"Life is a flower of which love is the honey" - Victor Hugo.
Honey is truly a remarkable gift from the bees. We already learned about harvesting the honey. Today we talked about the different varieties of honey and what to do if you want to sell your honey.
Nectar contains about 80% water. The bees get that percentage down to 18% and almost like magic, we have honey. Actually, that process consists of a lot of work on the part of the bees. A worker bee heads out of the hive in search for nectar-rich flowers and uses its probiscis to drink the nectar and store it in its honey stomach. A bee visits hundreds of flowers on one trip until her stomach is full. The worker bee then returns to the hive and regurgitates the nectar into the mouth of a hive bee. The hive bee further breaks down the sugars of the nectar before regurgitating (there's a lot of throwing up going on here) the nectar into a honeycomb cell. Once in the cell, the hive bees start beating their wings furiously to dry out the nectar. Remember, they need to get that water content from 80% to just under 18%. That's a lot of fanning. Once the honey has thickened into honey, the hive bee seals the cell with some wax. This one little worker bee will only produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
The beekeeper must have patience and not harvest the honey too soon. If it has too high of a water content, it will begin to ferment. After harvesting the honey, be sure to use an air tight jar to seal the honey. Otherwise, it will take on moisture and thus begin to ferment.
We got to try both wildflower and forest honey at my last beekeeping class. The forest honey has a stronger taste and is not nearly as sweet as the wildflower honey. I must admit to never having given much thought to forest honey. Have you ever thought about where forest honey actually comes from? Cause if you do think about it, you realize that you don't usually see a pine tree covered in flowers! That's because forest honey is not made from blossom nectar but rather from the excretion, known as honeydew, of some types of lice. These insects excrete this honeydew onto the branches and leaves of trees. The bees then gather it up. So forest honey in fact doesn't come from the tree at all but is actually bug poop which is then regurgitated by a bee. Yum! The sweet, sticky substance that oozes from a tree is simply sap. But if it passes through an insect's digestive tract, it comes out as honeydew. The bees collect this usually in the late summer when nectar is no longer in abundance. But they must be quick as it evaporates rather quickly.
Other pure honey varietals consist of rapeseed, clover, dandelion, sage, sunflower, cornflower, manuka and and and... However, in order to label your honey with a specific variety, your honey must contain at least 60% of that type. In Germany, the so-called "Honigverordnung" or honey-regulation states what is allowed and what is not allowed when selling your honey. Too much information to cover here, but a separate class is offered on the topic of selling honey.
No other food exists that can be either eaten directly after harvest or can be stored without further processing - except honey. The bees provide the honey with valuable enzymes. Many of these enzymes are sensitive to heat and to light so it's best to store your honey in the basement. So go clear out your wine cellar and make room for some honey.
What's your favorite type of honey?