How Is Honey Made By Bees?
When social conversation turns to honey, the topics invariably end up being centered around the amazing benefits of honey, and words like “antioxidants”, “better than sugar”, “lowering blood pressure”, “healing” and “triglycerides” are thrown around.
Rarely does the conversation get to “How is honey made by bees?” or “Is honey actually bee vomit?”
This, my bee friends, is much more interesting than regurgitating facts we’ve known since childhood.
What Is Honey?
Wikipedia defines honey as ‘a sweet viscous food substance made by honeybees . . . bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of plants (nectar) or from secretions of other insets (honey dew) by regurgitation, enzymatic activity and water evaporation.’
That’s just the fancy way of saying bees get nectar and turn it into honey. The honey sitting next to your breakfast is generally composed of around 70% fructose and glucose, 17 – 23% water, under 10% maltose, some lactose, saccharose, nitrogen and ash.
Why Do Bees Make Honey?
Honey is bee food. During the warmer months, bees are busy preparing for fall and winter when their food stocks simply aren’t in bloom and it’s too cold to leave the hive.
The honey that is stored in the hive sustains the surviving colony so that next spring the bees are strong and healthy. In addition to this, young bees have a ready food source.
So How is Honey made by bees?
Let’s get started to find out…
Step One – From The Flower To The Hive
Our friend, the industrious female worker bee will visit up to 100 flowers per flight away from the hive. When she lands on a flower she will dive right in, headfirst and use her proboscis to extend down and extract the nectar. The nectar is then stored in the bee’s honey stomach (proventriculus for the Latin speakers). She will store up to her own body weight in honey.
This nectar is approximately 70 to 80% water. During flight, the bee will release digestive enzymes and proteins to breakdown the complex sugars in the nectar. This process is known as inversion and basically what is happening is the sucrose from the nectar is broken down into simpler fructose and glucose. This inversion process also prevents crystallization in the honey.
Step Two – From Bee To Comb
Is honey bee vomit? Well yes, honey is bee vomit. We’ve tried to use words like regurgitate, transfer and vomitus to sound intelligent but in the end, honey is bee vomit. The worker bees vomit their load to a hive bee. The hive bees are in control now. They ingest and regurgitate the nectar.
Next, they get tricky, bubbles of regurgitated nectar are made between their mandibles, which increases surface area and promotes evaporation. The hive bees will vomit the nectar amongst themselves, each adding more enzymes to break down the sucrose, starch and protein. This may go on for 15 to 20 minutes.
Step Three – Capping
Nearly done. The question of how is honey made by bees is nearly answered. The honey is then transferred into individual cells. To ensure the honey is fresh, the bees then cap the cells with beeswax. Genetics play a part as to the exact placement of this wax cap over the cell. Some bees will place the wax so that it is in contact with the honey in the cell.
The cells take on a wet appearance and now known as wet cappings. Other bees leave a slight gap between the honey and the cap. The wax retains a white appearance and produces what we know as dry cappings. The end result remains the same – delicious honey.
Finally, some honey
So, that’s how honey is made by bees. Small steps on a long road, is a nice way to think about it. Keeping a diary is a helpful way to document your honey journey. A diary lets you learn from your mistakes and keeps a check on what works and what doesn’t, this includes methods and your beekeeping equipment – mistakes are there to be made, but only once.
That, and reading as much as you can about honey and bees, enhances the enjoyment you will absolutely have from taking care of bees. If you’d like more information, these two titles come to mind as being excellent resources to accompany you on your journey:
That’s a wrap!
Next time someone asks you how honey is made by bees, you’ll have an intelligent response to give. Thank you, my bee friends…it’s a pleasure to be on the journey with you.