Nov. 25, 2021

Artificial Honeycomb (049)

Artificial Honeycomb  (049)

Back about 100 years ago, there was so much adulterated honey for sale that people were reluctant to buy it at all. Comb honey was seen as being different because that couldn’t be adulterated, right? Well, A. I. Root put up an award looking for fake...

Artificial CombBack about 100 years ago, there was so much adulterated honey for sale that people were reluctant to buy it at all. Comb honey was seen as being different because that couldn’t be adulterated, right? Well, A. I. Root put up an award looking for fake comb honey because he was sure it couldn’t be done.

Fast forward 100 years or so and that may not be the case anymore. People can digitally print fully drawn comb for bees to use, from either beeswax, or other edible waxes. Bees seem to like it and it works just fine in a beehive, giving bees a boost when they need it the most.

Aluminum CombSo, can you make fake comb honey? Well, perhaps. Tune in and listen to Kim and Jim examine these old and new rules about comb honey, and see what the world is up to with these newfangled inventions.


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Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 49 – Artificial Honeycomb


Jim Tew: Kim, how's your thanks giving day plans going?

Kim Flottum: Well, it's the end of the day, I'm winding down. Good times today visiting with friends and relatives, and it was a good day. How about yours?

Jim: It's the same. I always enjoy Thanksgiving. You don't have to hassle with gifts and trees and the big decorations and you just eat and then you eat and that was all over, they put it back out and you eat some more, so how can that be bad?

Kim: I can't think of any way at all.

Jim: I'd like for everyone to know that we're not crazy. I mean, we enjoy Thanksgiving but still, I like to talk about these and I've been looking forward to this.


Kim: Hi. I'm Kim Flottum.

Jim: I'm Jim Tew. We're coming to you today with Honey Bee Obscura where we'd love to talk to you about some of the old questions that happened long ago and are still relevant today. Kim, that question is can comb honey be manufactured by machinery so as not to be told from genuine? What has changed, if anything? Can we make fake comb honey?

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura, brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura, hosts Kim Flottum and Jim Tew explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun and the challenges of managing honey bees in today's world and engaging in informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, longtimers and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honey bees.

Kim: There's a lot of ways to look at that. You said 1910 that question was asked?

Jim: It was 1910 at a publication, AI Root did.

Kim: Technology has come a long way since then. Looking at it from today's perspective, we can now digitally print, 3D print these wax comb or wax comb, it's not beeswax.

Jim: Let me catch up, though. You can actually use beeswax to make this comb or you can also make a product out of plastic that is beeswax comb. Is that what I understood you to say?

Kim: Well, you can do that, too. You can make it out of beeswax and you can make it out of wax that isn't beeswax. Not too long ago, there was a fellow out in California named Herb Drap and who made it out of plastic. Of course, that wouldn't have been edible, but he made frames that were plastic with the right size cell, the right slant.

Jim: I remember him, Kim. We don't have him anymore, he's crossed over. He put a lot of time in that, it was heavy plastic. I think he was trying to have a frame so heavy that you didn't have to uncap it. You could just spin it fast and sling the honey through the cappings, but to my knowledge, it never did work, did it?

Kim: It never took off for whatever reason, cost, weight whatever. It was called PermaComb. You still might see references to it in some of the older journals. It came, it tried, and it went. I don't think it's still around very much at all. The new stuff, there was some people in, I believe, Europe not long ago who were able to 3D print using pure beeswax at the right depth and the right angle of the cell, fully drawn comb, so that does exist.

Jim: They're making beeswax comb so you could, in theory, give your colony comb that's already drawn out.

Kim: Between you and me and the fence post, I think probably the most expensive or the most valuable piece of equipment you own is a fully drawn frame. Bees have to put no energy into it at all and it's ready to go. If you've got a beeswax comb that had the purest beeswax that the bees like, you've just saved yourself a whole lot of energy and a whole lot of money.

Jim: Well, save the bees that, too. I was just doing some reading just a couple of nights ago about how difficult it is for these pioneering swarms to get those first few combs built and how desperate it is and how much better luck they have the second season. I'm thinking if you're a beginning beekeeper and you're really trying to get that package colony started off to a good jumpstart and you don't have comb, you don't have any beekeeper friends to give you comb, what? Could you buy three or four frames of this to help them out?

Kim: I know you could for a while, I'm not sure on its availability anymore. I haven't had a chance to look lately. What lots of people are saying or were saying was that it worked. When they got it, it worked. You cut it to fit your frame, you wired it in or not, and put it in a hive and the bees just jumped on it.

Jim: That's a good point, Kim. You wired it in or not. What was the foundation that this frame was on, this comb was on?

Kim: It was the same foundation that bees make, it was no foundation. It was the bottom of one-- the cell was the bottom of three other cells on the other side.

Jim: You got me thinking here as we do this spontaneous, so I'm making this up as I go along. Does it print both sides of the comb at one time, or do you put sheets back to back to make the comb on both sides?

Kim: For a long time, there was a video on YouTube that was showing how this went in. It was a machine bigger than your living room, taller than your living room and longer than your living room. What went in one end was liquid wax and what came out the other end were pieces of drawn comb cut to size. In that box, you didn't see what happened in that box, but what came out was ready to use, ready to go beeswax comb.

Jim: All right. Do I know enough to know if we like this or not?

Kim: [laughs]

Jim: I mean, this is not like we're recommending it but it does sound like an alternative to making the bees do it.

Kim: What you said earlier was all you need for a swarm or a divide, a small divide, is a couple of frames. You don't need 10 frames of this stuff. You need enough of them to get going so that while they're filling that one up or building new ones to get ready for what comes after. I can see that the investment would be relatively minimal and the benefit would be relatively maximum if it's still available.


Sponsor: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Honey Bee Obscura podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions. From their colorful catalog to their supportive beekeeper educational activities including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of beekeepers serving beekeepers. See for yourself at


Jim: I of course have plenty of old comb, but I'm thinking about the new beekeepers. We've got so many new beekeepers and they're so desperate, and I realize I've always known how difficult that first season is. If this helps a novice beekeeper with novice bees, it may not be all bad but you keep qualifying if it's still available and if it fits.

Kim: Yes, that's the thing.

Jim: I'm surprised. You always challenge on the quality of the wax and the purity of the wax, no problem there, everything's okay with this wax because at some point, that beekeeper's going to recycle that wax and to rendered wax and maybe candles or whatever.

Kim: I'm watching this on YouTube, but I don't have a clue on the quality of the wax. They say the quality is pure, that the bees like it. Taking them at their word, the assumption is that it's good, but you know that word, assumption.

Jim: This all started this whole thought that we had about this discussion was the fact that the AI Root Company that AI Root, he himself, years ago had a challenge out that if anybody could manufacture honey on the comb, what'd he do? He had a big reward or something?

Kim: Right. It had to do with the fact that the consuming public would look at comb honey and would look at liquid honey. At the time that he came out with this proposal, liquid honey was way, way more often not honey at all, it was some sort of sugar syrup. What AI did, says if it's honey comb, it's pure honey. If it's liquid honey, maybe. You can't manufacture, you can't make, you can't fake comb honey, and that was where his proposal came out, is because you can't manufacture comb honey. You know it's pure honey in the comb as opposed to that jar of yellow sticky stuff over there on the shelf.

Jim: This is a variation on a theme. You can make the comb, but the bees are making the honey. It's not really artificial honey, it's not really artificial comb because it's made from beeswax.

Kim: [laughs] We sound like we're trying to sell this stuff, Kim. I'm not trying to sell it, I'm just trying to understand it. It doesn't really mean that we can go rushing to the AI Root Company and say we found it. Here is fake honey and fake comb and people are paying real money for it. No, no, not really. This is a variation on a theme.

Kim: Well, there's one more facet to this. This past year, Betterbee brought out some drawn comb made out of not beeswax, but a food grade wax that if you wanted to, you could eat it and it wouldn't be harmful. The purpose of this is basically the same as you're going to give it to bees to get a start with, you're going to harvest the honey in there by uncapping it, you're going to reuse the comb, but you're not going to mix it with the beeswax when you melt your other comb. As I understand it, it works quite well. I tried it, my bees liked it, they jumped right on it. Other people who said it was a little bit different than that, but my luck with it was pretty good. Now, is that fake honeycomb? It's got real honey in it. [laughs]

Jim: Betterbee, don't take this the wrong way, but is it fake honeycomb? Well, it's not beeswax comb.

Kim: Right.

Jim: Is artificial a better word? Is it an artificial honeycomb?

Kim: That's probably pretty good. They're not doing it to try and fool people, they're trying to do it to give people a leg up on getting their bees started. I, for one thing, it's a good idea. The issue is getting it blended with beeswax, but they're really upfront about, "Don't do this." You can melt it down and make candles out of it. From a beekeeper's perspective, it has all the value of beeswax in terms of making comb, making candles, being reusable.

Jim: That's really interesting, Kim, because to my knowledge, that paraffin material- it must be some kind of paraffin-based material, is normally considerably cheaper than beeswax.

Kim: Yes. There's the advantage. You get a leg up because you got comb already drawn, and it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg.

Jim: It doesn't cost an arm and a leg. If you wanted to, you can still make a candle out of it, but all right. All this is really interesting, isn't it? Because all those years ago in 1910 when this was in the latest news about people trying to manufacture this stuff artificially, that has taken to this point for us to get to where it's not inconceivable that you could make a fake honeycomb and whatever. We're probably closer than ever, but we still haven't done it. There's been plastic comb. I don't know who else tried it. Have you seen this as off the subject? I'll touch it and get back to our topic here, but there used to be aluminum combs.

Kim: Yes.

Jim: There used to be what? Those old aluminum combs at that.

Kim: I've got some of those.

Jim: Those things were all the rage for a while, weren't they?

Kim: They are until you drop one and bend it.

Jim: Well, the other thing too that I was told, that you couldn't winter bees on it because the bees couldn't stabilize the cluster temperature because the outer exposed edges of the aluminum would wick the coldness through the center of the frame and would cool the brood trying to winter.

Kim: I hadn't thought about that.

Jim: As the metal sheets stabilized itself, it would wick in cold , but I don't know. Everything I saw was always an antique. I only bring this up, Kim, at this point because we tried everything through the years to help the bees with this comb situation. It looks like they were pretty close to being able to do it now.

Kim: Well, I guess my advice would be is if you find some and it's for sale, try it, and know what you're getting into and know what can come out of it. If it's made out of beeswax, it's pure wax and the bees will fill it and cap it, and you can uncap it and extract the honey and you're in good shape. All things considered, it's a leg up.

Jim: You're not listening to you talk, Kim, and you know what's coming. You remember from we gave up and began to accept plastic jars more and more and not use glass jars every time and beekeepers would show up with the veins in their neck popped out and their eyes bloodshot, that it was not natural to use plastic jars for comb for storing honey? This is going to be the same. This is going to meet resistance because it's not the bees doing it, it's us doing it, but it is a new tool. It is interesting. Nobody seems to be trying to hoodwink anyone with it. Probably ought to have a look at it while it's available.

Kim: The other part of that is those same people that worried about plastic bottles versus glass bottles are the same people that are worried about plastic boxes, plastic frames, plastic tops, plastic bottoms, all of those things that seem to be working pretty well because they were designed by people who had the bees in mind as opposed to people who had the beekeeper in mind. All things considered, yes, I think trying it should be on your list.

Jim: Give it a chance. It may or may not. Other things have come and gone. Well, what are you going to do? Are you going to go back now to the turkey table or are you going to call it done?

Kim: I'm going back for a second helping.

Jim: There's some things I won't go into it, but there's some components of my turkey day dinner that I only get on Turkey Day, so I have to go eat it because it won't come around again till Christmas, and then beyond that, it won't come around again till next November.

Kim: Okay. Well, enjoy.

Jim: I enjoy talking about this. This sounds like the beekeeping has got some novel new ideas that are really on the front burner with these new devices that can 3D print like that. See what you think. Believe me, beekeepers will have an opinion in a hurry. If it works, it'll be around and if it doesn't work, you better buy quickly so you can have something to show future beekeepers what it was early on.

Kim: There you go. Enjoy your pumpkin pie.

Jim: Well, pecan pie in my case. Pecan pie.

Kim: Oh, pecan, even better. Okay.

Jim: Everybody who listened this far, everybody who listened, thank you for tuning in and letting us go on and on. If you try this stuff or have an opinion, let us know about it. We're trying to decide what our opinion is.

Kim: We'll see you next time.

Jim: Thank you.


[00:16:53] [END OF AUDIO]