Super Observations: Anticipating Unanticipated Consequences
by Bob Mitchell
The "girls" have labored long and hard to store food reserves in the comb for the coming winter season. The steward of the hive may be able to remove a portion of the bounty (surplus) as a reward for their effort. Just how much is "surplus"? Colonies in this region generally requires the equivalent of approximately 60 pounds of honey in order to provide adequate nutrition and successfully carry it through the winter into the next spring.
Removal of too much honey and the beekeeper will need to provide supplemental feed. There is a cost factor to consider here. How much does a pound of honey cost compared to a pound of sugar? In the event we can market honey for a net of $2 per pound, and a pound of replacement feed (sugar) costs 50-cents, the math will indicate (excluding labor, fuel and other costs) that we have gained a $1.50 margin of profit. One of the "fringe" benefits to supplemental feeding is that we can include a chemotherapy treatment to reduce the effects of Nosema disease as well. The beekeeper must feed a minimum of two (2) gallons of heavy syrup in order for the treatment to be effective, so why not take advantage of the situation?
I have a great admiration for the hard work of my mostly female crew. They have always produced an excellent product, and I want to make sure the quality product they have worked so diligently to produce stays in its purest state. Each utensil, appliance and storage vessel is manufactured of food grade plastic or stainless steel. Over the years I have watched numerous beekeepers pack great amounts of honey into washed out spackle buckets, pickle buckets and other non-food-grade containers. I cannot recommend using non-food-grade containers or extraction equipment. The only "benefit" of that practice is to drive your honey customer to another supplier.
One often asked question is "How can I tell if my honey is ready to harvest?" The answer is simple; make sure it is honey you extract! Honey is the distilled es-sence of flowers with enzymes from the bees‘ honey stomach added, and moisture reduced to about 18-percent or less. The liquid in the honeycomb cell isn‘t honey until the cell is capped. In the event the cell is not capped, it is still nectar. In the event you would mix too much nectar into honey, the increased moisture will cause the honey to ferment. This is a great beginning to mead making, however, it‘s horrible for the valuable honey customer. A good rule-of-thumb is to not extract uncapped frames of nectar thus avoiding this risk entirely.
Honey storage is important in order to maintain the flavor, color and quality of the product. Excessive heat will cause honey to darken and may even cause it to caramelize. One of the few reasons a judge in a honey show will taste honey is to make sure the honey has not been heated excessively. Caramelized honey in a competition will detract points from your score.
Storing honey in cooler temperatures 40 degrees – 70 degrees F. may trigger the honey to granulate, depending on the amount of sucrose in the nectar. The higher the percentage of sucrose contained in the nectar, the more likely the honey will granulate. Floral sources such as lima beans, peas, vetch and canola are high in sucrose.
In the event you want to protect the flavor of some very fine honey, the best method would be to store it in your freezer. Honey will not granulate when frozen, and it will protect the flavor and color. Generally, honey keeps very well in a sealed container maintained at room temperature or approximately 75-90 degrees F.
or approximately 75-90 degrees F. Honey is hygroscopic and will attract moisture when left in an open container. Excessive moisture will cause the honey to ferment or spoil. Your attention to a few minor details will help you to make a fine presentation of the product that your colonies have worked so hard to produce.