Bees and beekeepers play an important role in the Commonwealth's agriculture. Beekeepers raise bees, which pollinate crops and provide us with honey and other products.
Beekeeping in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is home to a diverse beekeeping industry, as current estimates indicate that we have between 4-4,500 beekeepers managing between 40-45,000 hives. Over 45% of agricultural commodities in Massachusetts rely on bees for crop pollination. In addition to pollination, bees such as honey bees also provide other valuable products including wax, propolis, royal jelly and honey.
About honey bees
Honey bees collect nectar from flowers and use special enzymes in their stomach and evaporative behaviors in the hive to turn it into honey. Bees store honey within the hive in wax covered cells. A single worker bee produces only 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. It takes about 2 million flowers and worker bees flying 50,000 miles to make one pound of honey. By working together, a hive of bees can produce several hundred pounds of honey within a year. Bees use some of the honey they collect for food and then store the remainder for winter. Honey bees tend to produce more honey than they can consume. Beekeepers remove this excess and it is sold for human consumption.
Types of honey
Honey is sold in several forms but the most common is comb, liquid and creamed honey. Comb honey consists of large pieces of honey-filled combs taken from the hive. Liquid honey is the most common and preferred form, consisting of the liquid remaining after the comb is separated.
Most liquid honey crystallizes or turns from a liquid to a semi-solid state over time. Some people believe that once their honey has crystallized, it is spoiled and is no longer safe to eat. This is false, as natural honey is one of the only foods that never expires (if sealed properly). If this happens to you, there's no need to worry! Crystallization is a natural occurrence that only affects honey's color and texture, and it's easy to bring the honey back to a soft liquid. Simply place bottle of honey in a hot water bath between 130F to 140F for a few minutes, often hot water out of tap is best. Please don't boil or heat plastic honey bottles in the microwave, as plastic may melt and contaminate the honey. Once the honey has melted evenly, give it a good stir, and you’ve got liquid honey again!
Honey may crystallize when kept at temperatures between 50-59⁰F. Honey with a higher glucose to fructose proportions crystallizes more rapidly. Crystallized honey may have different color and texture, but not flavor or quality. Honey producers make creamed honey by mixing crystallized honey with liquid honey until it forms a creamy and smooth texture. This form of honey is a specialty product and may not be as available as liquid or comb honey. Local beekeepers collect fresh honey collect from the late spring to mid-fall seasons and therefore, may be seasonally available. Due to this, always good to call ahead.