Back in early July, honeybees were gorging on white clover. It was a tremendous boost for bees and beekeepers after an uncertain build-up in colonies. A lot of honey was produced from it before the weather gave a blip ending the nectar flow.

It was a dream come true when the sun burst out and temperatures rose, coinciding with the nectar flow from the blackberry (briar) flowers. The entrances to the hives looked like a spaghetti junction, with bees pushing past each other in an effort to get inside and hand over their load of nectar. As the sunny days passed, temperatures did get a bit too high which dried out the nectar within the flowers as well as forcing bees to collect more water. In high temperatures, bees require water to cool the hive, saving the brood and preventing the wax honeycomb from collapsing. Overall, from a slow start earlier in the year, everything came right – “O ye of little faith”. As I said before, watch what the bees are or are not doing, since, they seem to be better at planning than us beekeepers.

Weather impacts – wet, dry, hot or cold

During the harvesting of this year’s honey crop it was noticeable how heavy the supers were (supers being the boxes where honey is stored by the bees). Given that the weather was so good, with high temperatures during the nectar flow from the blackberry, much of the moisture content of the nectar was reduced, leaving the honey somewhat viscous. In normal years, moisture content of this honey would range somewhere about 17% to 19%, however, readings from this year’s crop were as low as 14% to 16%.

After honey is removed from the hive, it is extracted from the honeycomb and passed through coarse and fine sieves as it is filled into settling tanks or storage buckets. Storing in buckets allows the beekeeper process it at a later date. Honey filled into settling tanks may be bottled off after 24 to 48 hours. This settling time allows air bubbles rise to the surface, thus clarifying the honey. Before and during bottling, the honey should be checked for moisture content, using a refractometer. This will ensure it is within acceptable norms, for example, less than 18.6%. Once the moisture content goes higher there is a risk of honey fermenting. Yeasts, naturally in honey, will cause fermentation, particularly, once the range of 21% is reached.

Buying local is best if you can

Honey produced by local beekeepers, will be unfiltered in most cases. Filtration requires specialised filtration presses.

Unfiltered honey contains all the pollens from the wild flowers visited by bees.

Unheated honey will be in perfect condition, since, heating honey can destroy the natural enzymes and drive off plant oils contained in it. Repeated heating or heating at high temperatures can also produce a toxin in the honey.

Bottling honey from the settling tanks, after the appropriate settling time, ensures its high quality, with all the goodness sealed into each jar.

Labels play a big part in describing to the customer its origin, producer, floral type, weight and other details.

No claims should be made as to what it can or cannot do. There are rules governing honey labelling.

Unlabelled honey in a local market has no traceability and should be avoided.

The quality and flavour of this year’s honey is great. While the price reflects its uniqueness and quality, it should not be compared to that generally bought from the shop shelf, since, much of it originates from blends of EU and non-EU countries.

Enjoy a slice of toast with some fresh Irish honey. CL

Read more

The frenzy of bees on clover and protecting our native bee population

Predator and weather fears – a difficult spring for honeybees