But how honey goes from the honeycomb to the honeypot? Bees collect the nectar from the various flowers, they come back to their hive and with the cooperation of their sisters, they make full the hexagonal cells with what will turn into honey. But then? How can we make full pots over pots? Have you noticed how little the cells are? You may wonder how you can get it out from there…and another question that I get often asked: how many kilos can you get out from a hive? Of course as far as this all is concerned, before meeting Basti I didn’t know absolutely anything. Absolutely no idea. I did know only that ‘Bees make honey’, that is already a good start, but not enough, don’t you believe?
I am more and more convinced that we all have to give the proper value to what surrounds us and behind each pot, there is much work. The step from the honeycomb to the honeypot can’t be given for granted for sure! Would you like to find out more about this part of the honey world too? You have only to keep on reading 😊
From the honeycomb to the honeypot: the very first step
Now I want to confide to you a thing, just to make you understand how much I knew about bees and beekeeping till not so long ago. Before getting closer to this world, I didn’t neither know the Italian world for honeycomb (‘favo‘). Basti does not speak Italian and me, I don’t speak German. I stepped in this world using the English language and from there (by reading some books as well), I have learnt many new words, at least new for me 😊 a very good brain gym! Hence, what is the honeycomb in the end? It’s that amount of cells made with wax, that bees make full according to their purpose. There you can find honey, pollen, propolis, broot,…many shelves full of provisions or puppies, as explained in this article Checking the hives: is it a child’s play? – Gaeblini! The honeycomb in the hives is attached to a wooden frame. The honeycomb can be built from zero by the bees or the beekeeper can prepare a base with a wax sheet from which the bees start to build the honeycomb. Ok, is it clear what it is now? We told that honey is taken only from the honeycombs from the honeybox. There the beekeeper has the certainty that he will find cells only with honey. It´s made right for this purpose. Very first thing you´ve to make sure of? Well, that honey is ready to be harvested! If the percentage of wetness is too high, it must stay there a bit longer.
And if honey is ready??
Ok, if it is ready – you can officially proceed! From the honeybox you take the frames (in our boxes in total they are 11). Maybe you are wondering if all the honeycombs will be full in the same way. Usual reply: it depends! It depends much on the weather, on which period of the year we are,…if there is a half empty honeycomb, for example, we can leave it there anyway. You don’t have strictly to take all the honeycombs from the honeybox. So, let’s continue. You take the honeycomb. The big brush, you have it, haven’t you? You brush away the bees away from the hives, to avoid to bring them with you at the laboratory. And here, yes, the lab goes on stage! A room for harvesting. And in no time it will incredibly smell of honey (ours is tiny, so even more!).
And now it goes from the honeycomb to the honeypot? Is this the right moment?
Mmm no, it is a bit more complicated. If you thought it was already over, I have to disappoint you. It takes much longer. What happens in the lab, with the fresh frames (actually pretty warm considering the internal temperature of the hive)? We take away the operculum. Another word learn over the last year (but this is not an easy one, do you agree?). When honey is ready, bees close the cell with a thin wax layer. This is called operculum. Then, if you want to harvest the honey from the honeycomb, you have to take away this wax layer from the cell. And how? With a kind of fork, with many teeth, you open up these wax caps. It’s not so easy in my opinion, but as for anything, you only need much experience.
You have to be very gentle otherwise you risk to break the honeycomb. Moreover, you shouldn’t be too heavy-handed, it’s only the wax layer on the surface that you have to take away. Hence, you place the honeycomb on a special base, in our case it’s a tray that will collect the wax (and honey too that will inevitably drip down) and gently take away the operculum.
And once the operculum is taken away?
At this point, straight to the centrifuge! What?? You told ‘centrifuge’?? But …eh?? When I was telling that it would have taken long, you were imagining me with a small pipette collecting honey from each cell, weren’t you? No no, it does not take that long 😊 You throw out much honey all together, by using the centrifuge force. You put the honeycomb in this container and you turn (you, on your own with a crank or it by itself if electric). Ours, at least at the moment, is small: you can put 3 honeycombs per time. And it works with a crank, of course. As far as we are concerned, we proceed with two turns per side. Two turns per side. 11 honeycombs. Approx. 20 hives. Yes, it gets pretty long 😊
The honey gets thrown out thanks to the centrifuge force. Here as well, you need to be careful while turning. If for example, you turn too fast, and the honeycomb is full of honey, you risk to break the honeycomb. It’s not what we want: we are interested only in honey. The ‘shelves’ will be put again in the honeybox afterwards so as to be ready to make it full again,
And so it goes from the honeycomb to the honeypot at this point?
Not yet, not yet. The centrifuge has an opening at the bottom from where honey comes out. However, this has to be filtered and for convenience it is collected in buckets (our have a capacity of approx. 12 kg each). As far as we are concerned, we place a double filter (it looks like the one that you can use to sift the flour). A first one with wider links and just below, a second one, with thinner links. But what is filtering exactly? Well, it happens that some bees enchanted by the wonderful smell of the honey dive into it. These will be blocked by the first filter. Then there may be some pieces of wax too. There are beekeepers that use a third filter that is a kind of gauze, but we prefer to avoid this last one. It would blocked all those mini particles of propolis and pollen that are in honey and that make it healthy and natural. Ok filtering, but let´s not exaggerate!
But how much honey you take out from a hive??
Here too: it depends! It depends on how much nectar the bees have harvested, how much strong is the family, on which period of the year we are, on the weather,… in general, for a strong family and at the peak of the bee season, you can harvest without problems till about 10 kg of honey per hive per harvest. But I repeat once again, this is influenced by many factors. Generally we harvest honey once at the end of May (with our Spring multi-flora honey) and once at the end of July (with our Summer multi-flora honey). Then, according to how the families are, to the weather and the temperatures, we can get more. For example, this year we have harvested honey, at the end of may and mid-June and then once again in July.
But so when do you put the honey in the pots?
Here we are, we (Basti) take the buckets full of honey from the lab to the pot room. Another tiny room that we use for this purpose, where only us, the pots and the honey container fit in. From this container, the honey will flow out to reach the pot. If you want to make any special treatment to the honey, bear in mind that this is the right moment for it. We are not speaking only of the pasteurization to make it liquid for much longer (but erasing its healthy properties too). Some beekeepers, before filling the pots, use a tool to mix it. This makes honey more creamy and avoid the crystallization. There is nothing bad, it’s all about choices. We do prefer to touch the least possible our honey, so when we tell ‘from the honeycomb to the honeypot’ for us it’s really this way (with of course all the intermediate steps in between). Our thought? If it has to be natural, let’s keep it this way!
So…from this last container to the honeypots the step is short, right?
That’s right, at that point we have managed! While sitting on the floor (yes, we should better organize the location actually), Basti puts the honeypot under the tap, till it’s full. Honey is still liquid because we don’t take much time from the day of the harvest. Basti gives to me the honeypot, I close it and I give him another empty one. Here in Germany the traditional honeypot has a plastic cap, ok for food contact of course (in Italy, it’s like those of the marmalade). At the beginning I was a bit upset about it: how is it possible? They all speak about plastic-free and the importance of get rid off of plastic and then we use plastic caps? But then I understood that actually this was the most sustainable choice. Honey is not like marmalade, it does not get bad if it is not vacumized so there is no need of the usual tin cap. These last ones have a seal that can’t last for ever. With a plastic cap, we don’t have such an issue. Moreover, here in Germany a ‘recycling’ mentality is widespread. Most part of the people that choose our honey, brings us back the empty honeypot, and we will be very happy to use it again. For this reason as well, we particularly care about being sustainable.
So, what do you think about it? Have you noticed now how much work and time behind a honeypot? We’re glad if this article has given you a bit more of awareness 🙂