It has been said that except for man, nowhere in the world is there anything to compare with the incredible efficiency of the industry of the honeybee. Inside the beehive, each bee has a special job to do and the whole process runs smoothly.
Bees need two different kinds of food. One is honey made from nectar, the sugary juice that collects in the heart of the flowers. The other comes from the anthers of flowers, which contain numerous small grains called pollen. Just as flowers have different colours, so do their pollen.
Honeybee to Flower
A drone is a male bee. Unlike the female worker bee, drones do not have stingers and do not gather nectar and pollen. A drone's primary role is to mate with a fertile queen.
Most worker bees gather only pollen or nectar. As she sucks the nectar from the flower, it is stored in her special honey stomach ready to be transferred to the honey-making bees in the hive. If hungry she opens a valve in the nectar “sac” and a portion of the payload passes through to her own stomach to be converted to energy for her own needs.
The bee is a marvellous flying machine. She can carry a payload of nectar or pollen close to her own weight. Consider that even the most advanced design in aircraft can only take off with a load one-quarter of its own weight and you’ll appreciate the miracle that the honeybee can remain airborne with such a load.
When her nectar “sacs” are full, the honeybee returns to the hive.
Inside the Hive
Nectar is delivered to one of the indoor bees and is then passed mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee until its moisture content is reduced from about 70% to 20%. This changes the nectar into honey. Sometimes the nectar is stored at once in cells in the honeycomb before the mouth-to-mouth working because some evaporation is caused by the 32.5°C temperature inside the hive.
Finally, the honey is placed in storage cells and capped with beeswax (read about the beeswax process here) in readiness for the arrival of newborn baby bees. Pollen is mixed with nectar to make “bee bread” and is fed to the larvae. A baby bee needs food rich in protein if the bee community is to flourish.
Before returning to the flower again for more pollen, the bee combs, cleans and cares for herself. Not because she is vain but so she can work more efficiently. Throughout her life cycle, the bee will work tirelessly collecting pollen, bringing it back to the hive, cleaning herself, then setting out for more pollen.
Extraction of Honey
The first step in the extraction process is to break or remove all of the capping. This may be accomplished using an automated uncapper machine or with a manually-operated uncapping knife.
The removed bits of wax, called cappings, are rich in honey which can be slowly drained off with the help of some heating. This 'cappings wax' is very valuable and often used to make candles or other products. Once uncapped, the frames are then placed in a honey extractor, which spins them so that most of the honey is removed by centrifugal force.
Any honey that can't be harvested, which includes crystallized honey left on the frames after extraction, or honey that is not capped over, and therefore unripened, is usually placed back into the colonies for the bees to clean up.
Processing for Purity
After extraction, the honey is strained to remove wax and other debris. It may be heated to make this process easier, but won’t usually be altered in any way.
At this stage, honey may also be ‘creamed’. This process involves churning and cooling the honey to break down the crystals, making it thicker, smoother, and easier to spread. Nothing is added to creamed honey, so it still has the same nutritional profile as liquid honey.
Finally, the honey is packaged, labelled, and sent to shops for sale. Our honey is not pasteurised (flash heated) as we like to keep it as ‘raw’ with as little human contact as possible to ensure you are getting the highest quality honey the bees made just for you!
The original version of this blog can be found on PMG Engineering
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