July 08, 2008

Comb Honey

When bees collect nectar, it's up to 80% water and a bunch of sugars. After they process it in the warm hive, adding enzymes and fanning air over it, it's less than 20% water. At that point, the worker bees cover the cells with fresh wax and the honey is good for forever. If you take the honey comb before the cells are capped, all you have is partially ripened honey, which will ferment. The comb we pulled yesterday is not fully capped so has to be either used right away, frozen, or returned to the bees. The bees were so upset about being robbed, we think returning it is the best thing to do. But how? If we give it back to them off-center, every comb built afterward will also be misplaced.

Supposedly, you can cut comb off, attach it with loops of dental floss, and the bees will repair the damage. They reattach the comb to the bar and eat away the floss, too. That might work with brood comb, which weighs barely anything, but we have serious doubts about tying on heavy honey comb.

Besides, the comb is off-center at the top yet centered at the bottom. If we cut off the comb and center the top, would the bottom cause a problem for the bees trying to build next to it? That seems like trading one problem for another. Plus the operation is going to be a sticky mess. This morning we sheepishly put the comb back into the hive without having done a thing to it.

We pushed the false back all the way back, added another spacer and put the off-center comb next to it. Our hope is that the bees have enough space to finish ripening the honey so we can harvest it. When we harvest this comb, whether in the Fall or next Spring, we'll cut the comb off of the bar and it'll no longer be an issue.

Top Bar Hives produce Comb Honey, the kind most people enjoyed 150 years ago. Honey inside of honeycomb is delicious! Raw and untreated, just as Nature intended. Extracted honey – the liquid in squeezable plastic bears – is what you're probably used to. It's usually heated and filtered, and sure is convenient.

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