searching for honey

what do bees eat, if we take their honey away??

How can bees survive, if we take their honey away??

Bees produce honey and they need it for their sustenance. They have created this brilliant organisation that allows them to stock it for hard times as well. So smart and social, something that can’t absolutely be underestimated. So…so much effort, so many flights to harvest nectar, so much hard work to stock it…and then the beekeeper arrive and take it away from them?? What?! Injustices and wasted work have always made me very angry and one day yep, I wondered the same me too (and then I asked Basti, as always) ‘Sorry but, what do bees eat, if WE take THEIR honey??‘.

I can already tell you that you can relax 🙂 As already stated here Honey: what a wonderful world! – Gaeblini, good beekeepers do their best in taking care their bees and what most important: no, they don’t take all the honey. So now, after this relief breathe we can start to find out more about this issue!

Do you know that there is a honey box?

Before meeting Basti, I had never had the chance to watch a beehive close enough. Yes, I had already seen some, maybe in TV. Or from far away, strolling somewhere around. Nevertheless, never so close. What could I see from far away? Mmm I would say essentially some boxes, not too big, often colourful, usually on a base and nothing else. There was still much between this and the fact of really understanding the world behind. Which world am I speaking about? The one of the bees, but also the beekeeping one. As explained more in details here Which hive to choose and according to what? – Gaeblini, the beehive is composed by boxes, it’s correct. However, they are not all the same because we have the brood box and the honey box. You will be able to find honey a bit everywhere in the beehive, in the brood box too, because bees eat it and of course they prefer to have it a bit always close to them. However, speaking of honeybox, remember that there, we will always find only honey and it’s only from there that the beekeeper will take the honeycombs for harvesting honey.

But let’s take a step back…

The beehive, this super organism, becomes bigger or smaller during the year. In the end, it’s like if bees are small cells of a bigger and well organized organism (that’s why we speak of super organism). So, it expands, it contracts,…what does this mean? This means that there are periods of the year in which bees are many and super active, in which the beequeen lays eggs like there is no tomorrow (consider that she does only this the whole day) and in which the foraging bees fly and harvest nectar as much as they can. Over other periods of the year, they are not so many (less than usual at least). They don’t have a winter sleep, but they are simply in stand-by. They don’t leave the beehive, they stay close to each other to keep a high temperature and they eat from their provisions. Hence, they expand, they increase in number in Spring and Summer. Whereas they contract, decrease in number in Autumn and Winter, when it’s cold and Nature falls asleep.

Observe, experiment, learn

Bees are super intelligent, but mankind is not that far behind 🙂 After observing this expansion-contraction, beekeepers have noticed that bees like finding shelters in holes. In nature they would take shelter in trees trunks, for example. From there, beekeepers have understood that it was a good idea to build something similar where to take care of them while letting them feel at ease. Bees are resilient and flexible, so they have accepted this man-made boxes. From his side, the beekeeper has anyway to stay careful and be good in taking some choices, because his actions should follow the beehive movement and needs.

But what do you mean? I don’t understand…

It could sound contort but to make it simple, this means that for example in winter -so when it’s cold, bees are not so many and their goal is to keep a warm temperature- it does not make sense to leave the honey box. This would be just more space to heat up, it would only put into troubles the super organism that wouldn’t be able to keep the proper temperature to reach the following season.

While when spring has fully started -the beehive is full of life and bees are working much- we add the honeybox, so as to let the super organism expand. Also because if bees are strong and working hard, they will also start to have brood and if they have too much honey in the brood box (because they don’t have this additional honey box yet), where is the beequeen supposed to lay her eggs? We need the honey box at that point!

Nevertheless, for example, when the very first nice spring days have begun, it’s important not to jump to the conclusion that the honeybox is absolutely and already needed. Bees are still not so many and not so strong. It would be too early and adding the honeybox wouldn’t make much sense.

OMG…and so how can I understand when to add this honeybox???

An univocal reply is not feasible, it depends first of all on where your apiary is. A simple example: here in Saxony it’s like if we are two weeks in delay in comparison to Bergamo (where I come from) concerning weather, plants blooming and bees activities. In any case, this can change according to the year and to the region. In general, you can’t stick to the calendar: it depends much on the weather, on the blooming and beehives conditions. And in the end, if you ponder about it, the three points are related to each other, aren’t they? For this reason, as Basti suggested here Basti: a curious child turned into an all-around beekeeper – Gaeblini, it is better to start a beekeeping path with an expert and then yes, for sure you need much patience, experience and power of observation. It can’t be something to be improvised or understimated!

Going back to bees and honey…

Recap: bees have always some honey in their brood box and the one in the honey box is in surplus. It’s simply in their nature to prepare endless provisions. At this point, you may wonder “mm ok, it’s too much now that it’s Summer, but when it’s Winter, that they neither leave the beehive? They have enough anyway?“. The answer is yes, at least a good beekeeper does its utmost to calculate everything in the best possible way, because he/she cares of his/her bees.

Do we really take all the honey away?
Cells with honey from a honeycomb of ours

Not only bees have their own honey provisions, but they get also a bit of food compensation. We – generally granpa Heinz takes care of this – prepare a kind of syrup made with water and sugar. An hyper energetic food to survive Winter. Of course, it’s not so easy to understand how much to put in the beehive. It depends on different factors, such as: how much the family is strong (how many bees there are, how much space they have) and how much honey have still in. You can’t anyway add too much, because when spring starts and nature wakes up, bees must have enough space for their brood too.

Ehy wait…and then in the honey that I am going to eat, there’s maybe this syrup?

No no no, as far as we are concerned at least, nope. Consider that at the end of the summer season we take off the honey box, hence, only the brood box/boxes is left. This additional food is only for the brood box, never for the honey box. This procedure is carried out just to be sure that bees will manage to survive Winter. Since it’s easier that they die for hunger more than for cold temperatures.

Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy and nice: it can happen that beekeepers lose some families. In our case for example, last Winter was a particularly long one and 3 beehives didn’t manage to reach Spring. These were already quite weak and small before Autumn starting. In any case, in general, if the super organism is strong and healthy, Winter is not too long and they have enough provisions, there shouldn’t be any issue. In the end, it’s a mix of factors to handle with experience (and a bit of luck as well, as always!).

Have you understood now what is behind this all? We suggest you to support small beekeepers or anyway beekepeers that you know well and you can trust. Rely on beekeepers that you know how they work and if they do really their best to respect the bees. Trust beekeepers that are available to answer your questions and to show you how they work in their apiary in total transparency.

We hope that after reading this article you will be even happier to eat honey 🙂 if you found it interesting, share it or leave a comment here below! We would be really glad about it!

A hug,

The Gäblini

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