• Maggie James

Honey House Machinery – Brand New to Over a Century Old

Last month a trip to visit Jeff Brand and Juan Wu, owners of Greta Valley Honey based at Burnham, south of Christchurch proved popular. Maggie James now takes a closer look around their well-planned, clean and spacious honey house which holds a wide range of well-maintained historic and new equipment, some manufactured in the district, others a world away. With a bit of research into the still in-use gear, Maggie uncovers the long history behind some items which even the owners were not aware.

Greta Valley Honey owner Jeff Brand has filled his honey house with equipment new and old, which all earns its keep.

The machinery, workflows and methods of production at Greta Valley Honey are adequate for the husband-and-wife team working from home base, without staff and under a domestic Risk Management Plan. With honey production liquid, creamed and cut comb, as well as dried and cleaned pollen, the Burnham business has much need for a range of equipment. We’ll start with the honey production – but it is perhaps the pollen drier and cleaner with the best tale to tell.

Honey Production

As soon as the second-to-outside frames in Greta Valley Honey supers are 70% capped, they are escaped and promptly extracted.

“Because of our 60 km travel radius from base, and as sole operators of approximately 570 hives, we can selectively super per hive and monitor hive health,” Brand says.

“Supers are more likely to be full, avoiding empty spaces that can occur with excessive supering. The eight frame supers create a bigger area to hold honey and are easier for uncapping. Excessive supering, and long pre-extraction times would require us to own a greater amount of honey supers.”

Full supers are unloaded in the honey house with a 1.5 tonne forklift and extracted promptly, getting them quickly back into the field again. Sometimes, supers go to the warming room, heated by a 1200-watt fan heater at 38⁰C for two days, while manuka may require longer.

Extraction and Packing Rooms

As domestic market only suppliers and not selling to a packer, honey lab analysis costs are minimal. Being south of 42⁰ latitude, tutin testing is not required.

Brand and Wu extract 100, eight frame boxes at a time. Extraction is undertaken January through to end of April, and generally includes batches of manuka or clover, with beech dew only occasionally. Unlike some extraction plants, this room has natural light and a view!

To keep temperatures down for working conditions there is a wall-mounted fan high up, the room is on the south side of the building with a large exterior double-glazed window. The fan, when necessary, runs on a timer three hourly for one hour, circulating and cooling air.

The Greta Valley Honey extraction room: clean, tidy and efficient, with plenty of natural light to boot! Photo: Maggie James.

“As far as I am concerned, extraction is a hot, sticky, messy job, the window was an essential to make the job more pleasurable, and when possible – if no robbing – the window can be opened a few mms aiding air flow, with wire mesh over the opening,” Brand says.

The radial honey extractor and cappings spinner, which holds 100 frames, is the design of well-known intergenerational Mid Canterbury beekeeper John Syme, manufactured in 1969. Syme remembers repairing the electronics for the previous owner in approximately 1990. Cappings are also augered out from under the uncapper, then into the cappings spinner.

There are separate holding tanks and creamers for clover and manuka. The two holding tanks are previously milk vats, each holding approximately 2000 kg (six drums).

In 2015 the 330kg manuka creamer on four legs, with big 3-phase motor, and variable speed control box, was made in China to the couple’s specifications. Cost included freight, with Wu liaising with a Chinese manufacturing engineer. GST was paid on import.

It isn’t all second hand and repurposed equipment at Greta Valley Honey, this creamer was purchased new from China. Photo: Maggie James.

“We found this process cost-effective. We believe similar componentry in NZ would cost substantially more. I was required to hold an export/import licence, for which there was no cost nor expiry date. International logistics were arranged with GVI, Christchurch and we would use them again,” Brand says.

Their direct import was not covered under the Consumer Guarantees Act. However, in 2017 when the collars around the motor cracked, Wu contacted the Chinese company.

“It appears the maker had not factored in the heaviness of manuka honey, and – at no charge – suitable heavier duty replacements were posted to us.”

In the air-conditioned packing room a 2000kg cooling tank, probably mid-1970s manufacture, holds liquid clover honey for two days prior to creaming.

Purchased by Brand, a noiseless stainless steel clover creamer with heavy cast steel housing is marked Bratby & Hinchcliffe, Manchester. It would most definitely be over 100 years old and still creams tonnes of honey every year. The Manchester engineering company were manufacturers of machinery to the soft drink industry. Therefore, it appears the housing on this creamer has been reincarnated! The canister is extremely heavy stainless steel, the heaviest out of all their equipment and because England were among the world leaders in stainless steel, it is potentially still original.

Over 100 years old, this Manchester manufactured clover honey creamer is still getting the job done.

Wax Melter

Made by David Penrose Engineering, Mid Canterbury, probably manufactured in the early 1970s.

Other Equipment

Sugar syrup mixing is made easy using a formerly central heating tank, for which in 1980 (to fellow Canterbury beekeeper Barry Sheehan’s specifications) a motor pump and pipes were added, enabling mixing of sugar and pumping.

Honey drums are purchased from a local baker and have been used only once for golden syrup.

A comb cutting stand and knives enables full depth frames to be cut to 340gm, with the aid of florescent lights which also came with the purchase. Brand says the package was a bargain, picked up at the clearance auction of the NZ Honey Co-op at Pleasant Point.

Pollen Production and Processing

In 1992 when Brand purchased his business, it was setup for pollen production and processing which, although a major earner, was labour intensive. Brand ceased this production in 2010 when varroa first exhibited in Canterbury, as he was unsure as to the presence of chemical residues from miticides in collected pollen. As he learned how to control varroa, coincidentally honey prices rose. Now as a buffer against falling honey prices, rising costs, and consumers post Covid appearing to pursue products to strengthen body immunity, pollen production has been reinstituted and markets are being sought.

Brand makes his own pollen traps and these are installed the first week of October for five weeks. Traps are not on during honey flows, and he likes to avoid the main white clover flow which produces brown coloured pollen. Customers prefer the vibrancy of bright yellow and orange coloured pollens! Because hives are healthy and strong, and traps emptied regularly, there is minimal debris in the harvested pollen, which is frozen that day.

The pollen drier is a large, stylish, suitably impressive looking chicken incubator. The Australian hardwood cabinet holds shelves of the original galvanised and ventilated metal trays. Pollen is contained in trays wrapped in mutton cloth. The incubator is in working, safe order, operating at 40⁰C with three fans, drying pollen for 24 hours, with pollen moisture content escaping via closed-door edges.

The manufacturer is Multiplo Incubator and Brooder Ltd which appears to be an Australian company, that in the early 1930s invented and patented poultry incubators. It is quite likely this incubator with a 1933 patent, electric nonetheless, was manufactured not long afterwards.

Jeff Brand puts his 1930s Australian manufactured chicken incubator to use as an expert pollen drier! Photo: Maggie James.
Do you think the manufacturers in the 1930s would have foreseen this chicken incubator’s use nearly a century on?

The dried pollen is then put through a seed cleaner to which a half horsepower motor has been added. The contents of the dried pollen trays are emptied onto the leather belt, and the action of the belt rolls out the lighter bee debris, into the white wooden tray on the right. The fan from the motor blows out any other light fluffy debris. Then, with the action of the motor and gravity, pollen trickles through different sized screens as it makes its way to the bottom screen, and then fully cleaned flows out a chute into a container on the floor, under the table.

“I don’t know the seed cleaner age, but the wooden casing is old and heavy, without borer and manufacturer’s plaque. I’m slightly concerned, one of the pulleys is just starting to show a bit of wear,” Brand details.

The repurposed seed cleaner, driven by wooden pulleys and leather belts is predicted to be at least 108 years old, and still in regular use. Photo: Maggie James.

For this article, the local Ellesmere Vintage Machinery Club was contacted. Their spokesperson was highly interested in Brand’s seed cleaner. Until 2000 he manufactured seed cleaners to operate with the same concept, and he considered that Brand’s item has wooden pulleys and leather belt, therefore manufacture was certainly somewhere between 1840-1914; not later than 1914!

This long history of their still hard-working equipment was unbeknown to Brand and Wu and has left them in a similar state to pollen debris – blown away!

For more information on any of the Greta Valley Honey equipment, contact Jeff Brand and Juan Wu, email: jbrand-gvhoney@xtra.co.nz


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