Honey and bees, an unsuspected process When we taste this delicious nectar that is honey, we don’t necessarily imagine all the work that goes into it. Honey is the result of the transformation of flower nectar and insect honeydew by bees. The latter gather nectar from the flowers to make honey. And it is then in their hive that they preserve this exquisite liquid that we come to collect. So let’s see how bees make this precious treasure through the honey making process.
Honey and bees
How do bees harvest honey?
First, the bees go out to collect pollen from flowers and plants. Pollen is a vital element for the whole hive, it is the main source of proteins. it is mainly used for the production of larval balls to feed the young larvae. By harvesting it, they also help to pollinate honey flowers and honey plants and participate in the reproduction of flowers. The latter produce nectar to attract insects and allow them to reproduce. Pollen is deposited on the pistil of the flower to facilitate fertilization and plant reproduction.
At the same time, the bees collect the flower nectar. To do this, they insert their tongue into the flower to suck the nectar. They come to store their harvest in their crop which is a special pocket placed at the base of their digestive tract. Within this pocket, the nectar slowly begins to transform thanks to the work of an enzyme.
The transmission of nectar in the hive
The bees then return to their hive to transfer the nectar to the recipient bees. They act by trophallaxis, i.e.they regurgitate the nectar located in the crop to be able to give it to other bees. This is how the transformation process within the hive can begin.
The transformation by the bees
The role of worker bees
After the recipients have received the future honey, it is the workers ‘ turn to take care of the nectar. The worker bees pass the honey from ruffle to ruffle and from saliva to saliva.
The transformation process of honey
Thanks to theenzyme present in their mouth and their jabot, the invertase, the saccharose present in the nectar is gradually transformed into glucose and fructose which are more digestible. Glucose is also modified by another enzyme, glucose oxidase. This last one brings to honey its acid side. This acidity is due to the gluconic acid which is the component that gives honey its anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties. This is what prevents the proliferation of bacteria. Glucose oxidase also produces hydrogen peroxide, which preserves the honey and protects it during its maturation process. Hydrogen peroxide acts as an oxidant.
The storage and use of honey in the hive
The process of honey storage
After passing through the workers, the honey is inserted into the cells of the hive. Once it is deposited in the warm hive, the bees will fan it to lower the water content. The hive can reach up to 30 degrees in winter thanks to the bees’ movements that will vibrate their muscles. The alveoli are aerated by the ventilators to facilitate this process. In the end, the moisture present in the honey represents only 20% at most. Ideally, it should be less than 18% of the honey.
If you are interested, you can see our article on honey preservation.
How do bees preserve honey?
Once the honey is dry and ready to be stabilized, the workers come and close the cells by sealing them with an impermeable wax cover. This last step allows to protect the honey from the ambient humidity of the outside air. Once the honey is protected by this thin film of wax and stabilized, it will continue its maturation process and thus, it will not risk being altered. The invertase produced during the transformation process of honey continues to act during its conservation and maturation. It is even found inhoney as we consume it.
Can honey crystallize in the hive?
The phenomenon of crystallization is a normal phenomenon that can also occur in the hives. The nectar being composed of glucose and fructose it can crystallize. Moreover, beekeepers are particularly afraid of spring honey which is loaded with glucose and has a strong tendency to crystallize. Beekeepers are particularly careful because honey crystallized in the frames of the supers is difficult or impossible to harvest.
Why do bees store honey?
If bees produce honey, it is to feed the larvae first. But they also use it to feed themselves in case of confinement during rain or cold. Although the bees are active in winter, they have a stockpile of food so that the bees that are born in winter can feed.
You will have understood, honey and bees are inseparable for their survival, pollination but especially for the diversity of our vegetables and fruits and our greatest pleasure. It is a unique substance surprising by the flavors that nature offers us. It is precious plant gold for us and the bees, used for centuries for its sugar. Let’s protect nature and bees.