come fanno il miele le api?

How do bees make honey?

Hands-up who knows how bees make honey??

Honey. This irresistible golden sweet, that we can enjoy thanks to the bees. We have investigated about its composition here Honey composition: in the end honey is composed by…? – Gaeblini: we saw that basically it’s sugar, water and some other speacial ingredients. But how do bees make honey? From where is it created? In this case as well, I have always liked honey, however, to be honest I would have never been able to explain from where it actually comes from. Nevertheless, it’s fair to be aware consumers, isn’t it? We have the right to wonder where, for example, what we eat and drink comes from and better understand what is behind. What do you think about it? Would you like to find out how bees make honey?

If you would like to discover more about what is behind any honeypot, you will find some more details here below 🙂

Right here Honey: what a wonderful world! – Gaeblini last week we have told that honey has vegetal origin and it comes from the nectar collected by the bees…do you remember?

Nectar…but how can bees make honey then??

Yep, nectar. A few weeks ago I had asked on the social media ‘What is honey composed from?‘. It made me ponder that everybody rightly mentioned sugar, but nobody thought about water. Actually I would never thought of it me neither 🙂 The nectar is a very liquid substance, indeed it is composed by 50-70% of water and then different simple sugars (fructose and glucose) and in less quantity with more complex sugars, such as saccharose.

Small step backward: why does nectar exist? To attract pollinators, because plants ‘know’ that thanks to them they can reproduce themself. And here once again nature enchants us, with her own perfect balance. Simply super!

Sorry, now I keep on with the ‘how bees make honey’ topic 🙂 but I will do it through the telling of a bee (yep, I had managed to interview one of them as well 😉 ).

Hello! You are a foraging bee…aren’t you?

Yes, yes, it took a while to reach this level, you know… But now that I am adult – I am almost 4 weeks old – I can orient myself very well and I can go out without problems! I can reach flowers till 3 km of distance, you know? I fly so much the whole day every day, nothing and nobody can stop me. Once I made a calculation, just out of curiosity: I weigh 85 mg and in my honey bag I can carry till 70 mg of nectar.

Wow, impressive! Now I was wondering…how do bees make honey? Honey bag full and then?

And then? And then I go back to my sisters at my hives, I leave them quickly what I had collected and I start again with searching more nectar. Then my sisters take care of it with the trophallaxis…sorry I have no more time now, I have to fly away! It was a pleasure, ciaaao!

Pfff I was sure…always in a hurry! But what is this trophallaxis??

Bees are so strong, did you get it now? As far as the strange word –trophallaxis– is concerned, I will try to shortly tell you more about it in the easiest way possible. It comes from Latin “changing and exchanging” and it is the main process at the base of bees social food. Do you remember when in the article for my 30th Birthday Here I am: Cri, the beekeeper-to-be! – Gaeblini, I was reaveling to you how much I love the social dimension of bees as super organism? Their food system too is social!

Bees love sharing and they have to do so because if they want to make full at the soonest their honey bag, they have to give the collected nectar to the other bees. Therefore, through their ingluvies (a social organ, a kind of special stomach), they exchange what they have just collected. This is the trophallaxis: the foraging bees give the nectar to their sisters in the hive, through the ingluvies.

And then, what happens? To shift from nectar to honey, something must happen for sure…do you agree? Of course, yes! At this point there is an enzymatic process. Enzymaticenzymes – have you already heard this word you too? Enzymes are metabolic processes starters: they start processes during which a certain substance turns into something else. In this case, complex sugars turn into simple sugars (glucose and fructose) and nectar becomes more and more honey.

We are almost there now, aren’t we?

It’s still not honey yet, you have to be patient a bit more, indeed it’s still too liquid. Mmmm I don’t know if you have ever prepared a marmelade (me yes! If you have never done it, you should have a try! First of all, it’s a great satisfaction, and then…you can’t neither imagine how much delicious it is!) anyway… At the beginning it’s super liquid, it can be considered as marmelade yet. The same happens with honey: it is a highly sugary substance, but still too much watery to be considered as honey. So, what happens now? Bees stock it and let it ripen. For bees, the greater amount of that honey is just for winter provisions. During their evolution they have created this resources handling: a truly warehouse procedure. Indeed they have a kind of huge shelf made with many little hexagonal cells, where they stock this watery sugary substance to let it ripen. It’s the sugar concentration that makes honey last longer.

Brilliant, don’t you think?

We are used to fridge, freezer, preservatives,…we are used to give for granted food with a long expiry date, aren’t we? Nevertheless, in the world of the animals this is something totally unusual. A beekeeper, Paolo Spiccalunto, made me ponder about this point during a beekeeping webinar. As he highlighted, generally animals eat immediately what they find – they don’t think of any special method to keep food provisions for the future, right? While bees have this plus too. Due to their being a social organism and dealing together with troubles, they have found a way to grant to themselves longer lasting food and so their survival.

In the end when honey can be considered ready?

How do bees make honey? Here a honeycomb with closed cells ready to be harvested
a honeycomb with closed cells ready to be harvested

We get honey at last when it is not anymore so watery. Into the hive it’s pretty warm, you know? Bees put much effort to keep a constant temperature of around 35 degrees. Moreover, they manage to decrease the internal humidity (and make honey dryer and dryer) thanks to their wings beat. The water from the nectar evaporates and honey is ready to be harvested when its humidity level is about 17%. When the watery sugary substance previously stocked into the cells has 17%-19% of water, you can consider honey officially ready. At that point what do bees do? Like we do with a ready marmelade pot: they close the cell with a thin layer of wax. Here we are, 100% ready pure honey!

Ehy wait…and how am I supposed to understand that it’s ready?

The good beekeeper must be careful in harvesting the honey at the right moment, that is when it’s ready. Well, a good way to understand that we are at a good point is when the cells are (or start to be) operculated, that means when they are closed with a layer of wax (called operculum) as a kind of cap. Another way is to use the refractometer. A kind of magic monocle. You take a drop of honey, you put it on the refractometer glass, then you look towards the sun. Me that I’m completely useless at Physics (but great Potterhead!), I will simply tell you that when watching into the magic monocle towards the sun, a line showing the humidity level appears. From it, you can decide whether to proceed or not.

So, is everything clearer now? We guess you learnt something new with this article…what is the part that impressed you the most?

We would like so much to read from you 🙂

A hug,

The Gäblini

494 thoughts on “How do bees make honey?”

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