Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How bees make honey - and how we get it from the bees

How do bees make honey?

I got asked that question on Monday. Here's the answer:

Honey is a combination of nectar and water. The bee does it all.

Worker bees gather nectar, which contains complex sugars, from flowers and store it in a special stomach they have for that purpose. When they bring it back to the hive, the nectar is sucked out of the forager's stomach by a house bee and inside the house bee, the complex sugars of the nectar are broken down into what will eventually be honey.

Once that process is complete, the nectar is placed in the cells of the honeycomb. The moisture content is too high at this point for it to be real honey, so the bees have to work to dehumidify it,
often by simply flapping their wings. One the moisture content of the honey is down to about 19 percent, the bees cap the cell with a wax coating so no additional moisture can intrude.

The beekeeper looks for an entire frame of this "capped honey" when the time come to harvest the honey. The picture at the right shows a frame full of bees. The white stuff on the upper part of the frame is capped honey. When this frame is covered with capped honey, it is pulled from the hive, and a hot knife is used to shear off the caps. Then the frame is put into an extractor, which rotates the frame at a high enough speed so that the honey is thrown out of the cells. The honey collects at the bottom of the extractor and is drained into another container.

The honey is then filtered through something like sheer curtain material. And that's it. No cooking or processing. Local honey, or "raw honey," is this stuff, bought from a local beekeeper.

Commercial honey is "flash heated." That is, it is heated quickly and then cooled. This flash heating will keep it from crystallizing on the store shelf. The flash heating doesn't change the honey; it just eradicates the crystals that might make it crystalize.

Honey should not be refrigerated. Properly contained, it will last for a very long time.
Some of this information comes from the the Michigan State University web site.

No comments: