Monday, July 26, 2010

Cotton in Bloom

Cotton is in bloom across the Arkansas Delta. Cotton, grown for fiber, is also an important source of nectar for the production of honey. Honey bees forage cotton on both its internal and external nectaries. Honey bees collect nectar secreted inside the pale yellow flowers on the first day of their bloom. After one day, the flowers change colors, becoming dark pink. The honey bees learn that the change of flower colors means they must move to the external nectaries. The honey bees then collect nectar from the green-colored bracts, leaf-like flower parts on the base of the flower. They also find nectar secreted from the under-side of the leaves. Cotton is a member of the mallow family which includes cultivated hibiscus plants, hollyhock, and okra. Swamp mallow, particularly attractive to bumble bees, is found along the banks of irrigation ditches and bodies of water.

Cotton produces large amounts of honey, which is light in color, flavor, and aroma. Cotton honey is a favorite of many who enjoy sampling honeys from various nectar sources. Some people detect cotton honey as subtly changing in flavor as it is held in one’s mouth. When the bees complete the process of curing honey, it contains about 82 percent sugar solids and 18 percent water. At this point, the bees seal the honey in the honeycomb cells with a capping of beeswax. With such a concentration of sugars, all honey forms crystals of sugar over time. Cotton honey, like most flower honeys, tends to crystallize fairly rapidly. Honeys derived from the flowers of trees tend to crystallize more slowly. We often select cotton honey to make creamed honey due to its pleasant flavor and tendency to readily crystallize and form a spreadable product. Creamed honey, often eaten on toast, biscuits, or pancakes, remains in a solid, spreadable form when refrigerated. Liquid honey is held at room temperature, not refrigerated. The formation of crystals does not damage the flavor or quality of honey.

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