How do bees make honey?


First they collect nectar

Honey is made from nectar - the sweet stuff that plants use to lure pollinating insects to visit them in the hope that while feeding the bees, moths, beetles, wasps etc will get covered in pollen which they'll take to the next flower they visit and leave stuck to the plant's stamens - their reproductive organs that need to be fertilised if they're to fruit and go to seed.  

The honeybee 'drinks' the nectar and keeps it in its honey stomach, They collect pollen in baskets on the back of its legs: the colony needs pollen to feed their young so whenever you see bees flying into the hive with pollen on their legs you know the Queen is laying eggs - it's a good sign and a welcome sight for a beekeeper!

Back at the hive they share their load

Back at the hive the foraging bee is checked by the guards on duty at the entrance - a quick sniff to make sure she's one of them and not coming on a robbing raid - then she's in to the hive and (no nice way of putting it) sicking up the nectar from her honey stomach and passing it 'mouth to mouth' so her fellow worker can then go and deposit it in one of the cells the colony are storing honey in.  It sounds revolting, but we have to be pleased about all this as it's in the bees' stomach that the enzymes and antibodies are added to the nectar that give honey so many of its properties that we all enjoy for better health. 

then the magic happens!

Nectar has a water content of about 70%. To turn it into honey the colony must evaporate most of the water so it comes down to less than 20%. If it's higher than this the sugars in the honey (glucose and fructose) will ferment and go off.  This process is called 'ripening'. Once the nectar has been ripened the bees cap it with wax which seals it in an airtight cell keeping it fresh until the colony needs it.

Emily AbbottComment