About Bees (for the inexperienced)

How do honeybees make honey?

Bee on daisy

A honeybee visits a flower which contains nectar which is much like sugar water. The bee then sucks up the nectar with it’s proboscis which acts like a straw.

To make honey two things must happen. Inside the bee’s stomach the nectar is broken down, the bee produces an enzyme that turns the sucrose in the nectar into glucose and fructose. Another enzyme turns some of the glucose into an acid and hydrogen peroxide which kills any bacteria that get into the honey.

The bee then returns to the hive and deposits the nectar into the honeycomb cells. The heat from the hive, always 35 degrees centigrade, helps evaporate the excess water from the nectar turning it into honey. The bees then cover the cell with a wax cap.

What’s in a hive?

hiveA beehive consists of wooden boxes inside which are wooden frames on which the bees build their hexagonal wax honeycombs. Bees produce beeswax from glands on their undersides that secrete wax as tiny flakes which is then used to make the cells in which the Queen will lay eggs and for the honeycomb used to store both pollen and nectar.

The bottom part of the hive is called the brood chamber and above this are stacked more boxes and frames which the bees fill with honey.

The upper and lower parts of the hive are separated by a Queen excluder. This mesh excluder is sized so that worker bees can get through the mesh but the larger Queen cannot. A standard hive has about 50,000 bees living inside and each bee has their own job to do.

There are three types of bee in the hive:

1.A single Queen who lays the eggs. She can live for up to five years.

2. The Workers which are the infertile females who gather food, make honey, build the honeycomb, tend to the eggs and babies, guard the hive, keep it warm and clean and tend the needs of the queen. Workers are bred from fertile eggs and live for about six weeks.

3. The Drones are the male honeybees who are produced from an unfertilized eggs. Their only function is to mate with a Queen. They normally live for about  eight weeks and are fed by the workers. No Drone survives the winter as the Workers decide when they are no longer needed, usually in August when they will stop their feeding and eject the Drones from the hive.

Each hive has one Queen and she can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day. The Worker eggs take about 21 days to turn into adults. The eggs first turn into larvae, the bees mix the honey and pollen together to make beebread which they give to the larvae as they are growing. They grow for nine days then they turn into pupae before morphing into an adult.

Some bees in the hive produce royal jelly using special glands in their heads. This is a special type of food fed to larvae which if fed alone for a period of four days can turn a Worker bee into a Queen.

All of the egg laying and pupating happens in the lower part of the hive, the brood chamber, and there are thousands of honeycomb cells in the brood area each containing a baby bee. The Workers take care of all of these babies, feeding them, keeping them at the right temperature, capping their cells when they pupate and cleaning out the cells when they emerge.

Meanwhile, some Worker bees in the hive take care of fixing the hive, fanning their wings to keep air moving and creating new honeycomb to store honey as well as guarding the entrance to the hive from intruders.

Other Worker bees gather nectar and pollen from neighbouring fields and bring it back to the hive. Scout Worker bees inform other Workers of the direction and distance of new crops of flowers by doing a figure of eight dance called the waggle dance.

The upper part of the hive is where the honey is stored and each hive can produce in excess of a hundred pounds of honey each year, weather permitting. The beekeeper must leave a sufficient amount of honey behind for the bees to make it through the winter.

When a new Queen is produced she will become the only Queen in that hive and the old Queen will fly away from the hive in a swarm of older Workers to create a new hive.

 Getting the honey out!

honey jarWhen a beekeeper has to extract the honey from the hive he uses smoke which has a calming effect on the hive and avoids him getting stung.

Bees are sensitive to smell and smoke also masks any smell that may be given off by bees warning of any intrusion. Also when a bee smells smoke it gorges itself on honey in case it needs to escape and it is therefore less likely to sting.

The beekeeper takes out the honey filled frames from the upper chamber and extracts the honey usually by using a centrifuge drum. The honey is then filtered and bottled.