How do bees make honey?
May 22, 2020
We think the honey production process is amazing! Let's learn more about why bees make honey and how they make it.
Did you know it?
Not all bees make honey. In fact, there are only about seven species of honey bees. Honey bees collect nectar and pollen during their travels in search of food so they can make honey to store during the cold winter months.
Worker bees only produce about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in their short life. They usually live about six weeks.
On average, a honey bee will visit 100 flowers during a food-seeking trip.
A large honey bee colony can eat 100 to 200 pounds of honey for a year.
Honey bees travel within 4 to 5 miles in search of pollen and nectar. To make only one pound of honey, honey bees will travel approximately 55,000 miles.
Why do bees make honey?
Bees are smart and practical. During spring and summer, worker bees are busy collecting nectar and pollen to make honey deposits for winter. Bees would not survive outside the hive in the cold winter months. Food sources are also very scarce during winter.
Bees make a lot of honey as they can during the hottest months to keep the colony in low season. Honey is used to feed young bees. The new bees eat pollen and nectar, are strong and ready to work once spring arrives.
How do bees make honey?
Honey production is a multi-step process, as you can imagine:
Step 1: Worker bees collect nectar.
When the worker bee has found a good source of nectar, it gets to work, sucks the nectar inside the flowers, often visiting more than 100 flowers on a search trip.
The nectar, along with some bee saliva, is stored in a special sac called honey stomach. Once the honey stomach is full, the worker bee returns to the hive to leave the load.
Step 2: Worker bees pass nectar to domestic bees.
Back in the hive, bees known as domestic bees wait for collectors to return. Worker bees pass the nectar to the bees waiting to begin the honey production process. As nectar is chewed and passed from bee to bee, enzymes change its Ph and other chemical properties.
At this stage, the mixture of nectar and enzymes contains too much water to be stored during the winter. Bees must work to dry it.
Step 3: Bees dehydrate honey.
Some water is removed from honey while being passed from bee to bee. But bees use two other methods to dry honey. First, spread the honey over the honeycomb. This process increases the surface area and allows for greater evaporation of water.
Bees also fan their wings near honey to increase airflow and evaporate even more liquid. Eventually, honey will have a water content of around 17-20%, below 70%. Bees really work for their food!
Step 4: The bees cover the honeycomb with beeswax.
The last step in the honey manufacturing process is storage. Honey is deposited in the honeycomb cells, where it will be stored until the bees are ready to eat. To keep the honey fresh, each cell is covered with beeswax. The manufacture of beeswax is another fascinating process.
Many of us take honey for granted. We can just go to the store and pick up some delicious local honey to enjoy. We rarely think of all the time it was devoted to honey production. The next time you add a few drops of honey to your breakfast or tea, thank the hundreds of busy bees that made it possible.