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Friday, November 27, 2009

Bees and Honey

I love honey. I love the color, the viscosity, the aroma, and the taste.

I have a collection of honey pots....

a beekeeper nutcracker, a beehive ornament, and an array of honey utensils.
There is nothing more comforting than a big dollop of honey with a dab of butter on a nice warm piece of homemade bread.

Let's find out how that dollop of honey got to your kitchen table.

First, we'll take a look inside the beehive.

The typical beehive is full of massive amounts of activity. Each bee has an assigned task: there are approximately 20,000 to 40,000 female worker bees whose task is to collect the nectar and raise the larvae; there is one female queen bee; and there are a variable number of male drone bees whose job is to fertilize new queens.

Now we need nectar for collection. Someone (a gardener...nature...) has to plant flowers that produce nectar for
the worker bees to collect . The worker bee uses her long, tube-like tongue to suck out nectar and stores the nectar in her second “honey stomach” which she uses like a nectar backpack. The honey bee will visit between 100 and 1500 flowers to fill her honey stomach.

The bee returns to the hive with her full honey stomach. She passes the nectar on to the “house” worker bees by letting them suck the nectar from her honey stomach. The house bees proceed to "chew" the nectar for about a half an hour to break down the complex sugars into simple sugars. At this point the nectar consists of 80% water.
The nectar is then deposited into the honeycomb.

Next, the bees fan the nectar with their wings, which creates a draft and helps the excess water to evaporate. The nectar thus becomes thicker, and the high sugar concentration prevents fermentation. The honey in the honeycomb is sealed. This is the bee’s food storage—food for the bee’s lean times to sustain themselves. A colony of bees eats between 120 to 200 pounds of honey annually.

The beekeeper will leave enough honey for the bees, collect, process, package and distribute the "excess" honey so we can purchase it at the local grocery store.
So, next time you are enjoying that spoonful of honey, think about the long arduous process of producing that honey-- from planting and growing a nectar producing flower to the honeybee's labor to the beekeeper's collecting and processing to the distribution to your kitchen table.


GwennyMac said...

Yum...honey on warm, homemade (by someone other than me!) bread. Great. Now I'm hungry!

Janet said...

Karen- Do you remember the beehive honey pot that Grandma Price always had sitting on her kitchen table with the honeybee honey dripper? I have that honey pot and would love to share it with you.