m just starting out this year with some Warre hives. I built my top bars with some short vertical guides on each end to encourage straight comb. I used melted beeswax and just brushed it on with a narrow paint brush. I’m not sure which would be most easy; brush or strips. I like the strips idea, though.

Don’t plan on harvesting any comb this year.

Rusty
Reply

Tom,

I’ve used both methods and they both work.

John Zone 5
Reply

I want to try one shallow super for comb honey this year. Do I place this super as the first super above the queen excluder or should I place it as the second super above a medium super with comb in it?
(ie: queen excluder, medium super, then shallow super for cut comb)

Rusty
Reply

John,

The most tender comb is made early in the season, so I would put the comb honey super first, directly above the excluder.

Kris L
Reply

I tried your technique this year with the starter strips. It was very successful. I caught a large swarm this spring and they filled up three deeps in under a month. At mid June I placed 2 shallow supers on top of that, and although it took a couple weeks for them to get going, they drew out white comb, and eventually filled and capped everything. So I now have about 80 squares of cut comb that my kids will be selling. I put another shallow super on and they have already begun the same process. Absolutely amazing. Thanks for all the information on comb honey. It is the most fun I have had with the bees so far.

Rusty
Reply

Kris,

I’m glad it worked for you too! I had an amazing comb honey year, my best ever. The wax is light, fluffy, and white. The honey varied throughout the season from water white to shimmering gold. I agree, comb honey is the best part of beekeeping.

Troy
Reply

Hello Rusty, I am a third year beekeeper with 4 colonies in Northern Ohio. This will be my first year trying for comb honey. I will do cut comb on one hive the way you explain it. I also purchased a Ross Round super because I like the way it looks. Are you saying that you only use starter strips for your Ross Rounds? and if so did you get them all filled out? A million thanks for the information you provide for everyone.

Rusty
Reply

Troy,

Yes on both. I cut a foundation sheet in quarters (the long way) and laid each strip across the top of the brown frames filled with the white rings. Once you get the super springs in there, the strips will stay in place. The bees figure out the rest.

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