Some beekeepers like to produce comb honey from the summer and ling (heather) flows. Spring honey is unsuitable for cut-comb or sections because oilseed rape will granulate in the comb and sycamore is too strong in flavour for most palates. In the past I have produced cut-comb in supers containing nine Manley frames. These frames are spaced at 41mm, (1 5/8in). That is the absolute maximum distance between sheets of foundation if you are going to prevent the bees drawing extra combs between those that you want. I now space cut-comb supers using narrow (34mm/1 3/8in) plastic ends because the resulting sealed combs are a little bit thinner and they fit better under the lid of the cut comb containers that are sold by the suppliers. To prevent the bees propolising the frame shoulders, smear the shoulders with vaseline.
When working for cut comb I use thin unwired foundation cut into four horizontal strips, instead of full sheets which tend to buckle when being drawn. The bees will draw the strip of starter foundation with worker comb and the space below with drone comb. I have not experienced any difficulty in getting bees to enter cut-comb supers, they can be used in conjunction with ordinary supers where required. It is preferable not to place a cut-comb super next to the brood chamber as the bees might store some pollen in it and the cappings soon become travel stained by the bees moving to the above supers.
I produce square sections in hanging section holders each containing three sections. Eight section holders fit into a shallow super allowing twenty-four sections per crate. Metal separators must be suspended between each section holder otherwise the bees are likely to spoil many of the sections by building comb where the beekeeper does not want it. Bees do not like being restricted in little sections and are often reluctant to enter them. The queen is unlikely to enter, so no queen excluder should be used. Full squares of thin fresh foundation should be used when working for sections. Special crates, holding thirty-two sections can be purchased from the suppliers but bees do not like them.
Strong colonies are required when working for sections and bees must have a laying queen which was reared during the current year otherwise they are likely to swarm due to congestion and their reluctance to enter the little boxes. Colonies chosen for section production should have a section super put on top of the current supers one week before the start of the targeted honey flow so that the bees can become accustomed to it. At the start of the flow the section super should be placed on top of the brood chamber with the queen excluder removed and the original supers put above the clearer board. These supers, cleared of bees, can be given to other colonies to complete. To further entice the bees into the section super a partly completed section, saved for the purpose from the previous year, should be placed in the middle of the super. Do not add a second super until the bees have started to draw comb in the first or they may sulk and start to loaf. The second should be added below the first and if the colony is strong and the flow is good a third super should be placed on top of the first. If the flow continues the third super can be placed below and so on. In this way the bees are given tasks a little at a time, whereas if faced with a huge space containing innumerable little boxes they may give up and sulk, or swarm especially if the queen is of the previous year.
Towards the end of July I put cut-comb supers, intended for going to the heather, on top of the supers on strong honey producing colonies in the hope of getting them drawn out. This will give the bees a quick start at the heather.
Preparing honey for the show bench
The Honey Show season is upon us with shows coming up thick and fast in August so now is the time to prepare your exhibits. There are many different classes for you to enter but this article is concentrating on the easiest and that is liquid honey, usually referred to as ‘blossom honey’ in the show schedule. There are three classes for liquid honey and they are light, medium and dark, and this refers to the colour of the honey. You must enter two identical jars in whatever class you are entering. If you are unsure as to the right class for your honey seek advice when you attend the show to set up your exhibits, this usually being the evening before or morning of the show.
With the lid on the judge will consider both jars for:
COLOUR, which must be uniform throughout the exhibit
BRIGHTNESS, a dull appearance may be due to what is called insipient (the start of) granulation or fermentation
CLEANLINESS, exhibits will be examined for foreign material such as black specks, hair and parts of bees
JARS AND LIDS, your exhibit may be rejected if the jars and lids are not identical, if the jar is not filled to the correct level, if there is rust on the lid or if the jar shows signs of old labels.
When the jar is opened the judge will test for AROMA, VISCOSITY, and FLAVOUR, while also examining the surface of the honey for contaminants such as dust and bubbles at the edges.
Here are a few tips in preparing liquid honey for the show. After you have extracted your honey strain it through a fine straining cloth into the settling tank or large bucket and leave to stand for about 24 hours – this will allow any air bubbles etc to rise to the surface. Meanwhile, wash your jars in washing up liquid, plunge into hot water and leave to drain, or you can wash them in the dishwasher. Use identical jars and make sure they are from the same manufacturer by looking at the base of the jar for their mark. Choose lids carefully discarding any that are dirty or scratched. Fill the jars to the correct level, almost the top of the jar, put the lid on and leave to stand overnight. Then remove any air bubbles that may be on the surface by pricking with a needle. Clean the top of the jar with a damp sponge, replace the cap and do not take it off again. The next person to do so will be the judge.
Keep your jars in a warm place with a temperature of 75F. If the honey does become cloudy it has started to granulate and you can clear it by putting it in a warming cabinet at about 100-110F or in a saucepan of water with a trivet in the bottom for a few hours. Make sure that the temperature does not exceed 110F or it will ruin the flavour.
When taking your jars to the show, handle them only by the lid with a cloth. Give them a final polish and place on the display stand. Don’t forget to register your entries with the officials and then come back after the judging to reap your due rewards!