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DWBKA go to a Honey Farm

Needing to check the water content of my honey I usually place a smear of honey onto my refractometer stage and check it.

Imagine our surprise when we watched Robert Field place the refractometer stage under the stream of honey flowing from his settling tank into his honey bucket!

However none of us have ever extracted a ton of honey in a day!

This was a visit by Dorchester and Weymouth Beekeepers to Field’s Honey Farm in Purbeck. About 25 of us went and were given an introductory talk by Robert Field on his honey business. As you would expect we all sat round on upturned brood boxes in a barn which also contained storage drums of honey.

Gathered on Brood boxes ready for the talk.

It was a fascinating talk. It seems that his father’s decision to start a honey farm was at least part based on the fact that his mother was not keen on lobster farming in Shetland. He now has an enterprise which has approximately 1000 hives in apiaries as far away as Salisbury Plain – more of that later.

Of course with a 1000 hives you do not go every week and check them all. I have enough problem finding the time for two colonies! What he has done is use Buckfast Queens which he replaces about every two years on a rolling cycle. The reason for Buckfast is he finds that they are less prone to swarming and therefore he does not have to go through all the swarm control in which we get involved. They are also fairly docile and productive so good news all round.

The other major problem we have as beekeepers is Varroa and he is currently investigating the effectiveness of using oxalic acid sublimation in the colder months of the year but he has yet to make a final decision on that. He has tried formic acid but the bees do not respond well to that treatment.

The production area - which is not lined with propolis!

After the talk we went across to the extraction area. If you look at the picture is does look as if the interior of the barn is coated with propolis. Robert told us it was spray foam insulation to keep it cooler in summer and acceptable in the winter. We were not convinced – it certainly looked like propolis!

The production line is just that - a line. The supers come in at one end and the frames are all lifted out in one go and fed onto the decapping knives. These are heated blades which are set to remove just the caps. Because he is using plastic frames and plastic foundation there is minimum wastage through either cutting too deeply or not removing some caps.

The decapping machine removing the caps.

The frames move on to the spinner which spins out the honey. Because they are plastic frames with plastic foundation they can be spun faster and more honey can be extracted.

The spinner. Much more sophisticated than a hand cranked extractor moving across the kitchen floor.

From there the honey, which has some wax particles in it, is fed into a filter before being piped on to the settling tanks.

A drum of honey - in this case Oil Seed Rape.

The whole experience was fascinating. To see a ton of honey being extracted when we might extract 20 or 30 pounds was a real eye opener.

We returned to the barn for a question and answer session. It turns out that it was more by luck than design that he has apiaries on Salisbury Plain. They are in an area which requires special clearance to visit as it is part of the army ranges. That means that apart from a few tanks and some heavy artillery there is nothing much to disturb the bees or their food sources. The honey from there is quite different and much prized by those who have tried it.

The visit lasted about two and a half hours and was a real eye opener. A most enjoyable afternoon.

Stephen

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