Cut Comb Honey: An Inexpensive Way to Harvest Your Own Honey
Having a couple of beehives “out back” can be a lot of fun and a great way to provide tasty honey for your family and friends. But, it can also be a confusing and somewhat expensive endeavor for the beginner. Besides learning the basic setup and care of the beehives, there is the cost, which doesn’t end with the purchase of the bees and the hives – you will also have to buy protective clothing, a smoker, and a few tools.
Then there is the matter of harvesting the honey – extracting equipment can be expensive if you decide to go that route. An extractor, which is a centrifuge that spins the honey out of the comb so it can be bottled, can run anywhere from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars – unless you are able to find some used equipment or split the cost with another beekeeper.
We found that after purchasing 2 hives and the necessary clothing and tools, we had little money left in our budget that first year for an extractor. We were disappointed at first, but after doing some reading, we discovered there was still a way we could harvest our small honey crop that would be inexpensive and easy. Rather than removing the honey from the comb, we could cut squares of comb filled with honey right out of the frames and package them. This is called the “cut comb” method, and is a legitimate way to harvest honey.
In fact, before the invention of the extractor in the late 1800’s, all honey was comb honey. Any liquid honey came from manually crushing the comb. Bulk comb honey was processed either as “chunk honey” where chunks of the comb were placed in a jar with liquid honey obtained from crushing some of the comb, or as “cut comb honey” where the comb was cut into pieces and packaged in cut comb honey boxes.
There are some very good reasons to process honey by the cut comb method.
First, it is simple and inexpensive, which makes it a great way for the beginner to get started.
Second, since most beginners will usually have only 1 or 2 hives, it is more cost effective.
Third, cut comb production doesn’t require a lot of specialized “know-how” so the average beginner will have no trouble cutting and packaging comb honey the first time out.
Fourth, 1 or 2 bulk combs – the frames containing comb honey – can be cut at a time because it doesn’t require a lot of work space.
And finally, some people think the best type of honey is comb honey because it has not been tampered with and the essence of the blossoms – the fragrance and the flavor – is sealed in the comb and not altered by heating.
The process is simple. It can be done with a sharp knife, although a $15.00 cutting tool makes it easier and keeps the cut comb squares neater and more uniform. You will also need a screen to drain the cut comb squares, and containers to package them in.
We bought plastic cut comb honey boxes which are made specifically for this. They are relatively inexpensive, and available at any of the beekeeping supply companies, but you could use Tupperware containers or something similar.
Harvesting begins after your first super is full of comb honey. Depending on where you live, there may be 2 honey harvests – the first occurring in summer, and the second in the fall.
It’s best to get the super off as soon as possible so the bees don’t soil the comb. Once the super is removed, there is no hurry to process the honey. We do remove the frames containing the honey combs from the supers right away and place them in big plastic tubs with lids – Rubbermaid containers work just fine – to keep dust and pests, including mice and other bees out.
At our convenience, we take 1 or 2 frames into the kitchen and lay them flat on a cutting board on the kitchen table. The comb cutting tool, which looks like a large 4 1/4″ square cookie cutter, is pressed into the comb, much like a cookie cutter. The square of comb honey is then placed on a screen to drain for 24 hours or so, and then packaged in the cut comb honey boxes.
Clean-up is quick and easy. If you want to dress the package up, you can add a label telling the type of honey and when it was packaged.
We usually keep 1 box out for table use and freeze whatever we are not selling or giving as gifts. Most honey that is not heated during processing will eventually granulate – some sooner than others, depending on the type. Freezing keeps it from granulating during long-term storage.
Cut comb honey is sort of a novelty, and if you are not familiar with it you may wonder how to use it.
When you want honey to spread on toast, just slice across a row of cells and let it drain in the package. That will provide more than enough honey for toast. If you want a sweet treat, cut off a piece of the comb and chew the wax with honey in it.
Want enough honey to bake with? No problem. Take a couple of packages out of the freezer and crush the thawed comb honey in a sieve or screen and you will have plenty of honey for baking.
Eventually, you may want to invest in an extractor, depending on how many hives you add to your beeyard and how involved you want to get in honey production since this method would not be practical in a large scale honey operation involving several hundred hives.