The American Bee Journal published a timely piece in their August issue. It just hit my mailbox. The article is about avoiding granulated honey in your extracting frames. It’s written by your favourite bee-blogger. Me.
I’m not going to repeat my article here because you can read the whole thing in the bee journal. If you don’t already subscribe to the ABJ, you should. It’s a great resource for beekeeping and bee science. You can see my article in the magazine, but I will paraphrase part of it because it’s an important topic.
Granulation can be a big expensive problem for some beekeepers, but others never see combs of crystallized honey. Along north Florida’s Apalachicola River, beekeepers produce tupelo honey which almost never granulates. But in northern, dry regions of the plains and prairies, canola honey may crystallize in the hive a week after bees store it.
Most honey is between the extremes of canola and tupelo, crystallizing a few months after extracting. The primary causes of granulation are the honey’s glucose-to-moisture ratio, storage temperature, the passage of time, and purity of the honey. I cover these in detail in the American Bee Journal. Today, I will just give a summary of two points – moisture and glucose.
There are two main sugars in honey – fructose and glucose. They vary between species of honey plants. It’s the glucose that forms crystals. Just a little more glucose makes a big difference in granulation. Floral varieties high in glucose include canola, cotton, mesquite, and manzanita. Those with low glucose levels include tupelo, acacia (black locust), and sourwood. The low ones are slow to granulate.
Water is also important in this discussion. Think of honey as an unstable, supersaturated solution of just glucose and water. Glucose crystals precipitate if there is about one-and-a-half times more glucose than water in the honey. In other words, if your honey is 18% water, then 27% glucose is the cut-off. Very few types of honey have such low amounts of glucose. Average American honey is 31% glucose. Canola averages 36% while tupelo is just 25.6%. These numbers are similar in other parts of the world – most honey has enough glucose to crystallize if moisture is below 19%. (Honey over 19% is less likely to granulate, but it will sour and ferment.)
Here’s how this relates to your honey crop. You probably can’t avoid areas or crops with higher contents of glucose. You probably don’t want to – maybe that’s where you make most of your honey. But if you are in such an area, get the honey off the bees quickly (as long as it’s ‘cured’ or ‘ripe’ enough and below 18.6% water content. Then keep the boxes warm – combs granulate most rapidly at about 15 ºC (60 ºF). Finally, extract as quickly as possible – don’t let the boxes sit around for weeks, but get at ’em and get ’em done!
There is more to this story. Temperature and timeliness are important. And there’s something I call ‘purity’ in my article. This involves avoiding dust and old granulation crystals in the honey frames. These serve as starting points for new granulation. These things (and more) are included in my American Bee Journal piece. The bottom line is keep things clean and warm and get things done on time – the same advice you’d hear from any beekeeper.