How Do Bees Make Honey?
Most people love honey, but how do bees make honey? We see them flying from flower to flower, we've seen the little packets of pollen on their legs and we've heard they collect nectar.
* Please note, Edible Honeycomb is available NOW! supplies are limited so order soon.
Bees make honey from nectar. Most nectar is about 80% water with some complex sugars. The constituents of nectar is different for each species of flower the bee visits. It's used by flowers to attract pollinators, such as honeybees, which they need to carry their pollen from one flower to another.
How bees make honey is quite an interesting process. Bees use their long, tube like tongues like straws to suck the nectar out of the flowers and store it in their "honey stomachs". They actually have two stomachs, their honey stomach also called a honeysac, which they use like a nectar canteen, and their regular stomach. The honey stomach holds almost 70 mg of nectar and when full weighs almost as much as the bee itself. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1,500 flowers in order to fill their honey stomachs.
The bees return to the hive and pass the nectar on to worker bees. These bees suck the nectar from the honeybee's stomach through their mouths. The "house bees" "chew" the nectar for about half an hour. During this time, enzymes are breaking the complex sugars into simple sugars so that it is both more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive. The bees then spread the nectar throughout the honeycombs where water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup.
The bees make the nectar dry even faster by fanning it with their wings. This helps the colony regulate the temperature within the hive, just like an old-fashioned swamp cooler. If you approach the entrance of a hive on a warm summer evening you can often smell honey in the air and even feel the warm draft of air coming out of the hive.
Once the water content in the honey drops below about 18% it's ready, or as beekeepers say, 'ripe', and the bees cap off the cell of the honeycomb with a wax. Next time someone asks you, "How do bees make honey?" you'll know the answer.
The percentage of water has to be less than 17% or 18% to ensure the honey will not spoil or ferment. Beekeepers use an optical refractometer to measure the water content, bees do it some other way, but they almost never make a mistake.
The honey is stored until it is eaten. It's said that honey is the only food which never spoils, even honey found in Egyptian tombs was said to still be edible. In one year, a strong colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey, depending on the size of the colony and the weather conditions.
However, the real reason is that bees are the only insects which have the resources, energy in the form of carbohydrates, to stay warm during the winter. Most insects hibernate, which means they go torpid and their temperature drops. When the temperature is below freezing outside, the bee colony is clustered together inside their hive, buzzing their wing muscles, which generates heat, to keep warm. If you put a thermometer down inside the cluster, even though it's extremely cold outside, the temperature will be over 80°f (that's about 27°c).
When people learn I keep bees, they usually ask not, how do bees make honey, but, "Do you make honey?" I can't resist replying, with a perfectly straight face, "No, the bees do that."