Packing and Selling Honey

If you are interested in Packing and Selling Honey  then you will need to think about:

THE CUSTOMER: If you are a small beekeeper with a couple of hives most of the honey will be consumed by you. You may be able to use the kitchen to extract, (but you will only be allowed to do this just once). Put down a lot of paper and keep things as clean as possible.

If you wish to SELL (barter, etc.) to the public, then you must comply with a number of government regulations:

  • Food Hygiene Regulations: These are normally administered by the local council who will require a specific area be set aside for the handling of food and this must be registered. Basically they will require two hand basins, hot & cold water, clean floor, coving at the bottom of the walls, dust free clean walls, adequate lighting (covered) and clean equipment that will prevent contamination. They are now requiring a written plan which identifies all the possible hazards and how you handle these. (HASSIP) (Cost $75 to $225 per year)

These regulations also control the labelling of food. Size of lettering, what you can put on the label. Its best to get approval for a label from them before you print off thousands.

  • Scales have to be checked yearly, ($75).
  • Local authorities (City Councils) will also insist on trained personnel who have a minimum of a food handlers certificate.

Put off yet?

EXTRACTING

Its something we look forward to. Summer is well under way and pastures are starting to dry out. Have our hives produced a bumper crop of honey?  They have been working like made and just lately activity has been declining.  Now its time to remove the honey crop.

Lets do some planning. Depending on your situation will determine the method used.   The main important points is : How are we to remove the honey with the least disturbance, to me, my neighbours and to the bees.

There are various methods (each has its advantages):

  • Brushing - soft brush, manuka branch, goose wing.
  • Fume boards -. Benzhaldimite almond gas (dangers: spontaniously combusts, taints honey).
  • Escape boards - many different types.
  • Mechanical blowing

Choose a nice day when all the field bees are out and neighbours are not sun bathing or mowing the lawn. Inspect all brood frames to determine that the hive is "disease free."

How much honey should I take?  How much does the hive require?  It all depends upon a number of things:

  • Do you get a late flow, is there a dribble of honey coming in through the whole season. You have to know your district. (Keep a notebook and write down what’s happen in your hive, is there pollen and honey coming in and note what’s flowering in your area. This way you build up a picture of your area).

Until you open your hive up you don’t know what’s been happening. Sometimes every frame is full of honey - capped wall to wall. Other times it can sometimes be only a few frames. Many things contribute to a good honey crop.

  • First off - don’t be too gready. Hives require at least a full super of honey to winter on so I would leave at least 1.5 supers of honey, (that is 1 full super above the brood nest and the rest below.

If its a new hive or this years swarm, perhaps a few frames could be spared. My rule of thumb is anything over three high is mine.

Select the frames that are fully capped and a few that are more than � capped. Any frames with brood in them should be put down in the brood nest and an outside frame moved up. Prevent robbing by covering all exposed frames. Use canvas covers or escape boards. If robbing starts, close everything up quickly and look again in a few days. prefably late in the afternoon.

I recommend escape boards in urban areas. Twice the work but minimal disturbance.   However, they won’t work if there is brood, or the queen, in the honey super, or the super is not completely bee proof. Holes or splits must be taped up (use wide masking tape).

For the small beekeepers get everything set up ready to extract before you take off the honey. This way it will still be warm and will be easier to extract.  You will require and hot knives, an extractor (hired from your local bee club), 20 litre buckets, strainers (purchased or nylon stocking). Allow honey to settle over night and skim of wax particles on top. (use plastic food wrap to pick up fine particles).

Comb Honey:  just cut, allow to drain, & pack (300, 350 g) and put in the deep freezer to keep liquid or a warm room at 35 deg C.

Manuka Honey: Scrape to mid rib, or use roller, strain, (use a hair dryer to warm through strainer).

An alternative is to take your boxes to another beekeeper and have it extracted.   It is likely to cost $5.00 per box, and you may loose your cappings wax.

So you have this vat of honey!  What will you do with it?  Marketing honey is difficult and one should start small and work up to it.  Develop your local market as your colonies increase.

How do you want it presented?  Glass Jars.  Plastic containers, (clear or frosted), 10, 15 or 20 litre pails.  Fill your own? Liquid or granulated? Chunk honey.

You are not meant to use second hand packaging unless it has been properly sterilised. (Can’t use ice cream containers as they let in air, therefore honey won’t last). You could turn it into mead, this happens naturally if the moisture content is above 22%.

Where am I going to sell this?  Local friends, workmates, fairs, craft markets ($20 for a stall therefore you have to sell $100 worth to make a profit), roadside stand, boot sales, from your house?  To a shop, (you may need a bar code and this costs $800 for the first year and about $200 per year after this). Door to door.

Your market will determine how you handle the honey.

Can you advertise?  Papers; letter drop; put a sign on the community notice board; getting a local publicity photo in the paper will always bring enquiries.

Road side signs?  Councils & roading authorities will have to pass your sign. Often it can only be a small size (eg 300mm x 300mm).  If you put in your home phone number in an addvertisement several times, then Telecom will come along and ask for business rates.

If your going to make more than $2000 then the Tax Dept will become interested.

One thing in your favour - honey keeps, and it keeps better at a low temperature (below 12 deg C). Provided it is in a air tight container.  As honey gets older it darkens.   It also darkens with heat so use the minimum amount possible.

HONEY GRANULATION

"All honeys granulate" - This is a natural chemical process. Honeys is a supersaturated solution containing more dissolved material that can normally stay in solution. These solutions are more or less unstable and in time will return to a stable saturated condition by crystallizing the excess solution. The solid material is a monohydrate of dextrose.

The extent of crystallization (sugaring) is related to sugar content, moisture content and temperature. Granulation texture is a major factor in the quality of this semi-solid product marketed as creamed honey or honey spread.  It should be soft enough to spread, but not runny.  It will soften if stored at temperatures of 27 - 30 deg C.   The crystal size should be imperceptible to the tongue.

There is a down side to granulation. Most natural honey fermentation occurs after granulation. the reason for this is that the removal of dextrose hydrate (9.09% water) from solution in honey leaves a higher moisture liquid phase.  Surface layers exposed to high moisture will absorb even more moisture and can become liable to fermentation.

Some honeys granulate quicker than others.  Pohutukawa within 4 days of being extracted, while honey dew can take up to 4 years.

HOW TO GRANULATE HONEY

Honey granulates at 13 - 14 dec C. To start it off add some fine grain honey (200 mil) to 2 kg of your honey. Stir this three times a day for about three days (keep covered as honey is hydroscopic) until you see a cloudy bloom through it, then put this into a bigger container and repeat. (2 kg into 5 kg, then 5 kg into 20 l bucket etc.)  This will allow the honey to go hard (when touched) but spreads easily.

For the larger producer:  Honey processed with the use of extractors and honey pumps granulates faster than comb honey. Also honey that has been through a honey pump generally produces a finer granulation.

Only about 15% of honey is solid. Add 5 - 10 % by weight into the container and turn the pump on for a few hours. MAKE SURE IT IS WATCHED or all hoses secured.

FROSTING

As honey granulates it shrinks slightly. If not kept at an even temperature this space is filled with glucose crystals. They form a lattice-work (glucose Hydrate) within the honey and can be readily seen on the outside of clear containers.

Some people prefer to let honey granulate naturally, however sugar crystals build on each other and get bigger and bigger. This is what causes the spoon to bend while trying to scoop some out of the jar.

FERMENTATION

Fermentation of honey is caused by the action of sugar tolerant yeasts upon the dextrose and levulose, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The easiest way for beekeepers to control fermentation is to heat honey at 77 deg C for 4 - 5 minutes.   However, there are dangers for those heating honey over 75 deg C as this increases the HMF (hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde) factor to go over 40 mg/kg. Normal HMF factor is about 10 mg/kg.

Honey can also be frozen to prevent fermentation but is generally not cost effective. On a small scale, it is a good way of storing honey for long periods.

MARKETING

Start small and build up.

REFERENCE:

  • comb containers: beekeeping suppliers or TCI Auckland
  • 20 litre pails: Plastic wholesalers
  • filters: Moore Wilson (kitchen Dept).
  • Nybolt filters from Ure Pacific - Auckland
  • plastic pots: Plastic wholesalers, Tecpac Dunedin.
  • Read "The hive and the honey bee" - Dadant

Frank Lindsay