Honey comes in many colors and flavors. These are called honey varietals and they are determined by the types of flowers the bees visited for nectar. Some are light and sweet; others are dark and bold.
Cold temperature can increase the rate of honey crystallization. Honey should be stored at room temperature, unless you prefer crystallized honey, in which case, refrigeration may be helpful.
Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, honey is susceptible to physical and chemical changes during storage; it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystallize. For practical purposes, a shelf life of two years is often stated. Properly processed, packaged and stored honey retains its quality for a long time.
"Raw" honey is "honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction , settling or straining" without added heat, filtration or processing. Honey sold in grocery stores is usually "filtered" to remove all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles and other materials normally found in honey. All honey crystallizes eventually. Suspended particles and fine air bubbles in honey contribute to faster crystallization. Filtering delays crystallization, making the honey more transparent and smooth, but it also removes beneficial components of honey, such as pollen, enzymes and antioxidants.
Crystallization is the natural process by which the glucose in honey precipitates out of the liquid honey. Different varieties of honey will crystallize at different rates, and a few not at all. If your honey crystallizes, simply place the honey jar in warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve; or place the honey container, with the cap open, into near boiling water that has been removed from the heat; or place the honey in a microwave-safe container with the lid off and microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until the crystals dissolve. Be careful not to boil or scorch the honey. Also keep in mind that you can eat the honey in a crystallized form. Just scoop out of the jar and spread it on your toast or drop it in your tea!
Honey is made by honeybees from the nectar of flowers and plants, not pollen. Pollen is actually an accidental guest in honey, brought back by bees as a source of food for baby bees (the “brood”), or incidentally introduced into the honey through other means, such as during the extraction process. Pollen in honey is sometimes analyzed to help determine the primary floral source. The amount of pollen in honey is minuscule and not enough to impact the nutrient value of honey. Honey is still honey, even without pollen.
Eight fluid ounces (or 1 cup) of honey weighs 12 ounces. Be careful in buying and measuring quantities of honey. Honey is typically sold by weight rather than volume. It is heavier than water; the standard for "fluid ounces," which is why 1 cup of water is considered 8 fluid ounces, but 1 cup of honey will actually weigh 12 ounces. A gallon of honey weighs approximately 12 pounds.
Honey may contain Clostridium botulinum spores that can cause infant botulism, a rare but serious disease that affects the nervous system of young babies (under one year old). C. botulinum spores are present throughout the environment and may be found in dust, soil and improperly canned foods. Adults and children over one year of age are routinely exposed to, but not normally affected by, C. botulinum spores. While infants are susceptible to the infant botulism, adults, including pregnant females, are not. The concern for babies stems from the fact that infants lack the fully developed gastrointestinal tract of older humans.
AMERICAS: 16TH CENTURY A.D.
Conquering Spaniards found that the natives of Mexico and Central America had already developed beekeeping. A distinct family of stingless bees (not true honey bees) was native to these regions.
AMERICAN COLONIES: 17TH CENTURY A.D.
European settlers introduced European honey bees to New England in about 1638. North American natives called these honey bees the "white man's flies." Honey was used to prepare food and beverages, to make cement, to preserve fruits, to concoct furniture paste-polish and varnish and for medicinal purposes.
Honey starts as flower nectar collected by bees, which gets broken down into simple sugars stored inside the honeycomb. The design of the honeycomb and constant fanning of the bees' wings causes evaporation, creating sweet liquid honey. Honey's color and flavor varies based on the nectar collected by the bees.
Bees make honey to store food to eat during the winter, when plants do not flower and pollen and nectar are not available. Honey is high in sugar content, so it provides nutrients and energy to sustain the honey bee colony from fall until early spring, when the bees can again collect nectar from blooming flowers.
The seemingly endless activity of worker bees in fields and hives is universally recognized. Research notes that a single honey bee may visit up to 1,000 flowers over 10 trips on a single day, returning with 40-80 mg of nectar per trip. The approximately 50,000 bees in a single colony may make 4 million nectar foraging trips and fly more than 6 million miles to collect nectar over a single season. For good reason, settlers of Utah selected the beehive as the state emblem to symbolize cooperative, hard work and industriousness.
As bees travel from blossom to blossom in search of nectar, they brush against the pollen-bearing parts of a flower (anther or stamen) and pick up pollen. When the honeybee goes to another flower for more food, some of the pollen from the first flower sticks to the second flower. In this way, the flowers are pollinated. Almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, sunflowers, watermelon and many other crops all benefit from honeybees for pollination.
The number of honey bee hives in the United States is estimated to have declined from 6 million in the 1940s to around 2.5 million today. Research is ongoing on global, national and local levels to explore the nutritional health of honey bees, management of Varroa mites and other pests, and coordinating agricultural practices to minimize impacts on bees.
Lawn or turf grass provides minimal environmental benefits, but is planted everywhere. Conversion of lawn spaces to meadows that support honey bees and native pollinators reduces mowing, significantly increases biodiversity and provides great benefits to pollinators.
More than 90 commercially produced agricultural crops are dependent on honey bee pollination. About one-third of the food eaten by American comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, including almonds, apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, sunflowers cucumbers, kiwi fruit, melons and vegetables. According to a Cornell University study, the increased production of 2010 agricultural crops as a result of honey bee pollination was valued at more than $19 billion.
The almond crop is entirely dependent on honey bee pollination. Without honey bees, there would be no almonds. More than 80% of the world's almonds are produced in California. Pollination of California's approximately 790,000 bearing acres of almonds requires more than a million colonies of honey bees, which is more than half of the entire commercial hives in the country.
Pollinators move pollen from one flower or plant to another, fertilizing the plants, which enables them to produce viable seeds. While bees are the most common type of pollinators, many other insects, birds and even mammals are also important pollinators, including wasps, butterflies, flies, beetles, hummingbirds and bats.
More than 400 species of bees have been documented in Maryland? The most well known of which, the Honey bee (Apis mellifera), is not native to Maryland or North America. Visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website for information on bees of Maryland.
Honey bees live in colonies that are most often maintained by beekeepers. The modern beehive is made up of a series of boxes placed on top of one another. Removable frames are then placed in these boxes to support up wax comb built be bees in which they raise their young ("brood") and store pollen, nectar and honey. A colony generally contains one "queen" breeding female, a few thousand male "drones", and a large population of sterile female "worker" bees.
Beekeepers harvest honey by collecting the honeycomb frames and scraping off the wax cap that bees make to seal off honey in each cell. Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in an extractor, a centrifuge that spins the frames, forcing honey out of the comb. After the honey is extracted, it’s strained to remove any remaining wax and other particles.
Beekeeping in a fascinating hobby that connects you to the natural world and enables you to observe the amazing intricacies of honey bee colonies. Before investing in beekeeping equipment, everyone should take a beekeeping class to learn about the life cycle of honey bees and management of hives and pests. Having a mentor is valuable. Beginning with at least two hives will enable you to compare hive activity and borrow resources from a stronger hive to support the weaker, if necessary.
As with all hobbies, costs to start beekeeping can vary widely. A basic beekeeping kit, including a complete hive (excluding bees), protective gear and equipment (smoker, hive tool) will cost $400-500. Each additional hive will cost $250-300. Bees for each hive can be purchased as a package for $100-140 or as an established nucleus colony or "nuc" for $175-200. Since new colonies need to make comb and store honey for their first winter, it is best to start with a package by mid-May or a nuc by mid-June. The later the starting date, the more supplemental feeding (sugar) will be required.