Comb honey is a great way to harvest that delicious liquid gold. Comb honey is growing again in popularity in tandem with the growth in beekeeping in general in New Zealand and in particular with hobbyist beekeepers. The convenience of dispensing with the whole honey extraction step is also a major benefit for the beekeeper to go to comb honey production. It is ideal for the hobbyist and small commercial operator for that very reason—and what could be more appealing than a beautifully packaged clean capped comb of honey. Having said that there have been some issues with the production of comb honey in New Zealand.
The first is the awareness of Tutin toxin which can inadvertently be introduced to comb honey. Because of this potential problem, in many areas of New Zealand, it is not permitted to harvest comb honey after the New Year and then sell it to the general population. During dry times the honeydew produced by the Vine Hopper after sucking on the Tutu plant contains the Tutin toxin. The bees can and will take this up and add it to their honey. This is the source of the Tutin toxin. Because comb honey in each cell is very specifically derived from the nectar the bee collects, one bit of comb honey could have very high concentrations of Tutin toxin. Extracted honey being a conglomeration of honey from lots of comb dilutes any toxin that might be in some comb cells and also can be tested to determine the concentration of toxin in the bulk honey. This ensures bulk liquid honey is safe for human consumption. Comb honey by its nature can’t be certified as “safe” in the same way. So restrictions are in place to prevent comb honey that might contain Tutin toxin ever being produced and sold to the general public.
Secondly, the ways currently used to produce comb honey have some issues. The main way of producing comb honey is the “cut comb” method. This involves the beekeeper putting frames of comb foundation in honey supers with the foundation not supported with wires. Once the comb is filled and capped, the frame is removed and the comb cut out of the frame into squares and then packaged, usually in specially made plastic comb honey containers. This method has the advantage that there is very little special equipment involved. The frames and supers/boxes that are used are standard Langstroth sizes. The disadvantage is that the process of cutting and packaging can be messy and time-consuming. The other common method is to use prefabricated “containers” that encourage the bees to build and fill comb directly into them. In the past, they were made of very elegantly made wood squares that would use beeswax foundation, or more commonly now plastic containers with the foundation imprint in the bottom. These would then be waxed and inserted into specially made frame holders and put on the hive. The advantage of these systems was that the bees “package” the comb honey for you. The disadvantages are that they require special equipment and interestingly, the bees just don’t like fully filling square shapes.
This last fact was appreciated by Tom Ross in the USA, who having found wooden round comb honey sections frustrating, designed a new system to exploit the preference by bees for filling round spaces. His system became so successful that round comb honey is now generically called in the USA, “Ross Rounds”. His specific system patent has long since expired and Ceracell have now got dies and molds to make the equipment for you to produce the New Zealand equivalent, Ceracell Rounds.
Thank you for purchasing the Ceracell Round Comb Honey system. I believe that you will find it the most successful comb honey production method you have ever tried, so let me show you how to put this fantastic system in place and collect packed-by-the-bee round comb, honey.
Managing Director, Ceracell Beekeeping Supplies (NZ) Ltd
Step 1. Preparing the Frames and the Super
I believe there are two reasons the round comb honey system is very successful. Firstly, bees prefer to fill round spaces and secondly we start them with beeswax foundation rather than beeswax coated plastic impressions.
The first thing you will notice about the system is that the frames are shorter than standard Langstroth frames. This is because of the dimensions of the round which has been optimized to ensure that the comb is completely filled and capped. So the dimensions have driven the size and as a result a standard Langstroth super needs to be modified to hold the frames and remove vacant space right next to the frames and round sections.
Step 2. Put the Ceracell Round Comb Honey Super on the Hive
You want to put the super on a strong hive. If you have synthetic pyrethroid varroa treatments in place (Apistan or Bayvarol), remove the strips before putting the super on. Make sure you use a queen excluder below the super to stop the queen from coming up and laying in the comb honey section. Leave it in place for between two and four weeks and then check the progress. If there is a honey flow on it will soon be filled.
Step 3. Removing the Round Comb Sections from the Frame
Once your comb sections are filled and capped, remove the super from the hive and take it to a “bee-free” zone to remove the frames and then the comb sections. Gently pull the two halves of the frame apart. You may need to use a sharp knife to initially pry each end of the frame apart. The ring/liners should allow the frame halves to come easily away from each other. Don’t be too rough because you don’t want to damage the joining pegs on each half of the frame. Lift each filled and capped comb out of the frame half, keeping the ring/liner around the comb. This forms the major part of the container and is part of the finished product. Clean up the outside of the rings with a sharp knife and a clean cloth (check out the youtube link below to see this process in action). Now insert the comb, complete with the rings into a new container base and put on a clear lid (these items are available from Ceracell). Use some tape to seal the lid and the base to the ring. You can purchase special “Comb Honey” tape from Ceracell to complete the package.
Once all the Ceracell Round Comb Honey sections have been removed you can put new rings/liners in your frames, load them in your modified super and put it back on the hive.
Step 4. (Optional) Freeze Finished Comb
In the USA they recommend freezing the comb sections for three days in sealed plastic bags. The reason for freezing is to kill any small wax moth eggs that may have been laid in the comb. It would be very unappetizing should a customer buy a comb honey section and find a small grub crawling around. I have never heard of this happening in New Zealand although several varieties of wax moth are endemic here. It is suggested freezing in a bag so that when you thaw them out again (leaving them in the bag when thawing out) you don’t get condensation on the comb section.
Here are some web links to give you more insight and information about using the Ceracell Round Comb Honey system: