How Do Bees Make Honey?

  • Johann Jordaan
  • Dec 11th, 2018

The female worker bee, after the age of about 18 to 21 days commences her work as a foraging bee with her main function to seek the foods of the hive. There are four main foods of the hive; nectar, pollen, water and propolis. Nectar which is converted into honey is the carbohydrate of the bee’s diet. Pollen is the protein used to feed the larvae and young bees. Water is essential to make the honey and keep the bees hydrated. Propolis is the medicinal element of the beehive used as a disinfectant and for health maintenance.

The foraging worker bee seeks out the nectar from flowers which is secreted through the nectaries of the plant usually inside the flower or from the leaves and stems of the plant or tree. She sticks her tongue into the nectar and sucks it up and stores it in a sac (“honey stomach”) in her body. When she has collected enough nectar she returns to the hive. You can observe nectar bearing bees at the hive entrance by their rounded and slightly bent abdomens as they alight on to the floorboard. Whilst the nectar is in the sac in her body certain enzymes from her saliva break down the nectar into simple sugars.

On return to the hive the foraging bees transfer the digested nectar to other younger house bees in the hive. These house bees also digest the nectar in their own honey sacs before they regurgitate small quantities of the nectar into the honey comb cells. Only a small amount is placed in each cell at a time because at this stage there is still too much water content in the nectar and the bees have to evaporate the excess water content before adding more unripe honey to the cell. The evaporation of the excess water is caused by the bees “fanning” the honey comb with their wings to cause air currents which dry out the unripe honey until the correct water moisture content is achieved. Once all the cells are full with ripe honey the bees then seal each cell with a thin layer of wax. Once sealed the honey remains ripe and will not go off or ferment unless the water moisture content in the hive over ripens the honey.

Because of the large sugar content in honey it does not spoil and can be kept in a glass jar for months. Honey with greater sugar content will crystallize. It can be restored to its natural liquid state simply by heating gently in low boiling water, a warm oven or by leaving it in a hot sunny spot.

Credit for this information – Southerns Beekeeping Association

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