The Importance of Proper Honeycomb Storage
Honeycomb is a natural product with a delicate structure that can be affected by environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, and exposure to air. How you store it depends on what you intend to do with it. If you’re storing honeycomb with honey in it, either for sale or to give back to the bees during the winter, you need to protect it from contamination and pests like ants.
If the queen lays her eggs in the comb, some remnants of the metamorphosis process remain in the cell, even when workers fill those cells with honey. Once you’ve extracted the honey, that comb is more susceptible to wax moth attacks than honeycomb that has never had brood in it.
As you set out to store your comb, understand that there are different treatments for the different types of honeycomb.
Choosing the Right Container for Capped Honeycomb
Airtight containers made of glass or food-grade plastic are ideal, as they protect the honeycomb from moisture and air while allowing you to see its contents. Avoid using metal containers, as they can impart a metallic taste to honey. Make sure the container is clean and dry before placing the honeycomb inside.
Storing Honeycomb at Room Temperature
If you plan to consume the honeycomb within a few weeks, an airtight container in the pantry or even on the kitchen counter will do. To store honeycomb at room temperature, remember to:
Keep it Wrapped
If the honeycomb is wrapped in beeswax or parchment paper when you purchase it, keep it in its original wrapping. This will help maintain its moisture content and prevent it from drying out. If it’s not wrapped, you can use wax paper or parchment paper to wrap it gently before placing it in the container.
Place in an Airtight Container
Transfer the wrapped honeycomb to your chosen airtight container. Make sure there is enough room for the honeycomb.
Store in a Cool, Dry Place
Place the container in a cool, dry area, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. The ideal storage temperature for honeycomb is between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 21 degrees Celsius). Avoid storing honeycomb near strong-smelling foods, as it can absorb odors.
Drawn Empty Honeycomb
Drawn comb on the frame can either be stored on hives so that the bees can protect them or in an airy well lit shed.
For comb that has darkened because of brood, put the box with the frame on its side, so that light and air can pass in between the frames.
For honeycombs that only had honey, you may stack them but set them up in a pattern, so each box has a small section exposed at the corner. Since hive boxes are rectangular, if the first box is placed with the long side horizontal to your position, the next one should have the long side vertical.
Storing Honeycomb in the Refrigerator
If you want to store your honeycomb for an extended period, the refrigerator is a great option. However, cold storage can speed up the crystallization process (although it will still be perfectly safe to eat). Here’s how to store honeycomb in the fridge:
Wrap and Containerize
Follow the same steps as for room temperature storage: keep the honeycomb wrapped in beeswax or parchment paper and place it in an airtight container.
Store on a Lower Shelf
Place the container on a lower shelf in the refrigerator, where the temperature is more stable. The ideal temperature for storing honeycomb in the fridge is between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 7 degrees Celsius).
Allow to Warm Before Using
When you’re ready to enjoy your honeycomb, remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This will allow the honey to soften, making it easier to spread and enjoy.
Can You Freeze Honeycomb?
Freezing honeycomb is a less common but viable option for long-term storage. Freezing can help preserve the honeycomb’s quality and extend its shelf life. For drawn empty comb, freezing kills wax moth eggs and keeps the pests away, making it an excellent choice for those who want to store honeycomb for several months or even longer. Here’s what you need to know about freezing honeycomb:
Prepare the Honeycomb for Freezing (Capped Honeycomb)
Before freezing your honeycomb, wrap it in wax or parchment paper, as this will help maintain its moisture content and protect it from freezer odors. Then, place the wrapped honeycomb in an airtight container or a resealable plastic freezer bag. Be sure to remove as much air as possible to minimize the risk of freezer burn.
Freeze at the Right Temperature
Store the honeycomb in a freezer with a consistent temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) or below. This will ensure that the honeycomb remains frozen and retains its quality.
Thawing and Enjoying Frozen Honeycomb
When you’re ready to enjoy your frozen honeycomb, remove it from the freezer and let it thaw at room temperature for several hours or until it reaches the desired consistency. It’s essential not to use a microwave or place the honeycomb in a warm area to speed up the thawing process, as this can cause uneven thawing and affect the honeycomb’s texture.
While freezing honeycomb is a viable storage method, keep in mind that the texture of the honey may change slightly after thawing. Some crystallization may occur, but this is natural and does not affect the honey’s safety or nutritional value. Also, remember that honeycomb can absorb odors, so your freezer should be free of any strong smells before storing the honeycomb.
Drawn Empty Honeycomb
For an empty comb, the biggest challenge is finding a big enough freezer to store your frames. They don’t need to be wrapped before storage, but they don’t need to be kept frozen for more than three days. If areas with snow and freezing temperatures, storing them in the shed is as good as putting the frames in a freezer.
Once they have been in the freezer for 2-3 days, take them out and either wrap them to keep insects out, or store them in a well-lit area with all frames exposed to light and air.
What If Honeycomb Isn’t Stored Correctly?
Drying Out and Hardening
One of the most common issues with improperly stored honeycomb is that it can dry out and become hard. When honeycomb loses moisture, the wax becomes brittle, making it difficult to cut or spread. Additionally, the honey can become too thick, making it challenging to extract from the comb.
Honey is a natural substance that can crystallize over time, particularly if it’s exposed to air or stored at fluctuating temperatures. While crystallized honey is still safe to consume, it can change the honeycomb’s texture, making it less enjoyable to eat. Proper storage slows down the crystallization process.
Absorption of Odors
Honeycomb can absorb odors from its surroundings, which can affect its flavor. Storing honeycomb near strong-smelling foods or in an area with distinct odors can result in unpleasant-tasting honey. Using airtight containers and keeping honeycomb away from strong-smelling items can help prevent this issue.
Contamination and Spoilage
Although honey is a natural preservative, improper storage can lead to contamination and spoilage. Exposing honeycomb to moisture, high temperatures, or airborne contaminants can create an environment that allows mold or yeast to develop. While rare, consuming contaminated honeycomb can pose health risks. To minimize the risk of spoilage, always store honeycomb in clean, dry containers and follow proper storage guidelines.
Drawn Empty Honeycomb
Wax destruction from Wax Moth
Once wax moths take over your comb, they leave webbing and waste in their wake. It’s a disgusting mess and very wasteful. Fortunately, a strong colony can patrol all frames and remove any larvae they come across. That’s the first option, storing the drawn comb on strong colonies.
Since wax moths lay their eggs in dark cavities, exposing the frames to light and air makes them unattractive to the moths.
Properly storing fresh honeycomb ensures you enjoy your honey without compromising taste or texture. It also keeps pests away from your highly sought-after drawn comb, reducing your bees’ workload and boosting production.
By following these simple steps for room temperature, refrigerator, or freezer storage, you can preserve your honey and keep it tasting as fresh as possible.