Honey is made and used by bees as a food source. The worker bees collect the sugar-rich nectar from flowers and transport the nectar in their honey stomachs to the hive.
Relaying it to the house bees, the bee nectar which differs in content for each species of plant, is processed by the house bees and filled into the comb cells.
Honey bees transform saccharides into honey by a process of regurgitation a number of times. The bees use their “honey stomachs” to ingest and regurgitate the nectar until it is partially digested. The bees regurgitate together as a group and digestion until the product reaches a desired quality.
It is then stored in honeycomb cells. However, the nectar is still high in both water content and natural yeasts, which, if not processed further, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment. The processing continues with the bees using their wings to fan the honey in the comb cells to further reduce evaporation. Once the honey reaches the correct consistency within the combs it’s sealed with a wax cap.
Composition and Properties
Honey can be from specific types of flower nectar or can be blended after collection. Most commercial honey is blended with two or more honeys differing in floral source, color, flavor, density or geographic origin.
Polyfloral honey is derived from the nectar of many types of flowers, also known as widflower honey.
When nectar is collected from a single plant for processing honey this is called monofloral honey. Different monofloral honeys have a distinctive flavor and color because of differences between their principal flower nectar sources.
To produce monofloral honey, beekeepers will place beehives in areas where the bees have access to only one type of flower. In reality, because of the difficulties of containing the bees, a small proportion of any honey will be from additional nectar from other flower types. Typical examples of North American monofloral honeys are clover, orange blossom, blueberry, sage, tupelo, buckwheat, fireweed, and sourwood.
All Nectar contains a small amount of pollen which is present on the anthers of plants when forage bees collect. Pollen can be detected under a microscope and it’s possible to identify the plants family, species and genus.
Instead of taking nectar, bees can take honeydew. Honeydew is the droplets of the sweet secretions of aphids or other plant sap-sucking insects, which hang on the flower in the morning, or from other parts of the plant such as the stalk, leaf or calyx.
This form of honey contains a high concentration of dust and yeasts particles and is very dark brown in color, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam. Honeydew is not as sweet as nectar honeys. Often sour and cloudy this type does not keep as long.
Honey is a strong supersaturated sugar solution. Ripe honey contains approximately 80% sugars and 20% water. The sugars crystallise eventually and the product takes on more of a solid form. Mostly monosaccharides such as fructose and glucose, if these sugars contain a higher concentration of glucose in comparison to fructose, the honey will crystallise sooner.
Before harvesting, some honey crystallises in the hive, but due to high hive temperatures, it takes longer for the honey to crystallise in the hive than after harvesting.
The unprocessed honey in the comb contains small amounts of pollen, wax, propolis and possibly some bee venom.
The amount of these substances depends on how long the honey is left in the comb. If the honey comes from combs previously used for brood, it will contain propolis from the membranes of cocoons.
However, only minimal amounts of pollen are contained in honey. Other particles that the flying bees have caught while in the air and combed off with the pollen are also present in minimal amounts in the honey.
Honey contains enzymes, biologically active substances from the bees’ saliva and stomach fluid, as well as short proteins or oligopeptides. Pure honey has very little vitamins, minerals, and spore elements.
However, if there is a lot of bee bread in the comb, this honey is a combination of honey and pollen. This ‘enriched’ honey contains, with addition nutrients in the pollen, a much higher amount of vitamins, minerals and biologically active substances.
What Happens Within the Beehive
Living within colonies, Bees collect various substances in nature for their own colonies uses and to feed the colony. Some substances are used for nesting material or for protection from predators and weather.
Bees also have an impact on the natural vegetation by cross-pollinating which leads to better fructification and to seed formation by flowers that produce fruits or seeds.
Collecting raw materials by gathering substances from the vegetation, adding substances and processing them, this process allows to serve as raw materials for other bee products. With the help of the honey bees specialised organs and glands, transforms the raw materials into new, and very different products.
When referring to a beehive, we make mention of both the bees and the whole nest. Bees collect substances from the vegetation and process these in the hive.
Since bees pass the collected substances on to each other in the hive (trophallaxis), substances from the bees’ own saliva, stomach fluids and gland secretions are continually added. Bee products can be made up of hundreds of different substances, since all bee products contain small amounts of other bee products, as a result of trophallaxis.
Honey bees collect the flowers nectar and make honey. This is stored on the top and on the outer walls of the hive as a food supply and raw material for wax and heating. Beeswax is made in their wax glands and the energy source and raw material used to make beeswax is honey. When the bees land on various flowers of one species, cross-pollination occurs. This leads to better fructification and larger seeds and fruits.
While sucking nectar out of a flower, pollen from the stamens sticks to the chest hairs of the bee. The bee combs this off and rolls it into pollen pellets with its hind legs. Back at the hive, pollen loads are pushed into the honeycomb cells where they are processed further and ripened into bee bread. This occurs on the inside of the comb nest.
Products of the Beehive.
The young bees use secretions from their head glands to process bee bread into bee milk and royal jelly, which form together with the eggs and pupae, the so-called brood. Located in the combs on the top and inside of the bee bread, the brood is in the middle of the colony where it replaces the bee bread formerly stored in the combs that was removed to make bee milk. The bees that emerge from the brood are workers, queens and drones (the males).
The Workers make honey from nectar, clean the cells for the brood with propolis, make bee bread from pollen, and then in turn bee milk and royal jelly from the bee bread. The house bees sweat wax and make honeycomb out of it.
After their work in the hive is done the house bees become guard bees that guard the beehive with their stingers by injecting bee venom into the skin of an intruder.
The worker bees and the queen make bee venom in their venom gland, which is then stored in the venom sac located next to the stinger.
The guard bees finally become forager bees, which collect nectar and pollen. The bees also collect waxes, gums and resins from trees and plants, which they mix into propolis by adding beeswax and saliva. Propolis plays an important role in keeping the hive warm because it is used to seal up holes in the walls of the nest. Heat is a product of the hive and the warm air released from a hive (bee odour) has therapeutic value.
Sometimes water is collected for cooling. It is stored in the bees’ honey stomach. Only bee milk and brood contain a lot of moisture.The other bee products are dry or concentrated. Bees, bee swarms, new bee colonies and new queens are also products of the beehive.