Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Wonderful World of Bees: Part 2

As the honey was being extracted it ran out a tube at the bottom of the extractor and down into a pit where a pump would pump it into a batch processor. The honey gravity extracted from the wax and drips in the uncappings tank would also be drained into the pit and pumped up to the batch processor. The processor was nothing more than a big stainless steel drum that could be heated. Heating of the honey does two things. Heated honey is much easier to strain all the bits of wax and other debris out of it and heated honey has a longer shelf life before it begins to sugar or turn solid. Some people thought heating destroys the good bacteria in the honey and preferred it "unheated" or raw. So depending on where it was going, we would heat to different temperatures so that it officially could be labeled as raw or pasteurized.

I want to inject one little side note here. If you have some honey that is sugared, it is readily fixed by soaking the bottle in a bath of hot water or if in a microwavable container, nuked for a few seconds. The sugars melt and reincorporate back into the honey so that it will be back to "normal" though if gotten hot enough, no longer considered raw by governmental standards. As a business, we were regularly inspected just like any other food processor and had to maintain a license so I got to know some of these standards though for the life of me, I can't remember the temperature limit for raw honey.

Once the honey was heated up to temperature, it was run through a filter of cheesecloth and into one of two containers. If it was for a bulk sale, we ran it directly into food safe 55-gallon drums that were sealed and hauled off. If it were to be sold to stores, it would be emptied into another stainless steel vessel with a sort of beer tap on the bottom. There, whichever brother wasn't extracting would be individual bottling the honey into jars. Of course our favorite were the five-pound jars of honey that took some time to fill. Our least favorite were the squeeze bears you see in the store since it only took a second or two to fill it and much attention had to be paid to get it full without overflowing. If it overflowed, you had a very sticky mess to clean up before handling anymore bears. The bottled honey would be labeled and crated for delivery once a week in a 120-mile diameter around where we lived.

The empty frames in good shape would be put back into supers and put into the other half of the storage room. As summer entered into those dog days before harvest and again in the deep throws of winter, my brother and I would spend a week or two repairing wax in frames and building new ones. By the time the main honey seasons of spring and fall were around, the storage room would be packed full of hundreds of supers waiting to be put onto hives

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