How to Encourage Bees to Build Honeycomb in Jars

Beekeeping tip: How to encourage honeybees to build honeycomb inside glass jars. via Lovely Greens
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In beehives, honeybees naturally build honeycomb on vertical frames. This is my try at encouraging bees to build honeycomb in jars.

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. What happens next is that the honeybees build honeycomb straight into them. The jars can then be taken out of the hive, filled with honey, and presented as a genuine jar of honey. And with perfectly formed honeycomb inside too! I am in love with the idea.

I’ve been trying the idea out, and have had a little success. Though there’s still work to be done, my bees have finally begun building inside the jars! It’s taken them (and me) all summer to figure this out and there have been some hiccups in the process. However, I’m pleased with the result 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

Placing glass jars in the hive

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. 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. I 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. I’ve also put a couple of half-pints in for variation.

In my hive inspections so far, I’ve been disappointed to find empty jars with slight condensation at the top. Why is it that bees will build comb in random places? But when you want them to build somewhere specific they pass on it?

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.

Getting Bees to Build Honeycomb in Jars

Finally one day I opened the hive and spotted was inside the jars. I think that they only built into the jars when there was absolutely no more space for them below.

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I’ve noticed that the bees haven’t built comb from the bottoms of the jars down. 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. If they hadn’t, 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.

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

Giving the bees a little more time

I’ve put the jars back inside the hive for now. I’d like to leave them in place until they’ve had a chance to build a bit more. I like the look of the new comb but it would be nice to see it filled with honey and capped.

In the meantime, I’ve put a clearing board on that hive (Primrose, the White Hive). It’s a board fitted with bee escapes that allow bees to exit a super and not return. Once they’ve left, I hope to take honey off next week. I’m leaving all the honey the bees have stored in their brood box and in one super. That’s more than enough to last them all winter and into spring.

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

Finally, Honeycomb in Jars

After a bit more time, the bees built more clean new comb in the jars. I took them off then I filled the jars with honey that I extracted. It was late in the season when I took the jars off. That means that the bees hadn’t had a chance to begin filling the comb with honey though. I’ll try again with this technique earlier in the season and think I’ll get capped honeycomb that time.

I’ve also learned two tricks that other beekeepers use to get honeycomb in jars. First, reduce condensation by drilling holes in the wooden frame that holds the jars. Also, give the bees a little incentive to build honeycomb in jars by dabbing a small amount of beeswax at the bottom of each jar. Just a little something for them to build on. Glass isn’t the most natural surface for bees to build comb on.

Honeycomb built into jars

More Honey and Beekeeping Inspiration

If you’re interested in more ideas on honeybees and ways to use honey and beeswax, check out these other ideas. I use both hive products regularly in skincare products and cooking and love how sweet-smelling both are.

18 Comments

  1. We paint some melted wax on the bottom and sides of the mason jars to speed up the process. Once the comb honey is capped you can remove the jar at night when the bees are down in the brood chamber and replace it with another empty jar if the flow is still good. We also glue the lids in place so it is easier to add another jar and give it a new lid after adding liquid honey to fill it up for sale. They go like hot cakes as they say. I am also experimenting with a Hybrid Long Lang Flow Hive that I built this winter.

  2. Hi there.

    I have a “one day” dream of keeping bees. So I’m doing a lot of research to see if it’s for me. I basically want bees for pollinating for my non-existent garden and if they toss in a little bit of honey now and then, I’m not going to complain :) So I want a very low maintenance hive and easy way of harvesting the small amount of honey I would want (I would not need the honey from the frames, one mason jar would be more than enough for me).

    I recently came across this “mason jar” hive in my research and got very excited.

    I’ve seen two videos so far but one thing is not clear to me. I’ve read that bees fill the comb with honey and then cap it but the comb in the bottle looks uncapped.

    Is the comb filled with honey, capped and the jar topped up with more honey or do the bees build the empty wax comb and you fill it with honey?

    Thanks!

    1. I’d recommend that you take a beekeeping course, in person or online, and then decide then if you want bees. After caring for them you can decide to do more advanced techniques like honeycomb in a jar.

      1. Hi

        I will definitely do a beekeeping course when I’m remotely close to getting a beehive (I don’t even have my own yard right now or a house, lol and I will definitely check if I’m allergic to bee stings first!).

        Right now, I’m just researching as much as I can, learning about the bees themselves, their needs, the equipment required and the different types of hives, etc. This one and the oblong shaped “earth hive” piqued my attention.

        This “mason jar” technique makes it look so easy like you’d never need to go into the frames. Which made me wonder how the honey doesn’t flow out and then I dug some more and discovered the bottles are topped with honey but nowhere could I find if the comb they build in the jar has honey in it.

        Anyway, thanks for your reply.

  3. Hello all this is a good read… I have become really intrigued about beekeeping and everything and would love to get one started but i have no idea where to begin or anything. Is there like a forum site or anyone near Miamisburg Ohio that could help me out or anything? Any advice tips anything would be greatly appreciated.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

    1. It’s set on top of a super that’s excluded already Liz. GREAT to hear that you’re keeping bees now! Australia is one of the only other places in the world where you don’t have to worry about the dreaded Varroa mite.

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