Blankenship Farms Honey
Honey, of course, comes from honeybees and so our honey practice starts there. When we started this honeybee adventure, we decided that we would not use chemicals. Also, after we got into it a bit, we learned that beekeepers might out rank lawyers on opinions — even on bee care. When possible, when when we had to resolve two seemingly contradictory opinions we looked to what the bee did in nature and tried to follow that as close as we could. Further, after meeting Master Margie (master gardener and master beekeeper), we decided to eliminate pesticides not just from the bee yard but from the rest of our property as well.
To extract the honey, we set up a temporary honey house about 75 yards from the bee yard. In 2014 we were blessed with the centrifugal extractor on loan from the Shelby County Beekeepers Association. Even if you have no intention of keeping bees, joining the Shelby County Beekeepers Association is well worth the dues you pay in the people you meet. I’ve never been in the room with so many people that know so much, want to help and will take the time to help.
Extraction and Bottling
Honeycomb is kept on wooden frames. W pulled the frames from the honeybee hives and brought them up to the honeyhouse. Rather than using a knife, we used a heat gun to remove the cappings from the comb holding honey. We were careful to keep the honey under 110 degrees in that Donnalee believes that all the magical healthy stuff that lives in honey somehow cannot survive heat in excess of 110 degrees. The only other time we used heat was to warm the bottling bucket. Warm honey flows into the bottles easier than cold. Yes, the bottling bucket was carefully measured to ensure the honey did not exceed 98 degrees.
After the cappings were removed, the frames were placed in the hand-cranked extractor which basically slings the honey out of the comb. This may sound much more violent than it is. The actual process is rather gentle and — done properly, leaves the comb in good shape so that the bees can use the comb again.
After the extraction, we ran the honey through a medium screen to remove any random wax bits and such that might have gotten into the honey during the extraction process. We did not run it through a fine screen or otherwise filter it. If the honey seems dark or grainy, this is why. We wanted to leave as much of the natural pollen and such in the honey as possible to maximize the benefits of local honey.
We bottle in both glass and food-grade plastic. The all-out naturalist prefers glass, but the glass is messier. The food-grade plastic bottles are squeezable and easier to use. We personally sanitize our bottles before putting honey in them.
This has been our process each year except that we have switched from using the heat gun to a knife to uncap the comb for extraction.
Several people have asked about cleanup. We had boiling water ready which made everything pretty easy to clean. I, like most people who asked, expected cleanup to be a sticky mess. It did take a little time, but it simply wasn’t the mountain I had made it out to be in my head.
Honey is primarily made from the flower nectar that the honeybees forage. The varieties of taste and color of honey are based on what is in bloom at the time it is made. In 2014, we had an abundance of clover. Also, our roses bloomed perhaps more than ever. Nectar from hundreds of other types of flowers went in the honey as well, but you will note that our 2014 honey has the sweet taste of honey and a reddish tint of roses.
Our raw pure honey is not just that, pure honey – nothing else. We do not “cut” our honey with sugar syrup or anything else. There is honey and only honey in the jar.
Our flavored honeys (like cinnamon, vanilla, and spicy) are honey infused with vanilla bean, cinnamon or peppers.
Honey has a long shelf life. If it stays on the shelf a while (ours never has), it may crystallize or start to turn into a solid. That doesn’t mean it has gone bad. If it does, place the jar in a bowl of hot (not boiling) water and wait. It should re-liquefy.
We started enjoying the honey bees’ hard labor from the moment it was bottled. We hope you get as much enjoyment out of it as we have.
### Donnalee and Brandon Blankenship, Alabama, Birmingham, Hoover, Pelham