Honeycomb in Jars

Beekeeping tip: How to encourage honeybees to build honeycomb inside glass jars. via Lovely Greens
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Earlier this year I decided to try an experiment based on some intriguing photos I spotted online. A few beekeepers in the USA have had success in putting mason jars into hives and allowing the honeybees to build comb straight into them. The jars can then be taken out of the hive, filled with honey and presented as a genuine jar of honey with perfectly formed honeycomb inside. I am in love with the idea.

Though there’s still work to be done, I’m pleased to announce that my bees have finally begun building inside the jars! I do have to say that it’s taken them all summer to figure this one out and that the formations of new comb you see in the photo below have probably been built in the past few weeks.

How to encourage honeybees to build honeycomb inside glass jars. Via Lovely Greens

Honeybees building new comb inside glass jars

It was in May that I placed sixteen jars inside this hive and I’ve checked it only a few times since then; primarily in the swarming season. I was disappointed each time to find empty jars with slight condensation at the top. Why is it that bees will build comb in any space they can but when you want them to build somewhere specific they pass on it? It appears that what’s happened with my hive is that they only decided to build into the jars when there was absolutely no more space for them to build on or fill with honey down below.

My set-up is simple: a square board of pine that’s been cut with a Borer and mason jars wedged into the holes. I’ve placed this on top of a box of supers without an Excluder and then set an empty Super box on top to protect the jars and to provide a place to set the hive roof on. The height of the National Hive ‘Super’ is perfect for accommodating pint sized Mason jars but I’ve also put a couple half pints in for variation.

Cut a wooden board to fit the dimensions of your hive then bore holes into it to fit the mouths of jars.

Cut a wooden board to fit the dimensions of your hive then bore holes into it to fit the mouths of jars.

I’ve noticed that the bees haven’t built comb from the bottoms of the jars down but rather from the tops of the frames underneath the jars upwards. Fortunately they’ve also started building some wax against the sides of the jars or the comb would have slipped right out when I lifted the jars up today. As it was, there were a couple of jars where this did happen, so that new comb was just sticking up on its own after.

I don’t think this is too much of a big deal, as long as the bees finish building comb in all the jars before you lift the jars/board out. When I did this today, the comb that had been fixed to the insides of the jars lifted out intact with only the bases breaking away from the wooden frames below.

Beekeeping on the Isle of Man with Lovely Greens

The Onchan hive is healthy and well-behaved

I’ve put the jars back inside the hive for now and will leave them in place until they’ve had a chance to build a bit more. I like the look of the new comb though so I’ll take the jars off before the bees start using it to store too much honey.

In the meantime, I’ve put a Clearing Board on that hive (the White Hive) with the intention of taking ten frames of honey off next week. I’m leaving all the honey the bees have stored in their Brood Box and in one Super and think that will last them all winter and into spring.

Honeybees at this time of year are still collecting pollen and making honey but the bulk of their harvest is already stored.

Honeybees at this time of year are still collecting pollen and making honey

My hive that lives all on its own in a field in Onchan is also doing very well. It’s literally dripping with honey and the bees are an easy group to get along with. The bees in the White Hive generally hate when I pay them visits and make that very clear whenever I’m around. They weren’t today though which was odd and makes me think that the old Queen must have swarmed earlier in the summer.

Most beekeepers would probably be shocked that I don’t actually know if it has swarmed but in late May I decided to change my bee managing tactics to reduce stress on both me and the bees. I’ve decided to not destroy any more Queen Cells. For the past three years it’s been a battle of me versus the bees: they want to ‘Swarm’ to start new colonies, and I want them to stay and keep up honey production. During that time I think I’ve accidentally killed a Queen bee and I’ve had very poor success rate in stopping them from swarming anyway.

A full frame like this can contain two or three jars of honey

A full frame like this can contain two or three jars of honey

What I’m doing now is allowing the bees to leave if they wish. This year I’ve let them wander off to pastures new without any interference from me. I feel a bit bad about this though since it means that the swarms have probably needed to be picked up by other beekeepers. Next year I’m just going to set empty hives near occupied ones since I’ve had luck with bees moving into them in the past.

I’m a hobby beekeeper in the end and I don’t want my bees stressed by my presence, management, or honey pilfering. I want the best for them and only take the excess honey in exchange for providing them with homes. Kind of like a landlord asks for rent. I know that some beekeepers are meticulous and some are laissez-faire. I hope to achieve a happy medium.

This is a Bee Escape and it's the mechanism in a 'Clearing Board' that allows bees to escape but not re-enter the part of the hive you're trying to section off.

This is a Bee Escape and it’s the mechanism in a ‘Clearing Board’ that allows bees to escape but not re-enter the part of the hive you’re trying to section off.

Saying this, I have some sad news to report: I’ve lost my third hive. There are still bees inside the green hive but it’s clear that this hive lost its Queen. Before my knee operation in April I’d found quite a few Queen cells inside and since it looked like swarming hadn’t happened yet I decided to remove all of them. After my knee operation I didn’t make it out to look inside this hive again and it seems that I must have either removed the cells after it had swarmed or something happened to the Queen. Either way, it’s not a happy outcome.

What I’m planning on doing is moving the bees that are left in this one into the white hive and then using this hive as a lure for swarms next year. I have no doubt that this time next year it will be full to bursting with a brand new colony.

Beekeeping on the Isle of Man with Lovely Greens

The White Hive on the left and the Green Hive on the right

UPDATE December 2015 – Here’s a photo of one of the jars filled with honey!

Honeycomb built into jars

13 Discussion to this post

  1. farmer Liz says:

    Hi Tanya! We finally have bees, and I’m paying more attention to beekeeping posts 🙂 Our hive started buidlkin gin the lid of their box, so we added a super. I can see how the jars would work, they will build anywhere when they run out of room. I wondered why you didn’t use an excluder, surely you don’t want them raising brood in the jars?? Maybe I misunderstood. Cheers, Liz

  2. Lithuanua De La Villa says:

    I want to thank you for sharing this great information specially about the mason jars- I can’t wait to put it on my hives, as you I have some medical echoes also and I could inspect my hives and I lost all my families. My friend O. Kovalchuk help me to start again. Thank you very much.for sharing!! Knowledge is not knowledge until you share it with others. GOD bless you.

  3. Swasti says:

    Wow great read

  4. Charlie says:

    I’ve only kept bees for a year but it occurred to me that perhaps a starter line or blob of wax on the bottom of the jars might help them start off as I believe that is what people with top bar hives need to do on each of their wooden strips that will eventually ‘grow’ big beautiful combs. Sounds like a fun idea if you make it work. Good luck x

  5. Angel says:

    This is great, but how do you get the bees out of the jar when it’s time to harvest the honey? Please don’t laugh, I’m not a bee keeper, but thinking about it.

    • lovelygreens says:

      It’s the same procedure as getting them off honeycomb — you place a ‘Bee Escape’ Board below the area you want to take honey from. The bees can go through a little door to get down into the hive but the door won’t let them move back up. After a couple of days the frames or jars are free of bees.

  6. Todd says:

    Hello Tanya,

    put some swarm lures in your empty hives – it will increase the odds of a swarm going into your empty hive dramatically. You can find them on ebay for a few dollars.

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