Honey is one of nature’s most perfect foods. Honey is easy to keep as bacteria will not easily occur in honey. In ancient times, honey was believed to have healing or antiseptic powers and was spread on wounds. It is also believed by many that if a person eats honey produced in close proximity to where they live, it will reduce their proclivity toward allergies.
Bees are very industrious. The words “busy as a bee” are based on the fact that the little insects seem to be in a constant state of movement and productive work. The hive is a model of efficiency. Some bees are workers, some are nurses to the queen and there are males calle drones. There is usually one queen, but other can emerge at times. Queens are formed when the worker nurse bees feed certain larva royal jelly. This causes a change in their growth. They become larger and if they were to survive, they can mate with a drone and produce offspring.
In the event that multiple queens are created, the mature queen will seek them out and kill them, or she or one of the new queens will leave the hive in a swarm. This diminishes the viability of the hive and honey production is reduced dramatically.
A queen only mates once. She leaves the hive in a mating flight and soars high in the air. The drones chase her and the strongest flier overtakes her and breeds her in flight. The mating act is the final act of the drones life, for it results in his rapid death. The queen returns to the hive and begins her life of depositing eggs into the waxy cells of the comb. She can lay thousands of eggs and the manager of the apiary has to place an excluder between the brood super and the honey super so that she cannot access them and lay eggs there. Since the queen is larger than the workers, she cannot pass through the excluder, but the workers can.
As winter approaches, the drones have served their purpose and the workers will drag many of them out of the hive and not let them re-enter and they will die.
Bees form the waxy honey comb from waxy secretions from the underside of their abdomen. They draw out perfectly formed cells that slope upwards from horizontal so that they will not spill the honey. The workers fly into the fields and woods and find nectar and pollen from any flowering plants. They fill their stomach with the nectar and return to the hive. They regurgitate the nectar into the cells for storage. Evaporation occurs and the nectar becomes thicker and sweeter. When it is extremely hot, worker bees will sit at the entrance of the hive and fan their wings to cool the hive and and help with the evaporation process.
After the cell is filled and the proper evaporation has occurred, the bees seal the opening with wax. The honey has been stored for the bees to survive the winter. They will also pack pollen into some cells and it serves as food as well. The pollen is attached to the legs of the bees as they gather the nectar and is removed on returning to the hive.
When the apiary workers remove honey from the hives, they use smokers to calm the bees. This makes them more manageable and they can be handled without gloves. Care has to be taken to leave enough honey to feed the bees through the winter or the hive will die. If too much is removed, they can be supplemented with sugar water.
Certain types of honey are more valuable and are treasured as superior. Sourwood honey is clear, with a delicate flavor and is a favorite of many. Wildflower honey is more generic and not as valued. Persimmon honey is darker, orange in color and has a unique flavor.
Honeybees are some of nature’s most entertaining and industrious creatures and are even mentioned in the Bible.