Honey is delicious and nutritious; there’s no doubt about it! The thing that makes honey really amazing is how it’s made. The lives of honey bees are dedicated to supporting the colony. Every bee has a job, and that job needs to get done so the colony can thrive. One of the ways that bees work to ensure the success of the hive is through honey production and storage.
We think the process of making honey is amazing! Let’s learn more about why bees make honey and how they do it. But before we get into it, here are some interesting facts about honey that you won’t believe!
Did you know…?
- Not all bees make honey. In fact, there are only about seven species of honey bees. Honey bees collect nectar and pollen during their foraging trips so they can make honey to store for the cold winter months.
- Worker bees make only about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in their short lifetimes. They usually live for about six weeks.
- On average, a honey bee will visit 100 flowers during one foraging trip.
- A large honey bee colony can eat 100-200 pounds of honey during a year.
- Honey bees will travel a 4- to 5-mile radius foraging for pollen and nectar. To make just one pound of honey, honey bees will travel approximately 55,000 miles!
Why Do Bees Make Honey?
Bees are smart and practical. During the spring and summer, worker bees are busy collecting nectar and pollen so they can make stores of honey for the winter. Bees would not survive outside of the hive in the cold winter months. Sources of food are also very scarce during the winter.
Honey bees make as much honey as they can during the warmer months so that they can support the colony in the “offseason.” Honey is used to feed the young. New honey bees eat the nectar and pollen, so they are strong and ready to work once the springtime hits.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
The production of honey is a multi-step process, as you can imagine. Let’s follow the honey bees step-by-step as they make this precious food for the colony.
Step 1: Worker bees collect nectar.
When the worker bee has found a good source of nectar, she gets to work! Using her proboscis, she sucks up nectar from the inside of flowers, often visiting more than 100 flowers on one foraging trip.
The nectar, along with a little bit of honey bee saliva, is stored in a special sac called a honey stomach. Once the honey stomach is full, the worker bee will return to the hive to drop off the load.
Step 2: Worker bees pass the nectar to house bees.
Back at the hive, bees known as house bees wait for the foragers to return. The worker bees pass the nectar to the waiting bees so they can really start the honey-making process. As the nectar is chewed and passed from bee to bee, enzymes change its Ph and other chemical properties.
At this stage, the nectar and enzyme mixture contains too much water to be stored over the winter. The bees must work on drying it out.
Step 3: The bees dehydrate the honey.
Some water is removed from the honey while it is passed from bee to bee. But, bees use two other methods for drying out the honey. For one, they will spread the honey over the honeycomb. This process increases the surface area and allows for more water evaporation.
Bees will also fan their wings near the honey to increase airflow and evaporate even more liquid. Eventually, the honey will have a water content of about 17-20%, down from a whopping 70%. The bees really do work for their food!
Step 4: The bees cap the honeycomb with beeswax.
The final step in the honey-making process is storage. The honey is deposited into the cells of the honeycomb, where it will stay until the bees are ready to eat it. To keep the honey fresh, each cell is capped with beeswax. Making beeswax is another fascinating process. Learn more about beeswax and how bees make it: What is Beeswax?
Many of us take honey for granted. We can simply go to the store and pick up some delicious local honey to enjoy. We rarely think about all of the time that went into the production of honey. Next time you add a few drops of honey to your breakfast toast or tea, give a little thanks to the hundreds of busy honey bees that made it all possible!