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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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- How to make beeswax furniture polish
- Make Honey and Beeswax Soap
- Getting Started Beekeeping: Tips for the Beginner Beekeeper
- 50+ Flowers to grow in a Bee-Friendly Garden
- Crushing and Straining Honey from the Comb