The Sweet Science: How Do Bees Make Honey?

From simple flowers comes one of nature’s only non-perishable foods. Have you ever been curious about the creation of this liquid gold?

In this article, we’re delving into the wonders of how nature crafts its most exquisite syrup. You’ll learn the ins and outs of this fascinating process, including which bees make honey, how foraging works, the role of the beehive, and much more. 

At West River Exchange, we’re dedicated to nurturing bees and producing high-quality, raw honey. Ethical beekeeping is of paramount importance, so join our in-depth, bee-friendly exploration of how honey bees make honey!

Busy Bees: The First Step in Honey Creation

Honey-making is the hive’s family business, and every bee plays a part in it. The queen bee uniquely possesses fully developed ovaries, dedicating her entire life to the production of the colony’s future generations. When she is laying properly and giving off potent pheromones, the worker bees are free to focus on honey creation and other tasks. 

A specific type of worker called a forager bee will fly off in search of flowering plants. She will bring back pollen and nectar, the latter of which will be turned into honey. 

Even drones (male bees) play a role as they will mate with queens from other hives and help continue the growth of a bee colony. 

Bees are pollination machines, and fruitful local biodiversity creates a healthy ecosystem for all bee species that rely on a plethora of flowering plants for survival. Happy plants equals delicious sweet liquid honey.

From Flower to Hive: The Honey-Making Process

A single worker bee contributes approximately a teaspoon of honey throughout her lifetime. Here’s how this unique process works: 

  1. The Flight of the Bees: A brave forager leaves the hive in search of nectar. She may fly up to seven miles in search of this fructose-filled liquid. Once she’s located a flower, this bee uses her proboscis (long straw-like tongue) to slurp up the nectar. She repeats this process 50 to 100 times before returning to the hive. 
  2. The Honey Stomach: After each nectar sip, the bee will store this liquid in a specific organ known as the honey stomach. Upon reaching the stomach, the enzyme invertase starts transforming complex sugars into simpler forms, reducing the likelihood of crystallization.
  3. The Hot Potato: Once the forager returns to the hive, she’ll start a game of hot potato with her sisters. Essentially, the worker bees pass the collected honey from mouth to mouth until the nectar reaches its final destination, the honeycomb cell. This hot potato process further breaks down the glucose and sucrose and lowers the water content. 
  4. The DIY Dyson Fan: Next, these genius bees will fan the nectar with their wings to lower the water content further. Once the water content is below 20%, it’s ripe! 
  5. The Role of Beeswax: It’s important to note that bees also create beeswax and shape it into hexagonal patterns to protect stored honey and growing larvae. To finalize the honey-making process, bees cap the nectar with beeswax, sealing the honeycomb and preserving the honey. 

Bee bread is made from collected pollen, and the forager will set off again. This process is how honey is meant to be made, with minimal to no intervention from beekeepers. 

A Beekeeper’s Role in Honey Production

Beekeepers are the guardians of the bees, but they do not do the job of bees. Leave the honey production to the experts and focus your time on assisting the hive in other ways. At West River Exchange, we’re dedicated to promoting ethical beekeeping in harmony with nature. Here’s how we do it. 

One of a beekeeper’s most important functions is collecting surplus honey. A hive creates excess honey to sustain itself during winter months. If it creates a lot more than it needs during these months, it will prepare to swarm. Harvesting honey will prevent this from happening. Alternatively, you could attempt to help the bee colony split into another hive you’ve made for them. 

During honey collection, it’s vital for beekeepers to remove beeswax scraps and old combs, especially those with leftover honey or pollen. Excess honeycomb or honey will attract pests like wasps and mites. 

Finally, beekeepers are primarily responsible for ensuring their apiary is in a flourishing area with lots of flowers to feast on. Bees must visit two million flowers to produce one pound of honey; a single hive can produce 60 pounds in a season. This high flower count is why picking an area for your apiary surrounded by miles of flowering plants is essential.  

The Benefits of Raw Honey (Beyond Sweetness)

Did you know that the Romans used to use honey as currency? This fun fact gives a whole new meaning to “liquid gold.” Raw honey isn’t just tasty, though; it also has tons of benefits for human health. 

Here are a few of the impressive benefits of this powerful natural product:

  • Soothes sore throats
  • Source of antioxidants
  • Antibacterial properties
  • Good for healing wounds, including burns
  • Source of phytonutrients
  • Aids digestion
  • And more!

Plus, one tablespoon of honey is around 64 calories and 17 grams of sugar, which is less than your standard sugar sweetener. It’s crucial to recognize that these remarkable health advantages are exclusive to raw honey.

Processing or pasteurizing honey is not only unnecessary but also removes all of its health benefits. Raw honey is more likely to come from happy, ethically-kept local bees. Choosing raw honey supports sustainable agriculture and the preservation of bee populations.


Savoring Nature’s Gift: Tips for Preserving Raw Honey

We’ve got some good news. Raw honey is a natural preservative all on its own! This preservation element means that this magical substance doesn’t require much to keep it ready to eat. 

You’ll want to store raw honey in a glass jar with a good seal. Keep this jar in a dark cupboard in an air-conditioned space. This storage approach helps to deter and decelerate the process of crystallization. (Crystallization is not permanent or bad for you; it can just make honey difficult to spread.)

There are oodles of ways to enjoy your raw honey, from culinary uses to natural remedies. Here are some of our favorites: 

  • Use it as a sweetener replacement in coffee or tea. Honey dissolves easily in iced coffees! 
  • Swallow a spoonful of raw honey to coat the throat and treat a bad cough. 
  • Replace sugar with honey in a cake, bake, and then drizzle with honey for a delicious treat. 
  • The ways to integrate raw honey into your everyday meals are virtually endless. Honey is a very diverse food with tons of applications!

Embrace the Hive to Home Journey with West River Exchange

Bees are integral to a thriving ecosystem, and honey production is a lovely byproduct. Now that you understand the intricacies of honey-making and the beekeeper’s role, you may wonder where to buy raw honey. 

At West River Exchange, we produce premier raw honey sourced ethically using happy, healthy bees. Buying raw honey supports sustainable beekeeping efforts! 

We also support local beekeepers by offering a store with beekeeping equipment, sturdy bees for sale, and other products. 

Check out our offerings and support ethical beekeeping!