How is Honey Made

Bees will forage for nectar within a 4-6 km radius of their hive, though they will generally stay as close to home as possible. It is interesting to watch how bees obtain their coordinates for this radius.

When the bees first arrive in the Apiary, the first flights will be to simply circle the hive. This is their way of obtaining their coordinates, so they will know the location of their hive and will generally wander within the 4-6km radius.

There are many flowers that attract bees out foraging. These flowers contain sugary nectar and high protein pollen. The sugar and protein components give the bee's young (larvae) a good start to life.

When bees collect nectar, they use a long tongue, called a proboscis, that can slide down into the flower and suck nectar out like a straw. They store the nectar in a second stomach, sometimes called a honey stomach, that doesn't digest nectar. It serves as a carrying purse.
Honey bees have tiny hairs on their body as well allowing pollen to stick to them, so they can carry both nectar and pollen while flying. While the worker bees are flying and storing nectar, the honey stomach begins mixing the nectar with enzymes to start pulling some of the water out of the nectar

When the worker returns to the hive with the nectar, there will be a younger worker bee waiting. Her job is to suck the nectar out of the honey stomach of the forager. Once the nectar has been transferred, this house bee will chew it for about 30 minutes. While chewing she adds enzymes to the nectar to break it down, forming a simple syrup. The enzymes also reduce the water content in the nectar. This makes it easier to digest and less likely to be plagued by bacteria while stored inside the hive.

Once this process is complete, the house bee will distribute the resultant syrup over the comb of the hive. She will deposit this inside a cell in the honeycomb. Then she spreads the tops out to maximise the surface area, so that water can continue to evaporate from the honey syrup and make it thicker over time. Additionally, bees help reduce the water content by fanning the honey with their wings.

Once the honey is to the right consistency and the water content is at the right level (less than 20%), a bee will cap it with beeswax, ready for later consumption or harvesting for us to enjoy!

The Make-Up of Honey

An amazing aspect of honey is that it does not spoil, due to a process known as crenation. This ensures that, when honey has been drained of much of its water and with such a high sugar concentration, it will not spoil.

Bees need certain vitamins, nutrients, lipids, and minerals for their survival. Honey supplies most of these needs. Honey is made up of about 82% carbohydrates, mainly fructose and glucose. It also contains a variety of enzymes that help convert other enzymes into fructose and glucose. Honey also has 18 different amino acids.

As if that wasn't enough, honey contains a variety of vitamins and minerals. These include Vitamin B, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, chromium, as well as antioxidants like flavonoids.

Most worker bees only live a matter of weeks during the peak season and they do not sleep. They effectively work themselves to death during that time and need a great deal of energy to get the job done. While honey gives them the huge energy boost they need, it also provides the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to maintain good health during their short life.

A Bit About Bees

It's not just about the honey!
Bees are an integral part of ensuring that the fruits and vegetables we eat continue to flourish due to the pollinating duties they undertake.

The colony (hive) is made up primarily of female worker bees, their queen and drones.
Honey bees develop in four distinct life cycle phases: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The total development time varies a bit among the three castes of bees, but the basic miraculous process is the same: 24 days for drones, 21 days for worker bees, and 16 days for queens.  Their primary duties within the hive are queens (egg-producers), workers (non-reproducing females), and drones (males whose main duty is to find and mate with a queen).

Protecting Our Investment

There are two main concerns for bees in New Zealand - the Varroa Mite and AFB (American Foul Brood) disease.

Since the early 2000's the parasitic Varroa Mite has been reducing wild bee numbers in New Zealand, hence it is important for more people to become involved in beekeeping and raise hives that are free from this little demon.

The Varroa mite can only reproduce in a honey bee colony. It attaches to the body of the bee and weakens the bee by sucking fat bodies. In this process, RNA viruses such as the deformed wing virus (DWV) spread to bees. A significant mite infestation will lead to the death of a honey bee colony, usually in the late autumn through early spring. The Varroa mite is the parasite with the most pronounced economic impact on the beekeeping industry.

At Haruru Gold we have established a regimented Varroa eradication plan within our hives.

American Foul Brood (AFB) is another disease that effects bee hives, and whilst a hive can be tested and be free of AFB, inadequate beekeeping practices can result in the spread from an infected hive to a 'clean' hive.

It is important to remember that AFB is spread by beekeepers and not honey bees.

Regular inspections of the brood frames is important and if AFB is suspected it should be tested for. If the test is positive, then the hive has to be reported, together with its exact location, and then destroyed by burning.
This is an expensive exercise for a beekeeper, so keep an eye on your hives!

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