The Art of Producing Organic, Raw, Unheated Honey
Report From Kenyan Intern, Esther Serem
The process of honey harvesting always commences at sundown, when the honeybees are calm and less aggressive. We start by putting on our bee suits, boots and gloves and taping up our zips to ensure bees are unable to enter our suits. When everyone is set, the team heads to the beehive fence for harvesting. Instantly the hives are smoked to stop chemical communication amongst the bees. We then quickly open the hive lid and check the bars in the super box, the honey in the main box remains untouched because it is the factory or the honey bees and they use it during the dry season.
When harvesting, the team has to harvest the highest percentage of capped bars. The capped honey is ripe- this is basically using the honeybees knowledge, if the bees cap it it means its ready for them to preserve until the time when their food resources are limited. As we extract the capped honey we brush the bees off the bars to make sure we carry as few bees as possible with us as these will end up in the honey processing room and are likely to be aggressive and sting us later on. In addition, the harvested honey in the buckets is covered by nets to keep bees from stinging people and then put in the honey room ready for processing. After harvesting the farmer can decide to sell the honey to the project or retain their honey. Most farmers choose to sell their honey to the project where it will be processed hygienically and sold on the farmer’s behalf.
In the honey room, the honey harvested the previous evening is processed. It is important to check each bar and ensure it is all capped, the uncapped parts are cut off and put into a separate bucket. We then uncap the rest of the ‘capped’ honey using an uncapping tool. Later, the uncapped bars are put in the extractor and spun by hand. Using the centrifugal force, the honey comes out of the combs and then flows to the bottom of the extractor and using the tap in the extractor; honey is poured into buckets then filtered through various sized sieves. The first sieve gets rid of the larger wax particles while the second and third sieves collect the finer particles allowing us to end up with pure and smooth honey.
After harvesting and processing, the honey has to be jarred. Before jarring, however, it is essential that we sterilize the jars and lids. This is done by boiling water and cleaning the jars and then oven drying for 3-5 minutes. We can then label the honey using the Elephants and Bees ‘Elephant Friendly Honey’ labels. The honey is called ‘Elephant Friendly Honey’ because we are using the beehive fences as a deterrent to prevent elephants crop raiding. We also include a bio about the farmer where the honey has come from.
Working in the honey room requires the highest standard of hygiene; clean floor, clean buckets, clean extractor – everything needs to be clean and dry. Additionally, everything requires labeling to avoid confusion i.e. Once the honey is brought in and processed it must be labelled to indicate the farm which the honey came from. More so, processing the honey DOES NOT require boiling nor addition of water or any other chemicals. Our finished honey is pure and raw and can be stored for a long period without fermenting. Evidence of this was found by an archaeologist in top of Pharaohs’ tomb to have lasted for around 30,000 years and was still edible!