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Gunnar's producer stories 2/6 - the versatile honey of the dark bees
"By eating honey produced by us, the customers of Restaurant Gunnar would take part in vital nature conservation work," reminded entrepreneur Raija Haataja-Nurminen from Tammirauma's Honey Farm, as the Friends of Gunnar and Restaurant Manager of Gunnar were finishing their visit to the farm. After the delicious taste samples, this was the final thing that convinced everyone that serving the honey of dark bees to the customers of Gunnar and our restaurant would enrich the customer experience further.
Tammirauma's Honey Farm produces honey and preserves genetic heritage
Beekeeping that started as a hobby in 1985 became entrepreneurship in 2004, and today, the hives of Tammirauma's Honey Farm have spread from Naantali to Masku, Parainen, Turku and Somero. The preservation and breeding of the bees' genetic heritage has become as important a task, or even more important, than producing honey. The first dark bees arrived to Naantali from Sweden in 2000. Taking on this breed of bees, usually referred to as dark bee, was almost an accident; Swedish colleagues persuaded the current entrepreneur, Aimo Nurminen, to try this new breed during a sauna bathing evening.
This rare, pure breed swept the entrepreneur away and, today, Tammirauma's Honey Farm is the largest Finnish breeder and protector of dark bees, which also operates on an international level.
Of course, honey production remains important, although breeding is a time-consuming pursuit. With regard to honey, the only compromise was giving up the production of monofloral honey. Production of monofloral honey would require emptying the hives after apple trees, for example, have bloomed. Now, the hives are emptied once a year, in the autumn, which means that the honey of the dark bees comes from all the available sources of the harvest season.
There are a total of 170 hives all around the region. The specialities of Tammirauma's Honey Farm include 'diplomat' hives in Kultaranta, the summer residence of the President of Finland, and on the lands of Turun Palloseura hockey team. There are also two hives in the centre of Turku, in Martti. There could be more of these kinds of hives, if they were not often targets of vandalism. "In Paris, hives can be placed in parks, but it is not, unfortunately, yet possible in Finland," Aimo Nurminen states sadly.
Enchanted by an edible honeycomb and buckthorn honey
After the busy work of bees that has lasted the entire summer, the work stages of Aimo and Raija are fairly simple, though not necessarily easy. In order to ensure quality, and after a few attempts with mechanical devices, the keepers of Tammirauma's Honey Farm have decided to uncap the honeycombs gotten from the hives manually. "Manual uncapping ensures that honey will not be wasted and that pieces of beeswax will not be mixed in with the honey," Aimo says, explaining the decision.
After the waxy cover has been uncapped, the honey will start dripping out of the comb. This process can be sped up by spinning the honeycombs. In its simplicity, this is the entire process of making honey. A few honey products are also manufactured at Tammirauma's Honey Farm. The Friends of Gunnar were particularly taken with Hunaja & Tyrni, a honey and buckthorn product. In this product, about 10% of cold-pressed buckthorn juice from Merimasku has been added to the honey. The Friends of Gunnar were already imagining how this 'sauce' would be served at the breakfast table with yoghurt or with the sheep's milk ice cream from Sikka Talu's sheep farm. Maybe with a few pancakes or a warm waffle...
Edible honeycomb also gained a great deal of interest. Would you be interested in this unique delicacy by a local producer, for example at the breakfast table?
"The honey in the comb contains over 20 different sugars, as well as about 200 other ingredients – all of them straight from nature," Aimo stated.
As a whole, this was a very successful visit. It was great to see how important and meaningful honey production and, especially the breeding of dark bees was to the people of Tammirauma's Honey Farm. The visit was a wonderful experience and our Friends, as well as our Restaurant Manager, received many ideas on how the honey of these dark bees could become a part of Gunnar's day-to-day operations.
"In its simplicity, honey is a great natural product; great taste, goes well with almost anything and it's even healthy!" The visit to the farm reinforced the thoughts and views of people about how these tiny buzzers have a crucial role in this ingredient's long production chain. It's great to receive this golden delicacy straight from Aimo's and Raija's hives to Gunnar! Our kitchen team is sure to come up with some great uses for the dark bee honey of Tammirauma," the Restaurant Manager Sami Kivirinta summarised.
Did you know this about making honey?
During the farm visit, the Friends of Gunnar and the Restaurant Manager heard a lot of new information from Aimo and Raija about how bees produce honey and work as a community.
The first operational model, based on millions of years of experience, was taught when Aimo brought out a bee smoker, which always garners the most interest. All of the visitors probably had a mental image of a beekeeper who was spreading smoke around, but no one seemed to know the purpose of the smoke. "Smoke triggers a self-defence mechanism in bees that is based on millions of years of experience. Smoke has always been a sign of danger, for example of about a forest fire. This makes bees forget all other disturbances and they go back to their honey storages to feed, so that their potential escape would be successful.
However, the bees will not move out unless absolutely necessary, and when the smoke disperses, the honey storages are filled back up and the colony's life goes on as normal.
It seemed to be familiar to most that a hive always has a queen and rest of the residents are worker bees. "In summer, one hive can have up to 80,000 bees and the number of bees bred specifically for winter is 20–30 thousand."
Worker bees live for one season – summer or winter, and the queen lives for several years. Male bees, 'drones', also often live in hives. However, the more permanent residents remove them from the hives in August, when mating season has ended.
One bee produces about 2 grams of honey during its life span. "About 125 bees have done their life's work to produce a small, 250 g jar of honey," Gunnar's Restaurant Manager Sami Kivirinta stated.