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Why & How Bees Make Honey 🐝

The phrase “busy as a bee,” is one we hear plenty of times throughout our lives, but upon further researching about how and why honey is made, I have discovered how truly remarkable and hard-working these creatures are. The western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is a eusocial, or true social insect in the order Hymenoptera. This means that their colonies, or hives, include overlapping generations, a division of labor, and they partake in cooperative care of young, or larvae. Honey bees have developed these little worlds and high-functioning societies within their hives to make sure the collective needs of survival are met. 

There are about 20,000 known species of bees in the world, including bumblebees, leafcutter bees, mason bees, and carpenter bees. Out of these, a smaller percent produce honey. While not the only species that produce honey, Apis mellifera is the species that has been globally recognized as the honey bee. Honey bees are not native to North America, but were brought over by the European settlers in the 1600s (1). The act of beekeeping and consuming honey can be traced all the way back to Ancient Egypt. Since then, the domestication of bees has grown and developed, and they are currently an important aspect of agriculture in North America, not just for the honey they produce, but because they are also responsible for pollinating crops we rely on.

Bee on Flowers

Within honey bee colonies, different bees have different important roles. The queen is responsible for mating and laying eggs, ensuring the colony has enough members to keep surviving. Worker bees are female bees that are unable to mate. Their primary roles include gathering pollen and nectar. When worker bees are young, within the first few weeks of their lifespan, they are considered house bees, and spend their time maintaining the hive by defending it, tending to larvae and pupae (brood), producing wax and royal jelly, and clearing debris and dead bees from the hive. Worker bees make up the largest percent of the population within a colony. Drones are male honey bees, who develop from unfertilized eggs. Their only role is to fly to Drone Congregating Areas and mate with queens from other hives. Together, these different castes work together to ensure a colony is successful. 

So why do bees make honey? These active insects feed off of nectar and pollen. However, in order to successfully metabolize them and fulfill their dietary needs of vitamins, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and minerals, they need to change the chemical compositions of nectar and pollen into honey and bee bread (2). Honey is then stored long-term for colder months, or times when there is a lack of vegetation. Hives have high reproductive rates, and a healthy queen might lay up to 2,000 eggs each day. Therefore, there are many mouths to feed in a hive, averaging at about 40,000 bees.

Worker bees create wax, which they secrete through special glands. This wax is then chewed, softened and molded into honeycomb in order to store honey and house the brood. To create 1 pound of wax, bees must consume 8 pounds of honey (3). The bee brood consumes royal jelly, a substance secreted by worker bees and fed to the brood and potential queens. Worker bees consume a combination of pollen, nectar, digestive fluids, and honey called bee bread (4). To create all of these food and shelter sources, and feed a whole hive, honey bees need a lot of energy. They can fly up to 15 miles per hour, and visit millions of flowers in order to gather the nectar and pollen they need. They carry a high percentage of their own body weight when they gather nectar and pollen. After all of this tiring work, bees need high energy food sources. This is why they make and store honey. Having honey as a food source they can stockpile and overproduce in case of low pollen weather conditions creates a healthy hive prepared with a food and energy source for long-term survival. 

Bees need honey for survival. But how do they make it? The first step is gathering nectar and pollen from nearby flowers. honey bees will forage in about a five mile radius of their hive (5). Karl Von Frisch studied the ways in which honey bees communicate, and discovered that bees perform dances denoting how far and in what direction surrounding food sources are to other worker bees (6). They gather nectar with their proboscis, or a long tongue, and store it in a specially designed honey stomach, or crop. They gather pollen and store it in a specially designed basket on the back of their legs called a corbicula. 

Nectar starts out at about 80% water, and is thin, clear, and not very sweet. Once back at the hive, the worker bee will transfer it to a house bee, who chews it and transfers it to another house bee, who then chews it and transfers it. This process is repeated for up to about twenty minutes, once the nectar reaches only about 20% water (7). During the chewing process, the chemical compounds of the nectar are changed, and the enzyme invertase, found in a bees saliva, helps break down water content and change sugars into glucose and fructose (8). The transformed nectar substance is then deposited into honeycomb, where bees continue to remove water content by fanning it with their wings. Once it has reached the desired consistency it is covered with wax and stored until it is needed. Pollen is also stored until needed.

Due to selective breeding by beekeepers, and the bees' tendency to overproduce, it is not a threat to bees to harvest honey in moderation. Most beekeepers harvest honey twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Since bees stay within about five miles of their hive to collect pollen and nectar, beekeepers position their hives within that range of the desired plants they want the bees to pollinate. This is how monofloral honey is produced. For example, our Orange Blossom Honey is not infused with orange flavor from the fruit, but has an essence of orange flavor notes from the nectar and pollen gathered from the blossoms of orange trees and other nearby citrus plants flowering at the same time. 

Clearly, honey bees stay very busy to ensure a hive is working together in unison. We are so thankful for our ability to enjoy the sweet result of all their efforts. The next time you reach for your favorite honey, you may find yourself with a new appreciation for the bees that made it possible. 

 

Endnotes:

1.   https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/documents/BeeBasics.pdf
2. Taylor, Michelle A., Alastair W. Robertson, Patrick J. Biggs, Kate K. Richards, Daniel F. Jones, and Shanthi G. Parkar. "The effect of carbohydrate sources: Sucrose, invert sugar and components of manuka honey, on core bacteria in the digestive tract of adult honey bees (Apis mellifera)." PLoS ONE 14, no. 12 (2019): e0225845. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed March 27, 2020). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A607540213/AONE?u=nysl_ca_she&sid=AONE&xid=54e4a537
3.  https://www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/special-programs/beekeeping/about-honey-bees.aspx
4. http://nordicfoodlab.org/blog/2015/9/4/bee-bread
5.  https://www.perfectbee.com/learn-about-bees/the-life-of-bees/bees-make-honey
6.  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Karl-von-Frisch
7.  https://www.beeculture.com/the-chemistry-of-honey/
8.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3h4uVVFCvVg

Catch Some Seriously Sweet Sleep with this Honey Hack! 😴

 

Lucky are those who sleep well for 8 hours straight. For some, getting a proper night’s sleep is near impossible and for many this involves midnight trips to the fridge. Dealing with insomnia can be really frustrating and being unable to sleep well for several nights in a row affects everyday life and performance. Fortunately there is an easy (and tasty!) remedy that can help you get a smooth and sound night’s sleep. And it works like magic!

This trick, backed by science will help you fall asleep almost instantly, dramatically improve the quality and length of your sleep and wake up refreshed and energetic everyday!

Thirty minutes before going to bed, take a teaspoon of your favorite raw honey with a sprinkle of sea salt and let it dissolve under your tongue. These two ingredients help prepare the body to rest throughout the whole night. The sugar contained in honey elevates the levels of insulin in the blood slightly, which then releases serotonin. When we are in a dark room, serotonin converts to melatonin which promotes restorative sleep. Honey also contains an adequate amount of glucose which the liver converts to glycogen for the brain. If there isn’t enough glycogen to provide fuel for the brain, the adrenal glands dump more stress hormones, namely, adrenaline and cortisol. And high amounts of these hormones contribute to disrupted sleep and consequently low energy in your hours awake.

The other ingredient in this magic mixture is sea salt. Sea salt can also help lower stress hormones, such as cortisol. Low levels of sodium can cause blood volume to decrease. The sympathetic nervous system responds by activating adrenaline and triggering the fight or flight response that then makes it difficult to get to sleep, and also remain asleep. Salt also helps in the production of energy so it will be sustained throughout the night. This, in addition to raw honey, reduces the impact of spikes in stress hormones, like cortisol that make you wake up in the middle of the night.

So tonight, grab your favorite jar of Saratoga Tea & Honey mono-floral or infused honey, get a nice spoonful and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and look forward to bedtime knowing that within moments you will be quickly drifting off into (and remaining in) a deep, restorative sleep!


For extra help, try our Field of Dreams herbal tisane! We also sell a sweet Field of Dreams Gift Basket with our Spanish Lavender Honey and a Moonspoon cherry wood tea infuser and honey dipper!

5 Ways to Use Bee's Wrap

Bee's Wrap is a sustainable alternative to plastic wrap for food storage! So keep that leftover lemon half, a wedge of cheese, or bowl of salad fresh. Simply mold the reusable sheets, made from cotton muslin coated in beeswax, with the heat of your hands.  

Here are our top 5 ways to use Bee's Wrap

1. Specifically sized wraps make it easy to take your lunch on the go! We love wrapping peanut butter & honey sandwich for school lunches, picnics or a day out in the Adirondacks. Bee's Wrap Sandwich Wrap

 

2. Rolling out the dough, Bee's Wrap makes for a great counter cover while making your favorite pie crust.

 Bee's Wrap for Baking

3. Nothing is worse than having a half eaten fruit or vegetable that you know shouldn't go to waste. The variety pack allows for different size items to be covered such as a lemon, squash, or avocado! 

 

 Bee's Wrap for Storage

4. Summer get-togethers call for BBQ's filled with pasta salads and fruit bowls. We love keeping them fresh by molding the Bee's Wrap tightly over the edges. Just make sure you remember to bring it home! 

 

Bee's Wrap for Parties

5. Bee's Wrap is reusable and washable! So any way you can think to use it, you can multiple times! We are proud to carry this composable product in our honey room.

 

Shop it in-store or online!