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The white suits and bee hats are stowed. The honey harvest is finished. As flowers fade and temperatures cool, bees have less available nectar. That means they are not making as much honey. But we have ours.

On average, a hive produces about 65 pounds of honey. Bees make more honey than they need so last weekend we collected honey, but we left honey in the hive to make sure the bees have enough food to survive until spring flowers bloom.

Before it gets too cold, we will wrap the hive to insulate it. Bees fly when it’s warm and stay inside when it’s cool. If they wintered in a warm environment, such as the garage, the bees would leave the hive and do what they do – look for pollen and nectar. The problem with that is that in the Rocky Mountains, there aren’t any flowers blooming. No flowers, no food. So beekeepers leave the hives out in the cold and the bees stay inside the hive. As the temperature cools, they cluster around their queen, rubbing their wings to keep her warm at a cozy 93 degrees F.

Ninety degrees is ideal for honey storage. Cold temperatures encourage crystallization. Over time, most honey crystallizes as the sugar molecules align. These crystals do not mean the honey is old or spoiled. To liquefy crystallized honey, just heat it to 90 degrees. That’s about the temperature of an oven with the oven light left on. Leave honey in an unheated oven with the oven light on. After a few hours the honey should be liquid. Or you could warm it in hot water. Bring a pan of water to boiling; remove from heat. Set the honey container (without a lid or cap) in the warm water, stir occasionally and allow crystals to melt. You many need to repeat this process. Microwaving is not a good idea because of uneven heating, plus honey heats quickly and can boil over.

Honey claims can confuse even a beekeeper. According to USDA Grading Standards, filtered honey is honey that has been filtered so that most of the pollen grains, air bubbles and other materials have been removed. Filtering delays crystallization, helping the honey remain liquid for longer than unfiltered honey.

We often see claims that raw honey is more nutritious or better for you. There is no official U.S. federal definition of raw honey, but the National Honey Board defines raw honey as “honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.” A 2012 study by the National Honey Board analyzed vitamins, minerals and antioxidant levels in raw and processed honey. Results showed that processing significantly reduced the pollen content of the honey, but did not affect the nutrient content or antioxidant activity. Researchers concluded that the micronutrient profile of honey is not associated with its pollen content and is not affected by commercial processing.

Honey is not recommended for babies up to a year old. The concern stems from the fact that infants gastrointestinal tract’s aren’t fully formed. Honey may contain botulism spores that can affect the nervous system of young babies.

But the rest of us can enjoy it. Here are some ways I use my honey.

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Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.”

Visit her website www.LiveBest.info for every day food solutions.

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