We have honey!Posted By: John The Beekeeper Category: Bees
We took the honey boxes from our bee hive two weeks ago and after a bit of work, 50lbs of golden honey is now in jars and on sale. In case you think that we robbed our bees of their entire season’s crop, don’t worry: I made sure that the hive has plenty of stores to see them through the coming winter. Happy bees ready for the coming year…
Honey ripening in the hive
Everyone knows that bees store their honey in comb which consists of dozens of individual hexagonal cells made of beeswax (natch). Each comb fills a thin wooden frame which can be removed from the hive, either when carrying out regular checks during the summer, or when the time comes to harvest the surplus honey. Open cells full of glistening honey are an amazing sight but the honey still needs to ripen which the bees do by fanning their wings in order to reduce the water content to the point where each cell can be covered with the finest layer of pure wax. Tempting though it is, there is little point in taking honey which is not fully ripe – capped cells being a good indicator that the honey is ready.
How honey is processed
A day or two before I removed the honey boxes from our hive, I put a special board, with a one way exit device set in the centre, under the boxes. As the bees left the hive, they had to pass through this exit but when they returned, they found themselves unable to gain access to the top section of the hive where the honey is stored. And so, on the day when I was going to steal their honey, the honey boxes were empty of bees – well, almost empty as a few lazy bees which chose to remain clinging to the combs and gorging themselves on the precious crop.
Extracting the honey from the combs took place in my kitchen and involved an essential piece of beekeeping equipment – a honey extractor. Basically this is a large, stainless steel which can be spun by turning a handle. Frames of honeycomb are placed inside and the honey is then flung out by centrifugal force.
As you will imagine, it’s a sticky business – first, uncapping each comb using a long bladed knife, carefully slid under the wax covering which falls into a tray, each frame of comb then carefully stacked inside the extractor. My extractor holds six frames at a time, so once full, I put the lid on before turning the handle – slowly at first, then faster and faster as the honey is spun from the cells. It’s a mesmerising process: the lid above the drum is made of clear plastic so you can see the honey trickling down the sides of the drum in a steady steam.
The best bit is yet to come – opening the valve at the side of the drum to let the honey flow out into a double strainer of coarse, then fine, wire mesh which removes crumbs of wax and other detritus. Once the strainer is full of honey, the valve must be shut. Running honey makes not a sound, so woe betide the beekeeper whose concentration lapses at this point!
Honey into jars
Although the honey which has passed though the strainer is free from small particles, I still like to make one final filtration – this time through butter muslin into a large tank. The result? – crystal clear, golden nectar. A jar of honey held to the light reveals a haze of minute dots which are grains of pollen so small they have passed though the muslin. Hay fever sufferers who eat local honey are ingesting pollens from the immediate area, the aim being to reduce sensitivity.
A few days settling in the tank allows tiny air bubbles to disperse and the honey is then put into jars and labelled ready to sell. Pop into our Café and you can buy some – but be quick as it is very popular!