There are three conditions which must be met for the successful production of comb honey in the Interior; excellent nectar flow, large foraging adult population and adequate equipment. Let’s define comb honey as that produced from floral nectar, stored and capped in the cells by the bees, and presented just as the bees made it- untouched by human hands.
This year (2017) is shaping up as an excellent nectar flow (as of early July) – the fireweed and clovers (our best excess honey producers) are, if not blooming, are on the verge of busting out with a week or two. The weather has been amenable; adequate rain to keep up ground moisture, warm days, and plenty of sunshine. Honey production has been all over the map- my North Pole colonies have barely touched the honey supers while at Ann’s Greenhouse they’ve filled two medium supers. Last year North Pole was my best location…go figure.
A large adult foraging population is also necessary – notice I say “large” and “adult”. Remember it’s the adults (4+ weeks old) who are out foraging – they claim (whoever ”they” are) bees make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in their whole life or it takes bee visits to 1 million flowers to make a pound of honey. They literally work themselves to death- the old bees will have tattered wings and less body hair (just like me). They must bring in adequate amounts of nectar and pollen to keep the young bees happy and feed the brood nest development. This means adequate space or risking a swarm. As I hope you know, beekeeping in the Interior requires 2 deep (9⅝”) brood boxes and two medium (6⅝”) (sometimes more during a good flow) or 3-4 shallow (5⅝”) honey supers; take care of your back! Not only is the aforementioned hive volume required but also empty cells for the queen to lay in. Have you expanded your brood nest horizontally as well as vertically? It’s a good idea to store frames of nothing but honey and pollen against the walls (nothing needs to stay warm) in the 1&2 position or the 9&10, rotate any frames that may be drawn out on one side 180° so the bees can draw out the opposite side. Bees will tend to “chimney” up the stacked boxes putting a wall of honey on either side and ignoring the outer frames (1, 2, & 3 and 8, 9, & 10). That why it’s important to get in the hive once every 7-10 days and arrange frames. Don’t place a frame with bare foundation in the middle of the brood nest it breaks up the cohesion of the nursery- foundation is best drawn out when adjacent to the brood nest. Remember the bees keep the brood nest at 93-95° F so act accordingly.
For comb honey you need a very crowded box- just on the verge of swarming- this is especially important if you’re employing the plastic Ross Rounds or Hogg Half-comb cassettes (more on that in the attachment). If you’re needing just a couple of squares to put on a dessert plate or wow your friends, the best method is to have the bees build “free comb” off of starter strips which can be as simple as popsicle sticks glued or tightly secured in the top bar of a frame.
Choice of equipment- this depends on how much you want to get into it; a super of Ross Rounds ready to put on the hive will cost $132 plus shipping from Mann Lake and you need at least 2 or preferably 3. The covers and labels will run another $65 (see page 15 in Mann Lake catalog). Cut comb with popsicle sticks is at the other end of the spectrum- I sell an assembled medium frame for $2.00 use your own popsicle sticks; you can replace one of the frames in your honey super but be sure the queen isn’t laying up there unless you like larvae. You can cut up the comb and put it in wide-mouth jars then top it off with liquid honey for the best of both worlds- if you’re stirring it in your tea you may get a wax film atop your beverage.
If you’re interested in comb honey please read the next post. As I get older I’m cutting back on my inventory (less hassle for my kids when they pry the hive tool from my cold dead fingers) so I have both Hogg Half-Comb cassettes (5) and Ross Rounds (8), I have the covers, extra rings, thin-surplus foundation and a limited number of labels. I also have 2 shallows with starter strips and 14 assembled, painted, frames and foundation (no heavy lifting) ready to put on a hive normally $64 each now $50 on sale as are the Ross Rounds and Hogg half-comb reduced to $50 each while supplies last.
Let’s hope the conditions for an excellent honey flow persist and we all have an excellent season (see next post).