Honey Processing

The Honey Processing Room
The Honey Processing Room

We’re lucky that we are neighbours to a Jamie Oliver Teaching Kitchen in Orford Primary School. During late August, with the summer holidays coming to an end, we move our extraction and filtering equipment, together with honeybuckets and jars, into this pristine food-quality environment, we spin out and then cold-filter the honey harvest, prior to ripening the honey and then pouring it into jars.

And with all honey processing, it is imperative to keep bees out of the area. The bees understand the true value of honey, having worked so hard to bring it into the hive themselves. Be in no doubt that they will swiftly arrive to reclaim it, once they know that it is on tap in the honey kitchen. Precautions should be taken to keep bees (& wasps) away from the honeyfacturing process – with screens on open windows, if required.

Like Bees To A Honeycomb
Like Bees To A Honeycomb

This is an intensely artisanal process, full of nuances, since we’re aiming for top-notch honey production.

Our honey is harvested as comb, stored on the frame, properly capped with delicate white wax.

Raw Honeycomb
Raw Honeycomb

Hygiene is always top of the agenda (I have the Level 3 Food Safety and Hygiene for Supervisors qualification). Floors and surfaces should all be non-porous and washable and there should be separate hand washing and lavatory facilities available. Properly washed and dried kit, such as extractors, buckets, filters, all take time to prepare. Regulations state clearly that honey jars need to be new (never re-used), heat-sterilised and clean. Of course, a No Smoking sign is obligatory.

Orford School Teaching Kitchen
Orford School Teaching Kitchen

My process starts with using a hot air gun to gently melt back the snow-white cappings on the honeycomb. This is noisy and repetitive, but it is also a much less messy way of accessing the honey in the cells than the traditional method of uncapping with a knife.

Hot Air Gun
Hot Air Gun

Next, the opened frames are placed in my 8-frame extractor (a stainless steel radial Giordan from Italy), taking care to select combs of equivalent weigh opposite each other in the drum. Then, having checked that all the apparatus is correctly secured, the fun can begin with the honey spinning.

Extractor
Extractor

As the honey splatters against the inside of the drum and drains down to the bottom, the frames lighten. The drum is stopped and then the frames reversed for a short spin to empty out the last of their honey.

Spun Honeycombs
Spun Honeycombs

Finally, the honeygate at the bottom of the extractor is opened and the honey pulses into a filter-topped bucket.

Honey Bucket
Honey Bucket

In our processing schedule, we then put the honey through two, finer nylon filters and then rest it in a settling receptacle. Once the bubbles and any residual wax have risen to the surface, we pour the honey directly into the jar, checking that the weight is correct and seal it with a lid.

Our Suffolk Coastal Honey At Pump Street Bakery
Our Suffolk Coastal Honey At Pump Street Bakery

And there it is – a jar of Orford honey, untouched by human hand from bee to jar. Nature’s original luxury item, on sale at Pump Street Bakery in Orford. And well worth all that bother!

2 Replies to “Honey Processing”

  1. Do you leave the bees their own honey for their food or do you take everything and give them sugar? You seem a lot like a factory for taking honey – what about the bees who are the real producers?

    1. Hi P.Chamberlin, Thank you very much for your question about this article.

      We leave plenty of the bees’ own honey and pollen on the hive to overwinter. That allows the bees to start producing new brood in late Winter with first-class fodder.

      We do feed the bees medicinally with a taste of thyme essence in sugar syrup every autumn to treat against the nosema gut fungus. Our primary concern is the well-bring of our bees.

      But make no mistake, we are bee farmers: the health of our bees is our paramount practical concern. We take only the surplus honey from colonies which have voluntarily brought into the hive far more than they could consume in a normal year’s cycle.

      If you gained the impression that we take a “factory” approach to our honey harvest from the blog post, I am genuinely surprised. It seems clear cut to me that everything described or pictured in the post is a manual craft activity, not an automated production line, all taking place in a rented kitchen in a small Suffolk village primary school.

      Ours is artisanal honey and I am hands-on at all stages of the breeding, rearing and sustaining of our bees – and then the harvesting, spinning, ripening, jarring and labelling of our raw honey. That’s hardly an industrial set-up. We’re a long way from IBeeM, Hiveneken or Honeywell.

      As I say on my Twitter summary: “I rear healthy bees, work with them & harvest exquisite, raw honey.” I’m proud of that.

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