Extracting honey with an extractor
All the cages in the extractor may have our cages placed in them. In any case, at least two should be put in four-cage extractors. Otherwise the extractor jumps during operation. Our cages should be placed in the extractor in such a way that the top of the comb is in front when the [tangential, Tr.] extractor rotates, or at the bottom when size demands, never at the back.
When the extractors cages are loaded, it is rotated slowly, then rapidly. The honey escapes and hits the walls of the drum like rain. The cages are turned the other way round and the extractor rotated again, slowly at first then faster. The necessary number of turns of the crank is found by trial and error. It depends on the speed of rotation and the diameter of the extractor drum.
A distance covered of one kilometre in three minutes on each face gives a good result.
Honey leaving the comb reaches the extractor walls and runs down to the bottom. Before this honey reaches the height of the cages and thus impedes their movement, it is collected in a ripener.
Combs which are not too old or black can be saved, either to give to artificial swarms or to make up boxes with insufficient built comb. In which case extraction is carried out thus: spin them several times gently to empty one surface of the comb, turn the cages round, spin them several times gently to empty the other side of the comb, then spin more rapidly to achieve extraction of one face of the comb, turn the cages round and again spin rapidly to complete the extraction of the other surface of the comb.
At the outlet of the extractor, the honey contains bubbles of air and various gases. It may also include pollen and capping debris.
To free honey from all these foreign bodies, it is left for several days in a receptacle called a ripener. These should be taller than they are wide. A barrel may be used for this if it is not made of oak. A strainer retains the larger impurities.
As a result of the different densities, the foreign material and the gas floats to the surface, and forms a scum that is removed before drawing off honey.
Comment RipeningIf no more impurities are rising to the surface, the honey is drawn off before it crystallises. Ripeners are fitted with a butterfly valve, or better still, a gate valve.
CrystallisationThe honey, a viscous liquid when it comes from the comb, solidifies and forms a compact mass of crystals varying in size. The honey is then said to have crystallised or granulated.
The temperature and the plant from which the honey came modifies ad infinitum the rate at which it crystallises and the size of the crystal grains.
A little old crystallised honey mixed in the bulk may haste granulation.
Storage of honeyHoney is hygroscopic. It can absorb up to 50% water. In absorbing water the honey liquefies. As a result it rapidly ferments and acquires a sour and unpleasant taste. To remove this sourness and stop fermentation it must be melted in a bain-marie.
The only way to avoid such difficulties is to store the honey in airtight containers and keep them in a cool place.
Containers for honeyHoney is kept in various receptacles, largely in barrels or drums made of wood or metal. Pine or fir gives honey a resinous taste. Oak discolours it. Beech is very suitable. Copper and zinc corrode on contact with honey. Tinplate is ideally suited to the purpose. Therefore drums in tinplate with hermetic closures are to be preferred before all other receptacles.
Sale of honeyI am not in favour of big profits. But I hold that beekeeping, like any other occupation, should be honestly remunerated. All work deserves recompense.
In practice, therefore, how will the beekeeper set his price? He will gladly accept the price resulting from the interplay of supply and demand. To go against this principle, even with the powerful beekeeping associations, obliges our customers to eat foreign honeys, which are not all bad. That risks us losing our own honey which will not keep indefinitely.
When these prices are not sufficiently remunerative, we address ourselves to our elected representatives to ask them to set customs tariffs on foreign honey. If our request is justified, it will always end up by being listened to, especially if we have united to achieve strength. Above all, we produce cheaply.
The beekeeper must take account of the fact that wholesalers have the right to a profit, and the retailer has another profit.
The beekeeper may try to bypass these middlemen and himself be the wholesaler or the retailer or both. He will then have their profits. But he must not compete with them.
Beekeepers will still have need of middlemen for a long time to come. He cannot compete with them without working against himself. If he forces the middlemen to reduce their selling price, these same middlemen will lower their buying price the following year. The beekeepers profit will therefore not last.
But there is the kind of middleman against whom beekeepers should start keen competition, and that is the retailer who profiteers and hinders honey consumption.
Now, honeys are not uniformly priced in commerce. How should a beekeeper categorise them?
In France, there are two well characterised sorts of honey: sainfoin honey, very white, with no marked taste, honey called Gatinais; and honey of multiple origin, more or less coloured, more or less aromatic, honey called Narbonne. I mention, only to remind you, heather honey, honey called Landes; and buckwheat honey, honey called Brittany. These honeys of a red-brown colour and a sharp taste are not table honeys; they are only suitable for making gingerbread.
Now commercially honey called Gatinais generally fetches a higher price. As beekeepers we should primarily place our honey in the category called Narbonne.
In selling honey the big problem is sugar, whose price is always lower and whose handling is infinitely easier. How can we make people appreciate the higher value of honey? By showing its superior health qualities compared with sugar.
But we are poorly armed to demonstrate the greater benefit to health of honey called Gatinais. It certainly does not have the fault of being a chemical product, but neither does honey called Narbonne, which has more in its favour. Honey called Gatinais has been foraged almost exclusively on sainfoin, a fodder plant without any health attributes. On the other hand, honey labelled Narbonne has been foraged from an indeterminate number of flowering plants, several of which are without doubt medicinal and beneficial.
A study done at the University of Wisconsin by Prof. Schuette showed that the greater the coloration of honey the richer it is in mineral substances, iron, copper and manganese. From this fact, dark honey is beneficial for preventing and curing anaemia due to poor nutrition.
Adulteration of honeyHoney has been adulterated for a long time. Herodotus, when he heard of the large quantity of honey produced in Lydia (Asia Minor), added that it was made largely by human industry. The Talmud also mentions honey adulteration by water and flour.
Current traders are neither more honest nor more stupid. It is at this point in time that calling it bee honey no longer suffices to designate honey as natural, as people have now managed to get the bees themselves to adulterate honey by making them drink sugar syrup. Only the designation flower honey will suffice.
To test for adulteration of honey, warm a sample in a bain-marie until it has become fully liquefied and stir it well with a wooden spoon, then:
1. Dissolve a teaspoonful of it in a Bordeaux wineglass of cold rainwater, stir vigorously and leave it to stand. An insoluble precipitate gradually forms if there has been an addition of plaster, ground brick, talc or chalk; i. e. any mineral substance;
2. Dissolve a teaspoonful of it in a Bordeaux wineglass of cold rainwater, leave it to stand, add three or four drops of tincture of iodine. It produces a beautiful violet coloration if starch has been added to the honey, intense blue if a thickener or flour has been added, brown if it is dextrin. On the other hand, the liquid is yellow in colour if the honey contains none of these substances;
3. Dissolve a teaspoonful of it in a Bordeaux wineglass of cold rainwater, and stir vigorously, beating it as one would eggs for an omelette; the liquid froths abundantly if the honey contains gelatine.