Wouldn’t you like to know what their bees are doing to produce the delicious, wonderful sugary treat? It is certainly an interesting phenomenon, and even if you aren’t a beekeeper, it’s definitely interesting to find out how nature’s own confectionery chefs are working hard to produce this delicacy for us. Let’s explore how honey is made and what do bees really do.
1. The Hatching Queen
Each hive must have a queen, who keeps the hive functioning. When the hive is getting too large, the queen will begin laying queen cells. Once a new queen hatches, the older queen will most likely leave with a small swarm because the new queen will obviously be stronger than her and could kill her. If multiple queens hatch at once, they will fight to the death. The one left standing is the new queen of the hive.
2. The Mating Flight
The queen’s job is to lay eggs and keep the hive thriving. Naturally, she must mate before she can begin laying eggs. But this is where bees are different than most other species. A worker bee lays mainly drone eggs (male bees), and drones are basically one more mouth to feed that the worker bees must take care of… So when the queen decides to take her mating flight, she will fly very high in the sky, where only the strongest and the best drones will have a chance to mate with her. Drones are also only capable of mating once, so when they are done, they end up dying (a very bittersweet moment as it means his life’s purpose is achieved, but also the queen has a storage sack where she stores sperm that she will utilize the rest of her life to lay fertile eggs.
3. The Queen lays her eggs
Once the queen has all of the sperm she needs to lay eggs, she comes back to the hive and begins the laying process. She will usually lay around 1500 eggs per day. She determines what each bee will be, based upon the needs of her hive, and her worker bees will know based on the shape of the egg she lays. After the eggs are hatched and cared for, it is time for the new bees to get their job in the hive which ultimately leads to honey.
4. The Bees Get Their Jobs
Once the bees are past the larvae stage and are full grown bees, they begin their new jobs. If they are born a drone (male bee), they hang around the hive, get fed, and then leave the hive during the day.
However, if the bee is born a worker bee, then she is a female. She begins her duties receiving pollen and other items other worker bees have collected outside of the hive.
Some worker bees become ‘nurse bees’ whose job is to care for eggs and larvae, and some will become attendants, who will care for the queen. When a bee becomes older, they will begin scavenging and collecting food.
Interestingly, most bees have a lifespan of about 2 months. So this process happens quickly.
5. Bees collect the pollen
The older worker bees will leave the hive and collect pollen and nectar from around their hive, sometimes flying over 5 kilometers to find flowers to collect from.
Bees have a body part called the proboscis. It is like a straw that helps them to collect nectar and pollen. Once they have collected pollen, they will use what they need for energy and nourishment, they will digest it in their first stomach. Whatever is not used for energy and nourishment, they will send to their second stomach – basically a storage pouch to help them transport and transfer what they have collected.
The bees who have been out collecting will then fly back to the hive to be met by other worker bees, who will use their proboscis to suck the nectar and pollen from the scavenger bee’s second stomach. This is why some people refer to honey as ‘bee vomit’.
6. Filling the Honey Comb
Once the pollen and nectar have made it back to the hive, the worker bees will work to regurgitate what they collected and they will spread it over an empty honey comb that other worker bees have constructed.
Once the comb is full, the honey will need to be dehydrated. This process pulls all of the water out of the honey to keep it from spoiling. The bees flap their wings at just the right speed for just the right amount of time until they instinctively know that the honey is ready.
7. The Bees Cap the Honey
Once the honey has had the water pulled out of it, the bees are ready to move on in the process. Now, the honey will be capped. Bees have the special ability that allows them to create wax from their abdomen and lay out sheets of bees’ wax. This bees’ wax will cap the newly filled comb.
This will then protect the honey from being damaged by allowing more water to come back into it. That way the bees can store it for as long as needed.
8. Harvesting the Honey
The bees store the honey for later use, once it has been capped. This is also the time that beekeepers come in and harvest honey as well.
Harvesting your honey:
- Check your hive to make sure that the honey is capped. You should be able to look at the frames and see. You don’t want to harvest uncapped honey if you can help it.
- Cut the caps off of the comb. You can use a sharp knife to slice right down the side and shave the wax right off.
- Finally, you’ll place the uncapped frames in a honey extractor and put it to work. Then you’ll bottle the honey for storage or to sell.
Some helpful tips:
- Remember when harvesting honey is to be sure that you don’t take too much, as bees also do eat the honey through the winter.
- If you are harvesting in the spring, then you can pull most of the honey because the bees will have all summer to collect and create more.
- If you are harvesting in the late summer or early autumn, you’ll want to be sure that you leave your bees enough to eat on over the winter because honey is their main food source over winter.
- As long as you are mindful of the bees, you won’t accidentally kill off your hive by taking too much.
Interestingly, raw honey will never go bad – it might crystallize, but it is still edible! If you do want to smooth your honey out again, you can heat it in the microwave, or in hot water BUT bear in mind, once you have heated it, it will not be raw honey anymore.
9. Different Flavors
Honey comes in a variety of natural flavors. This will all depend upon what the bees are collecting to go into the honey.
So this means that if the bees collect pollen from sunflowers, you’ll have sunflower honey. If they are collecting nectar and pollen from orange blossoms or cherry blossoms, you’ll have a orange blossoms or cherry blossoms honey.
However, you can’t really control the flavor of honey that you get. It is whatever is in season, what your bees really enjoy, and bees are definitely their own creatures. You might place your hives at the edge of your sunflower field, or orchard and they might go into them to pollinate and collect, or they could fly right over it and collect elsewhere. It is all a big surprise, but what a delicious surprise they produce.
Melnovus stocks and sells the following honey:
- Litchi Honey
- Sunflower Honey
- Multi-flora Honey
- Orange Blossom Honey
- Bluegum Honey
- Carrot Honey
- Fynbos Honey
- and many more unique and interesting flavours
Visit our shop to order, or to have a closer look at our products!
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