Thursday, February 14, 2013

Honey Packing

African bees aren't so mean!

Monday morning we started the process of packing honey into jars at the LIDEFO.  I asked that I could just watch how they normally do it, and give my suggestions after the fact.  So when Jockus arrived he started his usual process.  First he started a fire, which right away surprised me.  "You are pasteurizing the honey?"  I asked.  "No, we just heat a little because the honey becomes hard when it stays a long time,"  he explained.  I looked at the honey which looked liquified to me, but went along anyways.

stones to keep the bucket off of the bottom of the pot
I was really impressed with the great pains that Jockus went to, in order to make sure that everything was very clean and sanitary, even though the majority of the process was done outside.  Once he got his fire going, he put a giant pot on the three stone fire,  he then put three stones in the pot.  Then he brought out all of the white air tight buckets filled with honey.  There were about 4 full 20 gallon buckets.  We spent some time scooping the pollen, wax, and propolis that had settled on the top out.  When a bucket of honey looked clear, then we put it on the three stones in the water, with the lid loosely on top to keep anything from dropping in.

lightly heating the honey
Joukus left it there for about an hour while he cleaned out the 50 liter settling tanks that they have installed the honey gates to.  I kept asking Joukus "don't you think the honey is warm now?"  He would test it by sticking a giant wooden spoon to the bottom, then pull it out and see how the honey dripped off, "not yet," he would say, "it is almost ready."  Then he would carry on with his other work.   Finally I asked, "How do you know that the honey isn't getting overheated?"  He went in and came back out with a thermometer and put it in the honey and it read about 32 degrees celsius, "You see it's not yet warm enough," he said triumphantly.  "Okay, well how warm is warm enough?" I asked as I put the thermometer in the water just to check how hot that was. It was close to 90 degrees celsius (about 194 degrees F).  He said the honey should be about 40 degrees celsius (about 104 degrees F).  I laughed and said,  "Well then you are pasteurizing the honey."  "O--kayy," he said half in agreement, half to acknowledge that he had learned something.

At first I was adamant that they shouldn't heat the honey because it breaks down the sugars and produces a byproduct hydroxymethylfufuraldehyde (try saying that five times fast, or even once slowly,  or just say HMF.)  Everything I have read says that to sell on international markets you have your honey tested for it's HMF value.  The higher the HMF, the lower the quality of the honey.  Joukus understood this point very well, but he explained that once the honey granulates (crystalizes) in the jar, then people can't buy it in Kasese.  He made a great point.  For now, it doesn't really matter what the international markets want, what matters is trying to dominate the local market, since their aren't any other local honey packers near Kasese.  We agreed that once the LIDEFO outstrips the local demand, and is ready to move onto markets further abroad, then maybe they could start to institute my suggestion not to pasteurize.
filtering the honey

After the honey was warmed then Jockus poured the honey through one of the stainless steel double filters that Bee Commerce donated.....Thank you good folks at Bee Commerce!

Finally he poured the honey into the settling tank where it is mixed with all of the other honey, and it is left to sit for at least 24 hours so any other imperfections can rise to the top.  Then Jockus will again scrape the little remaining wax and pollen that rises out and he will start pouring the honey through the honey gate to fill jars for selling at local super markets.  I will miss this step as it has to happen soon since the buyers are starting to clamor and I will be busy with farmer trainings.

Honey in settling tanks with honey gates.  Ready to jar!


June Palomba said...

Once again, enjoying your writing about your adventures, Dan. Great job!

ralph said...

I guess the local folks don't want to buy crystallized honey assuming it is inferior?
Perhaps it could be marketed as "raw" honey and better for you more enzymes like our "health " food stores do?

Dan said...

Thanks June! Yeah Ralph, I suggested that to the group, as well as making creamed honey and marketing it as a spread. I think these things just take time. It's hard for people to change away from what they are used to buying.