From Cider Making to Bee-Keeping for a day

From Cider Making to Bee-Keeping for a day

This May Cornish Orchards will be launching a new Limited Edition Cornish Honey Cider with the Eden Project. Our marketing team and Head Cider Maker Chris Newton, went from cider making to bee-keeping for a day with Eden’s very own Apiarist Roger to understand more about the bees and the honey that is being used in this new cider.

Bees play such a vital role in today’s ecosystem. Did you know that around a third of our crops are pollinated by insects including bees and butterflies, both of which are under threat of extinction? Since 1900, 13 species of bee have been lost here in the UK and a further 35 are under threat of extinction. Without these amazing pollinators, there would be no crops and certainly no apple trees and therefore no apples to make our wonderful Cornish cider and soft drinks.

On February 8th 2019, we were lucky to spend some time with Roger, Eden’s Apiarist, who cares for the Native Dark Honey Bees at Eden and is responsible for the honey that has gone into the making of this new limited edition Cornish Honey Cider.

Beekeeping basics and the Eden hives

Roger cares for bees as far as Lostwithiel. Dependant on the time of year, he can visit a single apiary (a single location of beehives) between once in every 7 to 10 days in the summer.

The honey used in this cider is from the Eden Project’s very own Native Dark Honey Bee hives. In 2019, the Eden Project will become the third Native Dark Honey Bee reserve in the country, joining Mount Edgecombe and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. The Dark European Honey Bee is a honey bee variant native to the British Isles and Northern Europe. It is also known as the Native Dark Bee or the Black Bee.

The population of a honey bee

The aim of the bees is to bring in as much honey to the hive as possible. In the summer, a hive can reach a population of around 60,000 bees. In the winter, the population is reduced to around 8,000 to 10,000 bees.

This is done through the reduction of egg laying and the bees working themselves so hard during the summer that this cuts down their lifespan to only a few weeks (whereas a winter bee’s lifespan is several months). The bees that survive will start the whole process off again by laying eggs which will hatch ready for the spring. Each generation of new bees will be responsible for nursing the next generation of bees ready for the summer.

Did you know? Humans have been on earth for around 200,000 years whereas the honey bees have been on earth for over 100 million years. And did you know that a honey bee has 6 legs (3 pairs in total), 4 wings and 5 eyes?

Queen of the Hive

The Queen Bee is responsible for laying the eggs and can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day in the Spring and Summer. There is only one queen in each hive. The main role of a male bee, also known as a Drone, is to mate with an unfertilised queen to produce the larvae (fertilised eggs).

Did you know? Queen bees are often imported to the UK. Imported bees can both erode the genetic makeup and bring in new pests and diseases; one of the reasons that our own species is in such rapid decline (alongside the loss of habitat and other predators such as Hornets).

When Roger breeds queens, he explains that only a grub (a fertilised egg) destined to be a queen is fed royal jelly every day which acts as a bee superfood. Royal jelly has all of the rich hormones, releasing the genetic coding to turn into a queen. When a worker is laid, the grub is only fed around 1 or 2 hits of royal jelly to kick-start their metabolism but is then fed a weaker food containing nectar and pollen or honey.

How is the honey created?

As the bees travel amongst the flowers and plants, they collect nectar which is a sugar-rich liquid produced by the plants and flowers and is 80% water with some complex sugars.

Did you know? Bees forage for nectar and can visit up to 2,000 flowers a day. Two million flowers can produce around 1lb of honey and depending on what flowers the bees visit, will depend on the final flavour of the honey produced.

Roger has been lucky enough to collect around 50kg of honey from a single hive in a good season just because of the abundance of beautiful plants and flowers for the bees at Eden.

To collect the nectar the bees use their long, straw-like tongues (known as the proboscis) to suck out the nectar which is then stored in their honey gut. The honey gut (which can store up to 70mg of nectar) is only used for storing nectar and is full of lactic acid which provides and impart the antimicrobial bacteria properties to the honey.

The ‘waggle dance’ - If there are not enough worker bees to take in the nectar from the returning foraging bee, they will perform a special dance called the ‘waggle dance’ to help encourage other worker bees to help out.

If there is danger ahead, foraging bees are able to release a pheromone during their waggle dance, more wriggles mean more pheromone is released, which can alert other foraging bees of danger and can tell them the location and distance of this danger and how to avoid.

The nectar is then carried back to the hive and passed to the other worker bees who store the honey in the hexagonal wax cells. The foraging bee adds an enzyme to the nectar which helps ripen the honey.

The hexagonal beeswax structure

The hexagonal beeswax structure is made by the bees using beeswax which is created through a secretion through their glands underneath their abdomen.

Did you know? For each pound of beeswax provided by a honey bee, the bee visits over 30 million flowers. To produce 1lb of wax requires the bee to consume about 8 to 10 pounds of honey. Bees use about 6lb of honey to produce 1lb of wax.

Roger showed us some live examples of the wooden slabs containing the beeswax structure which contained around 1.3kg of honey that has yet to be extracted. A wooden beehive can hold around 12 of these slabs. The beeswax was created with such symmetry and perfection.

Roger holding the beeswax structure

Extracting the honey

The process of collecting honey is called ‘Honey Extraction’ and allows the honey to become isolated in pure liquid form. One hive can produce around 60lb (27kg) of honey or more in a good season however, an average hive would be around 25lb (11kg) surplus. 

To extract the honey Rodger uses a specific tool called an ‘Api Melter’ which is a piece of kit costing around £3,000. This method is the most effective way to extract the honey from the wax structure by gently distributing heat using a built-in fan.

Due to the high density of honey, it will sink to the bottom and run out faster whilst the wax remains on top ready to be skimmed off. The honey is then drained and filtered ready to be packaged.

The honey can only be extracted using an Api Melter once at optimal hive temperature and can only be collected up to twice a year if you are lucky.

Time to taste the honey

As part of our introduction, Rodger was kind enough to let us sample some of the honey that he has extracted and packaged which helped bring all of this theory together.

We tried samples of honey from different parts of Cornwall. The plants, the minerals in the ground and the soil types all factor into the flavour profile of the honey from the bees.

Top tip: The best way to get a real flavour of the honey on your palette, is to warm it up in your mouth for a few seconds.

Sithney bees, located near Helston, was the location of the first honey we tasted. This honey was very gentle and had a very distinctive, long-lasting flavour with a light floral fragrance.

The second honey was from that of Eden’s hives. This honey had a much more complex range of flavour profiles and was very subtle with a lovely deep floral fragrance; slightly stronger than the Sithney honey.

Finally, we tasted honey from the bees of Heligan. This was the richer flavour profile out of the three honey samples we tasted. The texture was a lot thicker and the colour was a lot darker.

When and where is this new Cornish Honey Cider going to be available?

This cider is a collaboration of two Cornish businesses that share the same ethos coming together to help draw awareness to the decline of our Native Dark Honey Bee as well as to create a product for our customers to enjoy. There has been a lot of passion that has gone into the making of this cider and we hope that it is one that you will all enjoy.

We will be launching our Cornish Honey Cider at the Eden Project on Monday 27th May and will be available to buy for a limited time only from the Eden Project shop and through their website.

So do not miss out on this wonderful taste of nature.

Posted by Beccy Price
7th May 2019

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