Tag Archives: bottling

Frosting in honey

Honey with frosting

Honey with frosting

Frosting is the name given to small air bubbles that get trapped between honey and the side or shoulder of the jar. It spoils the appearance of the honey, but doesn’t alter the flavour or the quality. Frosting in honey usually starts as a small white streak or crescent on the shoulder of the jar, but gradually spreads during storage, sometimes covering most or all of the inner surface of the jar.  Some buyers don’t mind it, particularly if they’ve tasted your honey before, but I suspect that it puts others off (unsurprisingly, no-one receiving honey as a gift ever murmurs a word of complaint if the jar is frosted … funny that). Because I think set and soft-set honey looks better if the jar isn’t frosted I try and prevent it forming in the first place, or do my best to remove it in jars for sale.

Prevention

I’ve yet to find a foolproof way of preparing set or soft-set honey that definitely will not develop frosting. Some batches I’ve made have remained ‘frosting-free’ for months, but most do in due course. However, the following things are supposed to work and probably help:

  • Use a settling tank to let the honey stand for a day or two after preparation. I decant honey to be jarred into 30 lb plastic buckets with a tap, and leave it for 24-48 hours in the honey warming cabinet at about 30-37°C.
  • Pre-warm the jars for bottling. I put cleaned jars inverted in the oven at the lowest heat setting to dry, removing them a few minutes before use.
  • Hold the jar immediately below the honey tap so that as little air as possible mixes with the honey during bottling. I run the honey down the sidewall of the jar, only placing the jar onto a zeroed weighing scale as the last ounce or so is added.
  • Do not jar more than you need in one session. It’s better to jar in 30 lb batches, rather than keeping 150 lb of jarred honey for a long time during which frosting is likely to occur. Of course, if you sell it (or give it away) in 150 lb batches then you’re hardly likely to be reading this looking for advice …

Of the four suggestions above, the last one is probably the most dependable. 30 lb buckets of honey are easy to store and take up little space. 30 lb of jarred honey weighs about 43 lb (assuming 1 lb ’rounds’), takes up a lot more space, requires much more handling and will usually develop frosting during extended storage.

Cure

Warm jars with set honey to about 37°C for 24 hours. The honey should become less viscous and would pour very slowly from the jar if you inverted it. Don’t 😉 You do not want to melt the honey, but instead just warm it sufficiently so that it can be stirred. Using a clean long-handled teaspoon – both for leverage and to stop getting honey on your fingers – gently stir the honey sufficiently to mix the bubbles in, working carefully round the sidewall of the jar to ensure it’s mixed evenly. The honey should be thick enough to stand the spoon in it, so you need quite strong fingers. Scrape excess honey from the spoon back into the jar using a small flexible spatula. Return the jars to the honey warming cabinet for another 24 hours, then store as usual. This is quite a bit of work and you really should try and avoid having to do it. However, if it makes the jarred honey more attractive and helps sell more jars then it’s a worthwhile investment of time.

Soft set honey

Soft set honey

250 jars

12ox hex jar

12ox hex jar

I usually sell honey in 1lb ’rounds’, the classic honey jar with a gold screw lid. These jars are easy to fill, with no nooks and crannies for bubbles to get stuck. However, many beekeepers are now selling in 12oz hex jars. These look a little fancier and are usually sold at a premium price. They’re also a bit harder to fill neatly as bubbles can easily get trapped at the shoulder. Since I have several hundred 1lb rounds and a similar number of printed labels it’ll be a year or so before I have to make a decision to stick with the rounds, or switch to the smaller jar.

Soft set and clear honey

Soft set and clear honey

My small-scale bottling typically involves preparing a 30lb bucket of honey in my warming cabinet, bottling about 28lb (using my bucket tipper) for sale with the bubbly dregs going into unlabelled jars for home consumption, cooking, marmalade or making mead. I rarely get orders for more than 25lb of honey at a time (but will happily accept them). However, I recently received an order for 250 4oz hex jars of local honey to go into “goody bags” for guests celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the University of Warwick as I have bees in the university apiary and on the surrounding farmland.

As I discovered … 4oz hex jars, if filled to above the shoulder, actually take about 5oz of honey. I additionally discovered that the irritating, bubble-trapping, shoulders on 12oz hex jars are just as irritating but a lot smaller on 4oz hex’s. Bottling this lot took quite a long time …

250 4oz hex jars

250 4oz hex jars …

However, the finished products, with tie-on labels designed by the university, looked great …

 

4 oz hex jars aren’t

I discovered yesterday that 4 oz hex jars take considerably more than 4 oz of honey if they are to be filled properly. I’ve had an order for 250 and this is the first time I’ve used jars this small. By my calculations 4 oz of honey is 113.5 g. The closest I could get was about 115 g on my scales, which left the honey surface a few millimetres short of the shoulder of the jar. Very unsightly. If you follow the advice for filling standard 1 lb rounds, ensuring there isn’t a gap below the lid and the surface of the honey, then you actually need to add about 140 g of honey to fill these small jars.

4 oz hex jar

4 oz hex jar …

These jars were supplied by Compak who indicate they have a volume of 116 ml. Perhaps my honey is particularly dense? The jars are attractive and make nice gifts. Just make sure you prepare sufficient honey to fill them properly. My initial calculations of needing 62.5 lb of honey (i.e. two slightly overfilled 30 lb buckets) for the 250 jar order is out by about 15 lb.

Honey bucket tipper

Honey bucket tipper

Honey bucket tipper …

If you bottle honey from large buckets or tanks you usually have to tip the container to avoid the slightly scummy surface layer which can spoil the appearance of several jars if you’re not careful. As the level drops you need to tip the bucket at an increasingly acute angle. Of course, you also need to tip the bucket to get the dregs out as well. This can all get a little precarious. There are a number of solutions available commercially. Thorne’s sell a honey tipper which has a strong spring which is depressed by the weight of the full bucket. As the level drops the spring extends, so tipping the bucket forewords. Although clever, it’s not an inexpensive solution. An alternative is the FillyBoy which offers a simple manual solution but doesn’t appear to have a UK distributer. The underlying principle of both approaches is the same – two pieces of wood, hinged along one side with the ‘upper’ piece fitted with some way of stopping the bucket sliding forward. This is easy to build at home.

The pictures are self-explanatory. I used offcuts of ply and softwood. The bucket ‘stops’ need to be suitably spaced for the bucket size you use. You also need to use a bit of trial and error to space the ‘stops’ on the baseboard to make sure the bucket is tipped at suitable angle. I placed the stop closest to the hinge so that the bucket was tipped at an angle of about 30o. Don’t be tempted to try and tip it much more than this or it might not be stable if your buckets are tall. Although not shown in the pictures I’ve now added a simple handle to the ‘back’ edge of the upper board (see the FillyBoy images for inspiration) that makes moving the wedge, and so increasing the angle, an easy task.

It’s also worth giving the entire thing 2-3 coats of clear varnish to make it ‘wipe clean’ – not that honey ever gets spilled during bottling …

Honey tipper - top view

Honey tipper – top view

Honey tipper - opened up

Honey tipper – opened up

Honey tipper - side view

Honey tipper – side view

Honey warming cabinet

Honey warming cabinet

Honey warming cabinet

Preparing soft set honey, or warming OSR for bottling, means you will need a source of controllable heat large enough to accommodate one or two 30lb honey buckets (or more of course). Many recommend an old fridge or freezer with an incandescent 100 watt bulb. These are getting increasingly difficult to buy and require some electrickery skills – which I lack – to accurately and safely control the temperature. An alternative is to build a honey warming cabinet from ply, lots of insulation and a well-regulated thermostatically controlled heating element, like they use to hatch chicken eggs. 

Using ply sheeting, a few dozen 4 x 40mm screws, some wood glue and a few sheets of 50mm insulation (for example Kingspan or Jablite, both of which are available from larger B&Q stores for about £4-5 per sheet) you can build a cabinet that easily rivals those sold by Thorne’s the usual commercial sources for a fraction of the price.

Ask your local wood merchant to prepare 9mm exterior grade ply cut to the following dimensions:

  • Top and base: 2 pieces, each 47.5cm x 87.5cm
  • Sides: 2 pieces, each 50cm x 87.5cm
  • Ends: 2 pieces, each 50cm x 45cm
Internal view

Internal view

Using ample glue and screws construct an open-topped box on top of the base sheet. Add scrap stripwood as handles on either end and feet underneath before going to the next stage (rather than after having to deconstruct the finished box as I did … the screws holding these handles and feet on should go from the inside of the box outwards). Line the box with thick insulation; both Jablite and Kingspan are easily cut with a carving knife which is much less messy than using a regular saw. A single sheet of insulation lines the base of the box, with the sides sitting on top and lying flush with the top of the ply side panels (see photos). The insulation does not need to be fixed in place, particularly if you overlap the ends (like sealing the top of a cardboard box).

Element … ary

Element … ary

I used a 100 egg incubator heating element from Ecostat. These are sold by beekeeping suppliers at a considerable markup … instead try Patrick Pinker Game Supplies who sell them for significantly less (c. £55 if I remember correctly). These elements are pre-wired and consist of a control unit/plug with two protruding wires. One is the thermostat and the other the heating element.  Both need to be fed through a hole drilled in the end or side wall of the box. I added an external socket (see note at end of article) but this is not necessary – simply ensure that the wires from the box cannot be accidentally pulled out as this is likely to damage the element or thermostat. The heating element needs to be supported from short wooden pegs so that it is clear of the walls and floor of the cabinet – I prepared a false floor from an offcut of 3mm ply and glued/screwed the vertical posts to it. Small eyelets are attached to the top of these which then – using the supplied rubber bands – support the element. The comprehensive instructions for the Ecostat element make this very clear. The thermostat needs to be well separated from the element. I taped it to the inner side wall of the box. While you have the role of duck tape out it might be wise to cover the exposed edges of the insulation which can be a little friable. The lid is simply constructed by gluing a suitably sized piece of insulation to the middle of the ply sheet – you can use Gorilla glue safely with foam insulation. Tape the edges of the lid as well as they can get quite a few knocks.

[Note 1: I have prepared some rudimentary plans (with dimensions) showing the construction of this honey warming cabinet. These should be read in conjunction with this page which contains the relevant images.

Note 2: There is an additional brief post on alternative places to source the thermostat and heating element. These are also available from Thorne’s and possibly other major beekeeping equipment suppliers, though at higher prices.]

Bucket stand

Bucket stand

You need the lid and floor finished before you can prepare the last component – a ventilated stand for the honey buckets. This needs to provide clearance above the element, but be short enough that the buckets leave space above them when the lid is closed (to allow air circulation). The picture shows the sort of thing required without exposing my poor quality carpentry.

Finally you need to calibrate the thermostat. This can easily be done by standing a large container of water in the cabinet with a thermometer in it, allowing the cabinet (and, more importantly, the water) to reach a stable temperature before recording it. Alternatively, and a lot more conveniently, buy one of those cheap remote weather stations from Maplin which have an external temperature sensor. Leave this in the cabinet and monitor the temperature with the base unit. My cabinet is in an unheated garage and holds temperatures between about 20oC and at least 55oC +/- 0.5-1.0oC when the ambient temperature is below about 14oC.

Ready to go

Ready to go

Soft set honey needs a temperature of 14oC or below so is best made during the colder months of the year, though you can always use your well insulated box as a chiller if you add lots of cooling blocks.

Improving heat distribution in the cabinet

After using this cabinet for about three years I modified it by adding a small mains powered fan underneath the slatted wooden stand. I used the external twin three pin socket to provide the power for this. This is a marked improvement (on what already worked pretty well). The box reaches temperature faster and fluctuates very little. The only problem I have encountered is when you try and maintain a constant low temperature … the fan generates some heat and it is difficult to keep the temperature much below the low 20’s centigrade.

Queen cell incubator

With an inner container such as a polythene ice cream carton with a damp cloth inside (to raise the humidity) I’ve used this incubator to hatch out queens from grafted cells. Just stack the hair-roller cages vertically in the ice-cream carton and check them regularly. Virgin queens can easily be added to queen less mini-nucs. If you’re going to use this cabinet for incubating queen cells remember to calibrate the thermostat and mark it for 34oC well in advance.

Warming super frames before extraction

If you take care to build the cabinet the same dimensions as a couple of supers you can use it to warm boxes of frames for extraction.

A version of this article first appeared (way back in 2012) in Bee Talk, the monthly newsletter of the Warwick and Leamington Beekeepers.

Poundland

£1 only

£1 only … unsurprisingly

Good value 1.4 litre airtight sealable storage tubs are sold by Poundland that take just over 4lb of honey. I think these will be ideal for storing batches of soft set honey in preparation for seeding the next bucket. This saves either leaving it in the bucket or bottling it. You usually need 3-4lb of creamed honey of the desired consistency to act as the seed for a full bucket, so the volume of these tubs is about right. They might also be suitable for bulk sales.

It’ll be no surprise to know that these tubs cost £1 …