How Do Bees Make Honey – And Why?
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In our childhoods, we watched lovable “Winnie the Pooh” try to outsmart the honey bees. Pooh was certainly not concerned about how bees make honey. His goal, of course, was to enjoy their yummy golden harvest. And we have the same goal, to enjoy fresh honey made by bees. The story of how bees make honey is simple and yet magical as well. It is a task that honey bees have been practicing for a very, long time.
Pooh Bear’s plan to steal honey did not impress the honey bees. He had to work hard and suffer some stings to reach the golden harvest. And, no wonder the bees were reluctant to give away their treasure. You can understand the issue from the bee’s point of view when you consider how much work it takes for honey bees to make honey.
A worker bee will only make about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. Bees must visit approximately 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey. That is a lot of work! You would not want a chubby bear hanging outside your honey tree either!
Le Creuset Stoneware Honey PotSince you already know that I am a big fan of “Winnie the Pooh”, it should come as no surprise that I would recommend a good stone honey pot.Any product that requires the work of so many – deserves a special container.This heavy duty stoneware pot will protect your honey and it is a very popular design. Many of my beekeeping friends have one.
What do Bees Use to Make Honey – What is Honey?
Honey is a sweet liquid produced by honey bees. The worker bees collect nectar from the flowers of blooming plants. Nectar is collected from small flowers and large flowers. But, not all flowers provide nectar. Plants that are wind pollinated do not depend on insects for pollination. Their flowers may produce little or no nectar.
As the worker bee travels from flower to flower she sucks up nectar using her proboscis (a long straw-like mouth part) and stores it in her “honey stomach”. This is a special organ directly before her natural stomach. Honey is not bee vomit – that is an ugly myth. The honey storage stomach is different from her regular digestive system.
When her honey stomach is full, she will return to the hive with her bounty. Even though honey bees like to “work” the same type of flower on a single trip – the nectar will all be mixed together back at the hive. Bees also collect pollen. But, Honey bees do not use pollen to make honey. They need nectar for honey production.
Each type of nectar has different natural compounds and floral esters. This is why I enjoy planting different bee friendly flowers, trees and bushes. It encourages a diverse food source for my honey bees.
Do All Bees Make Honey?
No, they do not. There are thousands of different types of bees in the world. Most are solitary bees that do not live together as large social units. While some species of bees do make honey, none produce large stores of honey for Winter like our Honey Bees. Only bees in the Scientific Genus Apis are true honey producers.
Bumble bees make a small amount of honey and store it in “honey pots” inside their nests. But they are not true honey bees.
The honey bee is the only insect that directly produces food for human consumption. And, this task falls on the “shoulders – do bees have shoulders? ” of the humble worker honey bee.
Collection of Nectar and Conversion to Honey
Nectar (a sweet juicy liquid is provided by flowers to lure pollinators) that has been collected by worker bees is carried to the hive. Finding nectar is an important job and the bees communicate the location of rich sources to their sisters. Honey bees dance to communicate the best food locations.
A worker bee lands on a flower and sucks up the sweet liquid. If she is hungry, she can open a valve in her honey stomach and allow some of the nectar to go into her digestive system – providing energy.
Once back at the hive, the nectar load is transferred to another worker bee called a “house bee”. House bees transfer the nectar from bee to bee.In the process, the water content is being lowered. And, special glands inside the bee’s mouth add enzymes to the nectar. The PH and chemical composition of the nectar changes.
When the moisture content of the nectar has dropped from about 70% to 20%, we consider the transformation to be complete. Nectar has become honey. Honey is more stable than the watery nectar and less likely to spoil.
Why Bees Store Honey For Winter
After weeks of hard work, the bees have made a lot of honey. A good crop of honey will yield enough for the bees winter food and some for the beekeeper. Bees place the ripe honey into honeycomb cells for storage. A wax seal is placed over the honey ( “capped”) by the bees. This wax cover will help protect the honey until the bees need it for food.
Honey bees prepare for cold times by storing honey inside the hive. Ripe honey keeps for a long time while the watery nectar would spoil. The bees need honey in order to live until Spring – when flowers bloom again. This survival strategy is why bees make honey and are able to survive until the next season.
This process involves a lot of hard work by many individuals in the colony. No one bee could do the job alone. Now you know how bees make honey – it is team work!
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updated 21/18 with bee awesomeness