Honey crystallizes at all stages, from the hive to processing, packaging and storing. Beekeeping tricks can stop honey crystallizing inside the colony and affecting the batch of honey produced in your apiary.
Why Does Honey Crystallize?
Crystallization is affected by three significant factors:
- The origin of the nectar
- Moisture content and humidity
The Origin of the Nectar
The type of flowering plant that provides the nectar affects the likelihood of crystallization. The more glucose in the nectar, the faster the honey gets coarse.
Honey that has a higher ratio of glucose to fructose generally crystallizes faster than those with a lower ratio.
Moisture Content and Humidity
If glucose is dissolved in a smaller amount of water, the honey will crystallize faster. If the same amount of glucose is in a solution with a more substantial amount of water, it’s less saturated and will precipitate slower.
Glucose is more easily dissolved in warmer water. So, the ambient temperature affects the solubility of sugar.
This means that just below room temperature, crystallization occurs. When the temperature is around 50–59 degrees Fahrenheit, this is the optimum range for honey crystals to form. Below this range, the precipitation rate decreases until freezing, where the sugar does not crystallize. Conversely, above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, crystallization doesn’t happen.
How to Stop Honey Crystallizing in Your Beehive
Different scenarios may occur for you to want to stop crystallization from occurring:
- Scenario 1: You put your hive in a foraging range with a high concentration of one plant species. It turns out your bees mostly collected nectar that had a high glucose-fructose ratio.
- Scenario 2: Before the end of the honey flow, you notice white granules in some of your comb. The season for this was really low humidity, and some of the uncapped honey had lost too much moisture, causing the glucose to precipitate.
- Scenario 3: The temperatures of your winter season were brutally low. Despite your best precautions, one of your colonies did not survive the winter. When you check the frames, the drawn comb is filled with uneaten and crystallized combs of solid sugar.
Over the winter, your bees ration their supply of honey and water. If the nectar that ripened into honey was of high glucose to fructose ratio, it might crystallize in the comb over the winter months. Your bees cannot digest solid sugar granules, but they can dissolve the crystal back into a solution using water.
Moisture condenses from respiration and accumulates on the cold areas of the hive. They can use this water to rehydrate the crystallized sugar. But, with the weakening effects of the winter season and a limited water supply, this may be too taxing for the members of the colony.
So, even with enough honey to last the winter season, if the honey crystallized in the hive over the cold months, the colony may perish from starvation.
To deal with this, some beekeepers feed their bees with a sugar syrup that has more fructose than glucose. They do this in preparation for winter so that there’s a better balance in the hive of sugar syrup that’s unlikely to crystallize.
When you go about checking your hives like a diligent beekeeper, you may notice that some of the uncapped combs look like they have a white pest or infestation. This is usually precipitated sugar.
If you notice that some of your frames have crystalline combs after the harvest flow is complete, you can encourage your hive to clean them before the wintering.
Lightly spray uncapped crystal combs with warm water to help the granules dissolve.
Hopefully, if there’s no more nectar or sugar source nearby, your bees will redeposit this honey in their drawn frame.
When the hive dies off, you will want to use that drawn comb in a new or existing hive for the nectar flow. It would be a waste if you weren’t able to use the already drawn comb.
If there’s crystalline honey in the comb, this will cause any newly deposit honey to crystallize faster once you harvest. So, it’s crucial for your next season that you get all of the granules out of your combs. By removing them, you’re stopping your next season of honey from crystallizing rapidly.
There’s only one way to make sure that the comb remains structurally intact and the crystals are gone. Your bees have to eat it.
Timing is important here. Introduce the frame to a hive of healthy bees, but make sure to exclude the queen from the comb that has crystallized sugar in it. Exclude her so that she cannot lay her brood in the comb that you want the bees to feed on. If you do that, your bees can happily dissolve and feed on the granulated sugar.
Is Honey Crystallization Bad?
Having granules of sugar in your honey is definitely not a bad or unhealthy thing. In fact, if you’ve ever heard of creamed honey, that is honey processed to blend crystallized and liquid honey together.
Interestingly, most honey produced is granulated, but we’re conditioned to purchase liquid honey. Therefore, it’s most often processed to dissolve the crystallized sugar. Decrystallization can also be done in the home.
For the beekeeper, crystallization can be detrimental because it can affect the health of the hive over the winter months. For harvesting, remnants of crystallized sugar can taint the new batch of honey. It can also be a surprise boon to your colony, providing healthy food to strengthen your thriving colonies.