Comb Honey, Continued!

By Camilla Bee, Editor

Our February issue contained articles from two comb honey producers. The articles generated some feedback, so we’re sharing that, along with some other comb honey insights.

Major comb honey production: Earlier this year, we spoke with Dennis Wright, who owns Fruitwood Orchard Honey in New Jersey. He’s been producing comb honey for over 30 years. Currently he manages 4,000 colonies, of which about 1,000 are focused on comb honey production, averaging two supers of comb honey / colony.

Wright’s bees overwinter in the south, and thus yield a “beautiful white citrus honey.” That comb honey is sold by frames—some customers want the “entire experience”, along with cut-outs in hard plastic trays, and in quart containers with honey surrounding it.

Wright’s enterprise is substantial, and he was more than generous with his time and patience as I asked questions about the buzzing operation. Some of the more interesting points I gleaned include:

  • He prefers smaller boxes, 5- or 8-frame, noting that bees seem to prefer smaller cavities, and he and his employees greatly prefer working with the smaller boxes! It’s also easier to find the queen.

  • He uses thin foundation (see below.)

  • A piece of advice about comb honey: “Time your honey flow … When there’s a major flow during a good strong colony, you get that colony almost to a swarming point but don’t want them to swarm. Some folks will pull a few frames in the bottom so queen has new space in bottom.”

  • He finds comb honey immensely popular because after all, “it is the most natural form of honey.”

Best bees for comb honey? Reader Dennis shared that he loves his Carnolians, noting that some years he “was taking off honey before most people were putting on supers. One year there was a dearth and I got more honey before others started than they got all year. But they don’t make good comb honey. The wax just isn’t as good as Italian wax. The color and texture are off.”

Dennis has done plenty of research on comb honey, and summarized “as I see it, the main thing about comb honey is knowing if and when to add supers. I know it’s not like 1, 2, 3 or A-B-C, but could somebody cut to the chase?”

An A-B-C of comb honey: We posed that question to Carol Mark, author of one of our February comb honey articles. Carol’s response: “I don’t know everything about bees or comb honey either, however for me it’s:

  1. Select a hive with lots of new workers which means prime the hive (feed syrup if a nectar flow is not going on before you remove her).

  2. Watch that hive so it doesn’t swarm before you remove the queen.

  3. Remove the queen, put her in a nuc, meaning all those new workers can do while waiting for the new queen to hatch is make wax and fill it with nectar, thus making comb honey. Amen!”

Dennis Wright emphasized that along with knowing when to add supers, it is equally important to ensure the strength of the colony.

About thin foundation: Kelley Bees sells thin foundation for the sole purpose of producing comb honey. The wax is thick enough to provide a base for the bees to draw their comb but thin enough that you wouldn’t have a thick mass of wax in the center of your comb honey.

Kelley Bees also sells 7/11 thin foundation. According to Kelley Bees’ Jennifer Priddy, “this means that the foundation cells are milled slightly larger than regular (5.4 mm) and not quite as large as drone cell. This is so that the queen would not like to lay in this type of cell, preventing brood from being present in your honey super. This is not completely 100% reliable but works the majority of the time.” The 7/11 foundation catalog numbers are #102 for shallow frames and #103 for medium frames.

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