Honeybees work hard to produce into honey and sometimes we are lucky enough to enjoy it. Before considering all the things you can do with the result of their hard work, it’s important to understand what the honey-making process is and why bees are making it. This step-by-step guide shows how honey is made from pollen on a flower to a jar of honey in your pantry.
Why do bees make honey?
A colony’s main priority is long-term survival. While food is plentiful in the warmer months, bees must plan in order to survive the winter. During the winter, bees do not have the energy to leave the hive and search for food. The bees will cluster together to protect the queen and will only move short distances (less than a few inches) to feed. All the bees have a significant role in creating and storing honey that will ultimately sustain the colony for a long period.
When do bees make honey?
In most regions, bees can only make honey in the summer and spring- when plants are in bloom for collecting nectar. There are limited options in the winter. Because bees are cold-blooded, they cannot fly to look for food. Even if the colony is lucky enough to collect some nectar, it wouldn’t be sufficient enough to feed the entire hive.
How much honey can a beekeeper harvest?
Remember that bees create honey so they have a food supply during the winter months. It’s their main source of food over the winter. If beekeepers take too much, bees can run out of honey in the middle of the winter and risk the survival of the hive. If you’re going to harvest honey, ensure that you keep enough for the bees. Many beekeepers are beginning to harvest honey in the spring versus the fall to ensure all of the honey is kept for the bees during the colder season. If you harvest in the spring, you can take most of the honey because the bees have all summer to collect and create more.
One worker bee will produce 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. However, as a whole, a hive can produce more than 200 pounds of honey for the colony in one year. Of this amount, a beekeeper can harvest 30-60 pounds of honey without risking the survival of the hive in the winter.
What is nectar?
Nectar is a sweet liquid substance produced by glands within plant flowers. Nectar will attract insects to the flowers because it offers nutrition. In return, insects will help fertilize the flowers by transporting pollen to different plants during their foraging activities. This is a benefit for both the insects and the plants.
Is all honey the same flavor?
Honey comes in a large variety of flavors depending on where the bees go to collect pollen and nectar. Beekeepers can’t control the flavor of the honey, it’s ultimately up to the honeybees. You can encourage the bees to use particular plants by planting berry patches or orchards close to the hive. But you can’t control what they do or where they collect their pollen and nectar.
1. Collect Pollen and Nectar
Honeybees will travel up to 5 miles to look for food. Older, foraging work bees will venture out of the hive to gather nectar and pollen from flowers and other blooming plants. Bees use a straw-like body part called a proboscis to collect the food. Honeybees can visit over 300 varieties of flowers and these different plans will affect the taste, smell, and color of the honey in each hive. Because these worker bees use a lot of energy during this process, they will eat some of the food by digesting it in their first stomach. Any food leftover will be sent to their second stomach. The second stomach serves as a storage pouch that holds the pollen and nectar while they travel back to the hive. While inside of the bee’s second stomach, the nectar mixes with proteins and enzymes to convert the nectar into honey. Once they’ve collected enough nectar, they bring it back to the hive.
2. Fill the Honeycomb
The foraging bees will bring back the pollen and nectar and meet with other worker bees. These worker bees will use their proboscis to suck the food from the foraging bee’s second stomach. The new group of worker bees will chew up the nectar and pollen and place it into empty honeycomb cells, shaped like a hexagon. The honeycomb is built by more worker bees before collecting pollen and nectar in preparation for making honey.
3. Dehydrate the Honey
At this point, the honey is mixed with water and will need to be dehydrated. Nectar is 80% water and less than 20% honey. Worker bees will fan their wings quickly over the cells to reduce the liquid and dry out the nectar. The drying process transforms the liquid into a thicker consistency. This also ensures that the honey will not spoil. If not properly stored, the nectar will ferment and cannot be used as a food source.
4. Cap and Seal
Once the honey is thicker, the bees will cap and seal the honey. Bees can create wax from their abdomen. Bee will layout this wax over the newly filled comb to protect the honey from any water coming back into it. Once sealed, the honey can be stored for a long time. This is the time when beekeepers begin to harvest the hone
5. Harvest and Bottle the Honey
When the supers are full of honey, the beekeeper will check to ensure all of the honey is capped. Avoid harvesting uncapped honey. Next, the beekeeper will need to cut the caps off the comb. There are multiple ways to do this. Many use a sharp knife to slice down the side and then they shave the wax off. There are also uncapping tools that can aid in removing the wax.
Next, you place the uncapped frames in a honey extractor to remove the honey from the combs. The honey extractor spins the frames at a high speed that forces the honey out. The honey is pumped into a storage tank where it can be filtered. The storage tank will be sealed and prepared for bottling. If the honey is ever crystallized, beekeepers can warm the honey to liquefy it and then strain again.
Once it’s filtered, the honey can be bottled for storage or to sell.