Tag: Bees

Is Raw Honey Safe?
The Lifestyle

Is Raw Honey Safe?

Is Raw Honey Safe?Raw honey is good for your immune system—at least, that’s what the raw foodies say.

It makes sense at first glance. After all, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising if the pasteurization process kills the good microbes with the bad ones. And research suggests that small doses of the pollen in raw, unfiltered honey may work similarly to an allergy shot.

But is raw honey safe? That’s an issue health and food experts are still debating. Read More

Brix: How Do We Use It?
The Farm

Brix: How Do We Use It?

Brix: How Do We Use It?Now that we know what brix is and how to measure it, we’re ready to find ways to apply this knowledge.

So what is an ideal brix level?  Most plants show markedly improved vitality and pest resistance when their brix levels hit 12 degrees on a refractometer, although with care many can go far higher than that.


Increasing Brix in Produce and Pasture

Proponents of high-brix farming and gardening agree that soil microbe health is directly correlated with high brix levels in produce and pasture.  Therefore, while chemical fertilizers can provide brief boosts in brix, they cannot maintain high levels over long periods of time unless special high-sugar hybrid plants are used.  Organic fertilizers made to be applied directly to the leaves of the plant can also give a temporary increase in brix.  In the long run, however, growers of heirloom and non-hybrid plants, whether they be food or forage species, must focus on feeding the soil.

Maintaining a balance of nutrients in the soil is an important step toward keeping microbes healthy and happy.  If you are struggling with low brix levels, start with a soil analysis.  Measuring NPK is not enough.  It is important to know the levels of trace minerals, as well, because these are key to microbe health.  Depleted minerals must be replaced.

Once the soil is brought back into balance, there are many options for keeping it that way.  One of the most amazing soil and plant foods out there, according to refractometers across the nation, is raw milk.  Pastures fed with raw milk can have a brix reading over 20 degrees!  Grazing practices that allow for nutrient distribution and pasture recovery time tend to affect brix positively, as well.


Using Brix in Milk and Honey

Sometimes a quick fix is important when feeding milk to calves.  If the brix levels fall too low (below 22% solids for colostrum or below 10% solids for whole milk), the calves will not thrive and mortality rates will increase.  In this case, milk replacer or milk extender must be added to the milk.  In the long run, managing the health of the dairy herd is important.  Eliminating mastitis infections can make a big difference in milk quality.

Honey that contains a high proportion of moisture to sugar tends to ferment.  Therefore, it should not be harvested until it measures 82 to 83 degrees brix (17% to 18% moisture on a honey refractometer).  If for some reason the honey must be harvested before this point, the honey frames can be dried artificially with fans.

Brix: How Do We Measure It?
The Farm

Brix: How Do We Measure It?

Brix: How Do We Measure It?

Optical refractometer

Now we have a definition of brix: the weight of dissolved sugar expressed as a percentage of the weight of the entire solution.  The next question is how we measure brix.


The Refractometer

As its name suggests, a refractometer operates on the principle of refraction.  When a beam of light passes through a liquid solution, it bends, or refracts.  The more solids (e.g., sugars) that are suspended in the solution, the more the light refracts.  A refractometer is simply a device used to measure refraction.

Two types of refractometers are commonly sold:

  • Analog or optical.
  • Digital.

An analog refractometer uses a prism and an external light source to operate.  A few drops of solution are placed on the prism, the refractometer is held toward a light, and the results are read on a scale.

A digital refractometer works on the same principle, but shines its own light on the prism from an LED.  A sensor takes the measurement, a computer calculates the results, and a screen displays the brix reading.

Note that refractometers specifically sold for testing honey are made to display the inverse of a brix reading—that is, they display the moisture content of the sample and not the percentage of dissolved solids.


Shortcomings of the Refractometer

The reading displayed on the refractometer is actually not a true measurement of the sugar dissolved in the substance being tested.  Any dissolved solids can cause light to refract; therefore all dissolved solids are included in the refractometer results.  This includes minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates other than sugar, as well as other non-nutrient solids.  Adding fertilizer to a glass of water, for instance, will change the brix reading according to the refractometer.

Of course, this may still help us reach our goals in measuring brix in the first place.  After all, if we are measuring the brix of fruits and vegetables, whether from the store or our own backyard garden, we are using brix as a gauge of overall nutrient content.  If there are more minerals in the produce, so much the better.

However, the main disadvantage of using the refractometer is that it cannot tell us exactly what is changing the reading.  The only way to know for sure what sugars, minerals, and other solids are in our food or forage is to do a complete nutrient analysis—feasible in a livestock business, but a little too costly for everyday kitchen use.

Other factors that may influence refractometer results include:

  • Sample preparation.
  • Sample settling.
  • Plant part tested.
  • Ambient temperature.

Digital refractometers are programmed to compensate for some of these variables (particularly temperature).  To ensure the most accurate results, however, try to test the same part of the plant at the same time of day in every test.  Testing in similar weather conditions is also preferable.


Next week: How do we use brix?

Brix: What is It?
The Farm

Brix: What is It?

Brix: What is It?

Brix is one of those topics that come up fairly frequently in sustainable agriculture.  Simply put, brix is a measure of the sugar content of a plant or other substance.

To be more specific, Brix expresses the weight of dissolved sugar as a percentage of the weight of the entire solution.  Pure water has a brix of 0%.  A solution of 5 grams of sugar to 95 grams of water would have a brix of 5%.

This measurement system was developed by and named for Austrian scientist Adolph Brix.

So how can this knowledge help us?


High-Brix Growing

Advocates of high-brix farming and gardening say that plants with high brix levels are vibrant and healthy—and vibrant, healthy plants resist insect pests and diseases.  They can also stand up to a light frost a little better.

High-brix fruits and vegetables generally have a sweeter, more appetizing flavor than their low-brix counterparts.  However, brix proponents claim that there are other benefits to growing and eating high-brix foods.  High-brix plants have a superior aroma and may be more digestible.  They may even have higher nutritional content (some caveats next week).

Brix can be used to positively determine if a fruit is ripe, as the sugar content of a fruit increases dramatically while ripening.

Finally, high-brix produce keeps surprisingly well.


More Uses for Brix

But brix is not just a useful tool for those who grow plants.  If you raise livestock, you can also benefit from monitoring brix:

  • Beekeepers use brix to monitor honey quality.
  • In dairy cattle, brix is used to evaluate the nutritional content of colostrum fed to calves.
  • To all grazing animals, brix equals palatability.  When given a choice, livestock will always choose high-brix forages over low-brix forages.

Some consumers also shop for brix these days, tapping into the nutritional benefits of high-brix foods.  Besides testing fruits and vegetables for flavor and nutrition, they can also check honey and maple syrup for dilution.


Next week: How do we measure Brix?