Producing Ross Rounds
By: Kim Carpenter
What is Comb Honey
Simply stated, comb honey is honey that is produced by the bees in the beeswax comb and then taken out of the hive by the beekeeper and placed in a container for sale. The beeswax and the honey can be eaten straight out of the container, tasting just as it would as if it were straight out of the hive.
Why Make Comb Honey
Producing quality comb honey is an art in its purest form. Many people recognize comb honey from a part of their childhood where their local beekeeper produced it and that’s how they consumed honey in those days. It’s a sense of not only nostalgia but also of going back to your roots and consuming healthy foods. Producing comb honey in its different forms is not only enjoyable as a hobby but it can also greatly add to your income as a beekeeper and help diversify your product line from the hive. In Upstate NY we see comb honey being sold from $15 up to $30 depending on the container size. There is definitely an ever growing market for comb honey, with the supply usually not being able to meet the local demands.
What is Ross Round Comb Honey
Ross Round Comb Honey is a round section comb honey produced in a less than shallow sized super with special plastic section frames that use a thin 3-7/8” foundation. Each frame contains four round sections that the foundation gets placed into for the bees to build comb on. The end result is 32 round combs in a 10-frame super and 28 round combs in an eight-frame super. Clear covers are placed on each side of the comb and then a label wrapping around the covers to hold them together. Thus the finished product. Easy to harvest, assemble and quick to sell.
Advantages of Ross Round Comb Honey/ Compared to Other Methods
Traditional cut comb honey that was made before section comb honey was created involved using a regular wedge top frame with a sheet of thin super foundation or just running a bead of beeswax on the top bar as a guide for bees to start building comb on. These comb honey frames were usually medium sized frames and you could harvest four square sections of completed comb from each frame with a 4”x4” cut comb cutter.
When the frames were ready for harvesting, the beekeeper would lay each comb honey frame on a fl at surface and using a very sharp knife would cut out the perimeter of the comb to remove the frame. Then each square was carefully measured to be the proper size, cut, then carefully placed on a straining rack for excess honey from the cut edges to drip off of the comb honey. When making good quality comb honey it is a must to make sure all the honey drains off of the final product before being placed into the container. One, to give it the best presentation possible and two, to make sure that the liquid honey wouldn’t crystallize in the container around the piece of comb, thus detracting from the final product.
Once drained the section of cut comb would be carefully lifted up and placed into a clear square plastic container, sealed and then placed in the freezer for a few days to kill any wax moth eggs or larvae that may be present.
Disadvantages: While the traditional cut comb honey creates a beautiful finished product it is a labor of love and sometimes not all pieces of comb will be able to be used for the final product for sale. If it is at the end of the nectar flow and the bees have not finished all parts of the frames, when harvested those unfinished pieces of comb would be fed back to the bees unable to be sold so you may not get the full harvest you are anticipating.
Traditional Basswood section comb methods have always used the square wooden basswood boxes which would first need to be soaked in water then manipulated into a special jig to assemble together with the thin super foundation. When the basswood boxes were completed by the bees they would be taken out of the super, frozen for a few days then put into a clear cellophane bag and cardboard carton for sale.
While the completed product looks presentable and nostalgic, the monetary cost of the basswood boxes is more than most section comb systems on the market and the assembly of each new comb honey system is time consuming leaving most to look into other methods of comb honey production.
The Ross Round Comb Honey system takes a lot of mess and complication out of making section comb honey. When initially purchased, the Ross Round Comb Honey System comes completely assembled; all that is lacking are the sheets of foundation.
When getting ready to assemble the frames for comb honey production one simply snaps apart the two-piece plastic frame and places the sheet of 3-7/8” thin super foundation in it and snaps the frame back together. In each round cavity in the frame there will be already installed two plastic rings that the foundation goes between, that when finished will be part of the final product that after your clear cover is applied onto your label will wrap around.
There is no cutting or draining of the comb required. When completed the beekeeper simply snaps the frame apart to remove each round section and with a small knife removes any excess pieces of foundation around the rings. The clear covers are then applied to each side then the comb is frozen for a few days to kill any wax moth eggs or larvae that may be present. Then when taken out of the freezer and at room temperature you put on your label and your product is ready for sale.
What comes with a Complete Ross Round Super Kit and What Supplies Do You Need?
When initially purchased, depending on what supplier you purchase the kit thru, the kit includes an assembled wooden Ross Round super, seven or eight plastic frames with 64 or 56 rings installed (depending on whether it is a 10 frame or eight-frame super), a follower board and three metal super springs. The plastic frames are installed starting all to one side of the box which has the pre-attached follower board, then the removable follower board is added to the last frame with the three metal super springs holding it in place for easy removal.
You will need to purchase also the 3-7/8” Thin Super Foundation to go into the Ross Round Super. Some bee supply companies sell the kit and then the extra supplies separately like your foundation, covers, rings and labels. Other companies will put all the supplies together as one big kit. So your initial cost can range anywhere from $75 to $129 depending on what supplier you go thru and what options you chose to start out with.
Choosing the Right Colony
When choosing a colony for ANY comb honey production, it is important to choose the right colony. Not all colonies will make comb honey so it’s important to look at each colony objectively to decide whether it’s a good candidate or not for comb honey production. Choose your strongest colonies that are best at producing new comb and with lots of foragers bringing in nectar. Usually your comb honey production colonies will be established colonies that have made it thru a Winter, not necessarily a new colony from a nuc or package. But every year and area is different with nectar flows so you may get lucky with a new colony filling out a super. But nine times out of 10 you would use a strong, queen-right, established colony as your comb honey producer.
I usually look for the colonies that are strongest, almost on the verge of swarming to add my Ross Rounds Supers to and I do not use queen excluders. You would not want to use a colony for comb honey production if it is not queen-right, has a high pest infestation (i.e. mites, hive beetles, wax moths), or is just barely getting along. You want to choose your best colonies as they will give you the best results, not your sub-par colonies.
When and How to Super
There are several opinions on when to super your colony for comb honey production. Beekeepers usually always live by the motto to super early and super often so that their colonies don’t run out of space and swarm.
Keep in mind that if you add supers early with the pure wax foundation and there is not a nectar flow on, the bees may remove some of the beeswax foundation to be used elsewhere in the hive. So your sheets of thin foundation may end up with holes in them that the bees may or may not fill back in, possibly leaving your final product uneven. So while you may prevent the colony from swarming, you may also not have as perfect of a final product on some of your frames.
Another way to super is to wait for the nectar flow to start and two days into the nectar flow, add your Ross Round Supers. You bees will by then have their wax glands producing again now that a nectar flow is on and will immediately start building comb. And since a nectar flow is on, they will most likely not chew out pieces of the thin foundation but will build the comb out evenly which will then be filled up immediately by incoming foragers.
Another useful trick for supering that you can use is that you can get a newly captured swarm to build out good comb honey frames by keeping the swarm in one deep and adding your Ross Round Super on top. Since they are already in comb building mode from swarming, they will build out your supers easily, even more so if there is a strong nectar flow on.
When you add your Ross Round Supers, it’s important to have that super on as your only super for them to work on. If you were to add a regular super with drawn comb on top of a Ross Round Super, the bees will work the drawn comb first and work on the undrawn Ross Round Super last or not at all. I will add my Ross Round Super on top of a very strong colony without a queen excluder typically just into the nectar flow and then I will check back with it in one-week increments.
We’re very lucky here in Upstate NY where we have three very strong nectar and pollen flows, so the bees are very busy and produce a lot of extra honey and pollen for you to collect.
Around Memorial Day weekend in May is usually when we notice the Black Locust Trees are blooming around our area in Canandaigua, NY. In that time the bees can fill that Ross Round Super up tremendously fast as long as the blooms last, sometimes in a weeks time. That’s why I go back and check after a week of having the super on. If the super is ½ to ¾ full I will add another Ross Round Super on top and check it in another week. Remember, fresh nectar takes up a lot of space in the supers but as they start dehydrating it and making it into honey, it takes up less space. So you want them to have ample space to store the fresh nectar and build fresh comb.
Since it’s the springtime there will be many other flowers in bloom that they will collect nectar from as well besides the Black Locust, so the supers will have no problem getting filled up. The Spring honey is usually the most delicate and lightest of the honeys, along with being my personal favorite.
Once you go back in on week two and see that your first Ross Round Super is capped, take the super off of the hive and harvest the combs. You would not want to leave the super on indefinitely during the Spring and Summer, as any comb that they’ve capped with nice fresh white comb will darken over time with the bees walking on it and make it look less appealing for sale.
They also could eat that honey in the supers or the queen could start laying in them. So harvest your supers or finished individual frames of the Ross Rounds as soon as they are ready.
That’s a benefit of using the Ross Round Supers in that you don’t have to wait until the entire super is full, you can take out individual frames to harvest them unlike other comb honey kits on the market.
When to Harvest
Once you go back in on week two and see that your first Ross Round Super is capped, take the super off of the hive and harvest the combs. You would not want to leave the super on indefinitely during the Spring and Summer, as any comb that they’ve capped with nice fresh white comb will darken over time with the bees walking on it and make it look less appealing for sale. They also could eat that honey in the supers or the queen could start laying in them. So harvest your supers or finished individual frames of the Ross Rounds as soon as they are ready. That’s a benefit of using the Ross Round Supers in that you don’t have to wait until the entire super is full, you can take out individual frames to harvest them unlike other comb honey kits on the market.
Taking Supers Off The Hive
You have two options on when & how to harvest when using the Ross Round supers. Option one is you can take out one frame at a time if you want to and replace the rings and foundation in it and put it right back into the super on the hive that day. This way if you have an order for a customer that needs some comb, you can fulfill that order.
You don’t have to wait until the whole super is filled out to harvest which makes the Ross Rounds system incredibly convenient to use. If I run into that situation of needing just a frame or two, I’ll either take that frame into the house, remove the combs and refill the foundation and rings and go replace that frame right away that day. Or I will take a cookie sheet out into the apiary with me, along with the sheet of foundation I need and rings and just replace everything right there in the apiary so I don’t forget about it. You don’t want to leave empty spaces in your Ross Round Super.
Option two is you can wait until the Ross Round super is completely filled out before you take it off and refill it. If your bees only fill out half a super, no big deal, you can harvest those frames and refill them and your super will be ready for use for the next nectar flow.
Harvesting Your Ross Round Honey Combs
When you take the completed plastic frames out of the hive, whether in the apiary or in your home or honey house, the removal of the finished Ross Round comb is very easy. Place the frame down on a level surface. Using your finger, hive tool or pocket knife, starting in the top corner of the frame, the two sections of the plastic frame will easily break apart. You will see that the rings are now joined to the foundation sheet in the middle and the bees have built comb perfectly on both sides of the foundation inside the rings. The rings are part of your final product. Do NOT remove the rings. All that needs to be done to it now is to remove any excess foundation that is around the outside of the rings. A sharp knife works well to do this, going around the outside of the rings just to get any remaining bits of foundation.
Freeze Your Comb Honey Before Selling
Now that you have separated the two pieces of the frame and removed each round section, you can carefully place the Ross Round Comb into a ziploc bag and place into the freezer for three to four days or until you’re ready to sell them. This will ensure that if you had any wax moths in your hive, that any larvae from them or any other insect will die in the freezer and not end up in your final product. Any comb honey with wax moths and wax moth webbing on them should not be used for resale that is why it’s important to freeze your combs for at least three days. You don’t want your customer to have a surprise when they go to open the comb honey container or take a bite of the final product.
You can leave your comb honey in your freezer for as long as you need to without fear of it crystallizing but be very careful that your freezer you are placing them into is a freezer dedicated to comb honey and bee products. Or one that does not have any strong smells like meat, onions, garlic, etc in it. The comb honey can easily pick up any off smells in a freezer and make the final product distasteful and unsalable so err on the side of caution when deciding what freezer to place your comb in.
Packaging the Final Product
Once you’re ready to package up your Ross Round Comb Honey, take them out of the freezer in the ziploc bag and let them come to room temperature. Any moisture that may be in there will accumulate on the ziploc bag and not on your comb honey. Once at room temperature you can now carefully place your clear and opaque covers over the rings and finished Ross Round Comb.
You will notice there are small tabs on the inside of the covers so you line those up against the edges of the rings to create a nice even seal.
Some beekeepers will put clear covers on both sides of the comb and others will do one side of clear and one of opaque. This way if you have one side of the comb that looks perfect you can put that on the clear side and the other side that is not as perfect can go on the opaque side. Also the opaque cover on the bottom will not show the scratches on the retail shelves like the clear side will thus keeping your finished product more refined looking.
Once your covers are on your Ross Round combs you can now add your label to the product. Refer to your state’s labeling laws on honey as to what you need to put on the label. If you purchase one of the five labels made by Ross Rounds, then the weight has already been put on the label for you in ounces and grams. A completed Ross Round Comb will weigh eight ounces or 227 grams and that is pre-printed on the label. If the weight is less than that you can always put a sticker over that on the label with what the weight actually is. There will also be a spot on the label for you to write or have your information printed onto it.
Any of the beekeeping suppliers that sell the Ross Round Comb Honey Supers will also sell the labels that go along with it and some may offer the printing service for them as well.
Eating the Final Product
The labels that are used for the Ross Rounds are made to be removable by the end consumer without too much effort and fuss. They can simply peel the label right off, remove the top cover and enjoy the comb honey right in the packaging or cut it out.
The honey comb can be scooped out with a spoon and eaten and then the cover placed back on top for the next use. Or you can remove both covers and set on a plate, then using a sharp knife, go around the inside of the rings to separate the rings from the completed comb. Then you can cut the comb into slices and spread on toast, biscuits, waffles or anything that you already like honey on.
Comb honey is also great for using with Charcuterie Boards; a tray of cheeses, cured meats, nuts, berries, etc. Add honey to your Charcuterie or Cheese Board at your next party and you’ll be the talk of the town!
Storage Tips for your Customers
Let your customers know NOT to store their comb honey in the refrigerator as this will make your honey crystallize. The best place to store it is at room temperature in its covers or in the freezer. If stored in the freezer, let them know to unthaw it first before they go to eat it unless they like a tasty frozen honey treat. The honey will not go solid in the freezer but will remain in a stable liquid form in the comb if in the freezer. If leaving it at room temperature, make sure to keep the honey covered with either the covers the Ross Round Comb came with or in a Tupperware or comb honey container. You would not want to leave the honey exposed to the air to absorb moisture, then it may begin to naturally ferment and your process of making Mead has started.
Refilling the super/Cost of Goods/Marketing
These topics are for a follow up article, and other tips and tricks, to come.
Kim Carpenter and her husband, Ben, own and operate Hungry Bear Farms.