Honey is such a wonderful natural source of sweetness. It has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. When you eat local honey it is known to decrease your pollen allergies and honey is also one of the only foods that is known to last for more than 2000 years!! You can’t go wrong with getting more honey in your life!
Last week I had the lucky opportunity to learn to extract honey from frames. Hives for Humanity (hivesforhumanity.com), a non-profit organization came by to show us how easy and fun it can be.
This is one frame from our beehive at work! It contains tons of honey or bee regurgitation. Bees use honey as a form of food storage for over wintering. They start the honey production by looking for flowers. These flowers provide nectar or the sugary liquid in which honey is produced. Bees love flowers like clovers, dandelions and fruit blossoms. They have a long tongue or proboscis that they use like a straw to extract the nectar. The nectar gets stored in special stomachs until they get home. Enzymes in the stomach start to break down the sugars and begin the process of creating honey. Once the bees are full of nectar, they travel back to the hive to spit the nectar into the honey comb cells. So really its like bee regurgitation. (Doesn’t that sound delicious??)
They fill the honeycombs with this sugary substance and let the liquid evaporate until it becomes the thickness of honey. Worker bees sometimes fan the honey to speed up the evaporation process! When the honey is ready, the bees cap everything with a layer of wax. The wax helps store the honey for later when flowers become scarce.
Bee keepers who extract honey have to be careful not to take everything from the hive. With lots of flowers and blossoms nearby, bees tend to make excess amounts of honey just to make sure they can survive the winter. Bee keepers can harvest these extra frames.
To extract honey, you want to carefully uncap the combs. We were given special tools to help us do that. Although some bee keepers just smash everything and then strain the honey, we wanted to give back the honeycombs to the bees so they can use less resources to create new honeycombs. Its a win win situation. We get the honey and the bees get their honey combs returned.
The wax from uncapping the honeycombs can be saved to create beeswax candles! We collected it in a bucket and called it Sludge.
Once the frames have been uncapped, they are put in a honey extractor which uses centrifugal force to pull the honey out of the frames. It takes about 3 minutes for this to happen.
As more and more honey gets spun out, the honey begins to ooze out of the spout. We use a strainer to remove any wax that was left in the extraction process. Then we strain it again to make sure we get everything.
After spinning, the frames are clean. All that remains is beeswax. We will return these frames to the bees so they can fill it up with more honey.
Depending on the seasons, we can get different types and flavours of honey. Our second batch of honey was a lot more tart than the first. Some honey can be a light golden colour and some can get so rich and dark that it looks like molasses. The reason is that each flower contains different nectar. The nectar have different tastes and colour. As the seasons change, different flowers blossom and we get the different types of honey.
The whole process of honey is such a fascinating topic. From how its made to how it gets to your table. The next time you have honey, just imagine how long it takes and appreciate the hard work that the bees did!
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