Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners in the world. It is made by Honeybees (Apis Mellifera) collecting nectar from flowers and processing it in their honeycombs. The name ¨mellifera¨ is Latin for “honey-bearing”, and Apis is Latin for “bee”. There are different varieties with many flavors and many uses, both culinary and medicinal, and is an excellent natural source of energy with many health benefits. In a good season one hive can yield up to 45 kg (100lb) of honey, although the average yield is between 14 – 27 kg (30 – 60lb).
How Honey is produced
Only female worker bees produce honey. The workers collect nectar from flowers, a sugary liquid that is secreted by plants, or from secretions from honeydew. Once the honeybee has collected enough nectar, she will store it in a special stomach called crop. The crop is a special sac that is located between the bee’s true stomach and her intestines. As the bee flies back to her hive, she regurgitates the nectar into the mouths of her female hive mates. The workers then continue to regurgitate the nectar until it is partially digested and mixed with enzymes. As they pass the nectar to other bees, enzymes in their saliva start to break down the sugars in the nectar. This process changes the composition of the nectar, making it more suitable for long-term storage and is the reason why many think honey is ´bee vomit´.
The bees fan their wings in an effort to help the water from the honey to evaporate. Once it reaches the right consistency, the bees deposit it into honeycomb cells and seal it with a layer of wax. Honeycomb cells are made from beeswax, which the bees produce from special glands in their abdomens. When the cells are 3/4 filled, the bees seal the cells with more beeswax to prevent evaporation.
For Bees from Bees
Bees produce the golden syrup as food for themselves and their brood. It is also stored for the winter so when no more nectar is to be found, the bees will consume what they have stored.
Bees are very frugal little creatures. They will only consume what they need and will not waste any of it. In order to ensure that there is enough honey for the winter, bees will kill drones. Drones are not needed for the winter and so their death ensures that the colony has enough food stores.
Beekeepers can harvest around two to three times each season from a healthy, productive hive. However, the number of times and the yield depends on various factors. Harvest is generally between June and September, when the frames are filled most.
Not all the honey the bees have stored is harvested to avoid harming the bees. The beekeeper always leaves a few frames with honey in the hive. If the harvest is before the frame is 80% filled with capped cells, there is a risk that the bees no longer produce for the season. On the other hand the harvest should be before winter to avoid loss as well. .
Why do Beekeepers use Smoke?
The Beekeeper first uses a smoker to calm the bees before he collects the honeycomb frames. The smoker is filled with natural flammable materials like wood shavings, dried grass, burlap, pine needles, twigs, or cardboard and set alight. Synthetic materials or bleached paper should never be used as it can irritate the bees. Squeezing the bellow will release a puff of smoke.
Once the bees are calm, they are gently brushed off with a special bee brush. Afterwards the wax cap that seals each cell is scraped off with a special tool. It is important to minimize the damage to the frame during uncapping as it can be re-used, making it easier for the bees to refill the frame. Because the removed wax caps still contain honey, it is added to the harvest and strained, so it can be melted into beeswax later.
Centrifuge or Extractor
The frames are then placed in an extractor. This is a centrifuge that spins the frames, forcing the honey out of the comb. The extracted honey then needs to be filtered as it still contains beeswax, propolis, and even a couple of bee parts. This can be done by using a two-stage filter or a cheesecloth over a larger gauged sieve. Once the honey is filtered, it is ready to be bottled. It is best to use glass jars to protect the honey from moisture, as chemicals from plastic jars can leak into the honey and spoil it.
Crush and Strain Method
This method involves cutting the comb from the frame after the bees are brushed off, and cutting or squeezing it until all the cells are open and the honey drains out. The combs are placed in a colander or sieve on top of a container so the honey drains out naturally with time. The raw honey is often filtered again to remove any impurities and bottled.
The chopped-up comb is placed near the hive for the bees to collect any leftover honey. The dry combs can then be used to make beeswax cakes.
The most labor-intensive method of harvesting honey is to cut pieces of comb from the frame without processing. It still contains wax, pollen, propolis, and bee parts and is the purest form of raw honey. This type of honey is more expensive than other types because the bees need to make new honeycombs, meaning there are less harvests per season and the increasing consumer demand raises prices for raw honey.