An interview with Alain Raymond who is the founder of Muff Honey.
I continue my discovery about honey in Ireland by visiting a beekeeper Alain Raymonde who is the owner of Muff Honey at Kingscourt Co Cavan. Even the weather is nice to us today. The sun is shining and the various colours of the trees give an authentic autumn atmosphere. As I was driving between the green hills of this beautiful country, I took some time to immerse myself in this picturesque scenery.
Finally, a small road brought us to a little bee farm with a few hives, trees, plants, herbs, vegetables and wildflowers. Suddenly, Alain appeared at the door and gave us a friendly introduction and welcomed us into his cosy workshop. I was really excited and I couldn’t wait to ask my questions about What is honey made from and How best to use it? Or How do you keep the hives healthy and what procedures are required to keep the honey pure and natural? Also, my biggest question was why is it important to purchase organic honey and what should a consumer be aware of.
So join me and gain an insight into how he creates this beautiful healthy product.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how did you get involved with honey?
Originally, I come from a village in Cork where we had local biodiversity. Since childhood, I have always been interested in nature. Later, I also became fascinated with honey bees and bumblebees and the fauna growing in the hedgerows.
For 20 years I was working as a chef. During that time I was always conscious of the food I was eating such as where it was growing and where is it coming from. So I started researching it myself and I found out that most of the honey in Ireland is imported but only a small percentage is natural honey.
This made me wonder why we import honey as far as South America when we can produce it on our own. This not only causes a major carbon footprint but also made me think about what ingredients they use during the honey-making process.
Can you tell us how you started your business?
Five years ago I completed a beekeeping course in Dundalk, then I got my first few hives. Within four years I expanded the business up to thirty-three hives; next year I plan to have fifty. With 50 hives I can estimate that I will make a profit, but at the minute it is an expensive hobby. So now mainly I am focusing on reinvesting.
What type of honey are you producing?
Since I let my hedge and the land grew wild, the accumulation of different foragers coming here has become very versatile. I found solitary bees, wasps, bumble bees, honey bees, butterflies, hoverflies and so on. It is fascinating.
This area is very high and cold and we don’t get a massive spring crop so mostly we produce multi-floral honey. It is mainly from the hedgerows and some wildflowers from the fields. In the spring we get some willow, dandelion, and some gorse.
Whatever honey the bees collect during Spring, I leave it with them. This keeps them going until Summer. The Summer honey is fabulous here. We get a mixture of white and red clover, blackberry bramble, dandelion, herbs, and wildflowers that grow in the hedgerows. These give a lovely medicinal flavour to the clear honey.
Infused honey. I came up with this idea last year when I had a sore throat and I didn’t want to go to the pharmacy and ask for medication. The herb thyme is really good for the immune system, chest infections, and cough. It also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. So I infused the honey with thyme. Surprisingly, honey with thyme is produced in America and different countries but they don’t do it in Ireland as such. Based on this experience, I’m planning to create various blends.
Bees make wax which I also make candles from. Beeswax is pure and non-toxic. A lot of the regular candles that you purchase in pharmacies for example contain chemicals that are dangerous to the respiratory system.
This weekend we going to experiment with making mead which is traditional Irish honey wine. Basically, it’s honey, water, and yeast. And we going to make a metheglin out of it which is with herbs and spices.
Can you give us an insight into the process of harvesting honey?
Bees are the most fascinating and intelligent creatures in the world. They can make hexagon cells that are mathematically perfect. The bees bring in nectar and they turn this nectar into honey. All honey has to have a 17-18 % water content. Bees fan their wings to evaporate the excess water. Once the honey reaches the correct thickness, the bees will cap that with beeswax.
I only take excess honey which is important as a lot of commercial beekeepers take all the honey and replace it with synthetic sugar syrup. It is not natural and not healthy. Once I get the beeswax off, I take off the wax cappings and the frame goes into the honey spinner which takes out the honey. On the bottom of the electric spinner, there is a lever and a triple filter which filters out the honey from the wax. I make sure to not filter out too much and leave some pollen in it for people who have hay fever allergies.
What kind of work do you need to keep the hive healthy?
To keep the bee healthy, they have to have a balanced diet which contains various plants, flowers and herbs. Rather than being a monoculture such as commercial beekeepers who feed bees with only one type of plant. I also like to keep the hive dry and secure.
My hives are treatment free. I believe that bees have evolved for thousands of years without chemicals so I don’t think they need that. If you use them, the bees put them into the honey which will end up in your body after consumption. I receive a lot of criticism because of this, but my view is to work with nature. My friend from Poland helps me to protect the hives in a natural way. For example, I grow thyme, sage and rosemary which have antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Also, rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which helps treat any varroa bee mites and improves natural immunity within the hive.
Apart from that, they look after themselves. I found also that the less I annoy them the better. A lot of beekeepers open the hive every week which I found only necessary during the swarm season between March and July. During this time, the colony gets too big and splits.
Where can people find your products?
I am only a small business at the moment and the product quantity is limited. I have an honesty box outside my gate in Kingscourt and in Bailieborough at the Nomad Coffee shop. You can also find my honey at the Cafe in Carnaross. But my regular clients come from direct sales.
My five-year plan is to expand to more locations and set up a website. I believe at the moment people should concentrate on purchasing honey at their location 10-20 km radius because it’s best for them and they consume their local fauna and flora.
What is your favourite food with honey?
I use honey as a condiment. Every morning I take a spoonful of it. I also love to use honey over pancakes, goat cheese, or yoghurt with blueberries and a bit of granola. That’s beautiful to me. Even toast with butter and honey its just simply delicious.
What is your message to people who are not sure about organic products?
Organic is natural and not treated. The oldest medicine in the world is herbalism until it was limited by the Pharmaceutical industry. People have been treated for centuries by herbalism and by trusting nature and land and you have nothing to lose.
Visiting Alain was an incredible experience. I always enjoy talking with people who are well knowledged, passionate about their work and have a clear goal with their products. We agreed that thankfully people are turning to natural medicine again.
I also highlight the importance of organic and locally produced products. Every day our body is exposed to various chemicals which cause illnesses. Reducing this exposure will benefit your health and also can help with symptoms if you are already ill.