The Nectar of the Gods - From Flower to Food
Honey, a thick, sweet liquid made by bees from the nectar of flowering plants, has been consumed by humans since the beginnings of written history. From the English word hunig, honey was the first sweetener used by man. As well as uses in food and drink, honey was also used to make cement, polishes and varnishes, as well as a variety of medicines. Today, honey is used in cooking, baking and as a sweetener in drinks, as well as in lip and body balms and as an effective combatant for sore throats and coughs. A recent study conducted by researchers at Oxford University even found honey can be more effective at treating coughs, sore throats and blocked noses than traditional medicines. Due to the many benefits of honey – and its pure tastiness - Aim has 15 beehives, and we have recently harvested this season's honey. We have three varieties, all of which are available to purchase online or from our Malt House shop.
How is Honey made?
Beehives are made of different sections, as shown to the above. In order to harvest honey, we need to make sure that the honey super is free of bees – we don’t need an army of thousands of bees in our kitchen when we come to process honey! We do this by using a “bee escape board”. This allows bees to travel down the hive into the food and brood chambers, but makes it more difficult for them to travel back up to the honey super. Once installed, the bee escape means that after a day or two, we can remove the honey super with hopefully little or no bees in it. We thoroughly check all of the frames within the super and gently remove and shake off any remaining bees. Now we are ready for processing the honey.
Below you can see the honey super with capped frames – you will notice the cells have been “capped” with beeswax to seal in the honey. We use a capping knife to remove the wax caps. The frame is held vertically and the capping knife is used in a gentle side-to-side slicing manner, removing the wax. This is completed on both sides of the frame. Once the wax caps have all been removed, we then place the frames into our honey spinner. When full, we manually turn the handle to spin the frames for roughly five minutes in each direction.
The centrifugal force removes the honey, causing it to collect in the drum where a tap can be opened to fill up containers for the next part of the process. The wax remains on the empty frames, which can then be returned to the bees.
The raw honey will then go through different processes depending on the type of honey we want to produce. Raw honey is simply filtered through 200-micron mesh and can go straight into jars ready for purchase. Pasteurised honey is heated up, destroying its natural yeasts which helps to prolong shelf life and make it smoother.
The Flowers Matter
The types of flowers from which bees extract nectar will determine the type of honey that is produced. Some honey producers make heather honey, where their bees have only produced honey from the nectar of surrounding heather plants, for example. This can be difficult to determine, however, as we cannot dictate which flowers bees go to. Earlier this year, the bees made use of the neighbouring oilseed rape field to produce their honey. In the later part of summer, our bees used the pollen from wildflowers and insect friendly flower beds that we had planted around the site. The honey produced from the oilseed rape had begun to set at the time of harvesting, but the honey produced from other flowers was made of the proper good runny stuff, which has been poured into containers ready to sell. The set honey was melted down and separated from the wax and put into a large container. We have since added yeast to this and it is well on its way to becoming mead! This should be ready within a few months – although it might not last that long as we just have to do daily taste tests to make sure it is progressing well 😉