How's Honey Made


Honey comes from nectar from flowers which are gathered by honey bees. This nectar is put through a series of processes until after a tremendous amount of effort (by the bees), honey as we know it is produced in the hive.Nectar is secreted by glands in flowers. The field bees collect the nectar using their tongue (proboscis)and store it in their "honey stomach". The tongue of a honey bee is much like a soda straw in that nectar is sucked into their tube-like tongue from the flower. A honey bee can carry up to almost half its weight in nectar.

The "honey stomach" serves as a storage container until the nectar can be emptied into the hive for processing. However, while the bee is moving from flower to flower (a honey bee will travel to dozens of flowers before her sack is full), the nectar also serves as an energy supply for the foraging bee. The anatomy of a honey bee keeps the stored nectar separate from the digestive system. The digestive system ("midgut") is used for converting nectar into energy for the bees' use.

Between the "honey stomach" and the midgut is a "honey stopper". This works a lot like a double-check valve that cities use to keep surface water from re-entry into the potable water supply. The "honey stopper" controls the passage of food to the midgut but also keeps the food from re-entering the "honey stomach".

When the bee arrives back at the hive, the nectar is passed on to the house bees. The house bees process the nectar internally (adding more enzymes) before depositing it into the bees-wax cells.

On the way back to the colony, the field bee would have already started the nectar transformation process by adding an enzyme (invertase) to the nectar. Generally, when nectar is collected, it has a moisture content around 60%-80%. Sometimes it is more or less depending on the season and aridity of the environment. Failure to reduce the moisture level would result in the nectar fermenting and spoiling. 

Once the nectar is in the hive, the moisture content is reduced to 13-18% by the house bees. This is done by many house bees standing on the comb and fanning their wings. You will notice that the hive is always buzzing because the bees never stop their work (even at night). The warmth (94-95%) of the hive aids in this process (decreasing the moisture content). Also, during this transformation phase, the house bees will defend against fermentation, bacteria, mold and fungi by adding other enzymes to the nectar/honey.


When the honey has reached the desired moisture content, the honey cells are capped. The bees cover each cell of honey with a thin beeswax cap. This seal keeps the honey in it's desired moisture content so that it does not ferment. It will remain available in this state until the bees need it to make it through a dry or cold spell.  

During this whole process, the nectar is converted from what is principally a sucrose sugar into approximately 50/50 glucose and fructose. This change into a more simple sugar enables the bees to more easily digest their new food source. This is now stored honey and is the colony's main energy source. One single worker bee may produce only 1/10th of a teaspoon of honey in her whole life. However, thousands of honey bees may produce a surplus of 50-70 pounds (over the 120 pounds they consume themselves) in a year.

This is honey as we humans know it. We typically think of honey as a sweet delicacy, but to the honey bee, it is their necessary life-source during difficult times. Stored honey is a very stable food and can last for years without the need to be refrigerated!