To get started with the wealth of bee knowledge that is about to commence, let’s begin with some interesting bee facts. Bees are broken down into three types: queen bee, workers, and drones. Worker bees are undeveloped female bees that live for around 40 days and do all of the work in the hive such as collect honey and care for the larvae. In those 40 days, worker bees will only gather about 1/10 of a teaspoon of honey. It takes about 556 worker bees to produce a pound of honey. Drones are male bees that only mate with the queen bee and then either die or are forced out of the hive. And lastly, the queen bee is the only developed female bee in the hive and can produce 2000 eggs per day and can live anywhere from 1 to 5 years.
Like you already know, bees collect nectar from plants. As the nectar digests in their stomach, the “honey gut” as some call it, certain enzymes are added that turn the nectar into honey. The bees then regurgitate the honey and transfer it to another bee. This transfer happens about two to three times until the final worker bee deposits the honey into their honeycombs. Once that honeycomb is full of honey, a human worker removes it from the hive and this begins the production process. The honeycombs are then put into a machine and spun at high speeds which force the honey out. Once the honey is collected it is then heated to a high temperature which melts out the crystals. This temperature also causes any bee remnants, dirt, or pollen to rise to the surface of the honey where it is removed. The honey is then heated again and strained and finally poured into bottles ready to be shelved.
Issues in the Honey Industry
Honey Adulteration is an issue you might not have heard of before. Some countries, China being one of the most guilty, will add large amounts of syrup (usually from rice or other grains) and mix that with natural honey to create a honey-like product that they are able to sell at cheap prices. This honey can pass most quality control tests and can even pose dangers to consumers. In the past, China has sold billions of dollars worth of honey to the United States at below market value, which creates a huge price competition with US honey producers that they are unable to compete with.
In recent years bee populations have continued to dwindle, all while the demand for honey has steadily risen. Bees face a number of issues in their environments such as climate change, loss of habitat, disease spread, and chemical exposure. Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD, has become a prominent issue facing beekeepers. The decline in bee populations has gotten so bad, some industry leaders have begun researching drone technology to create pollinating drones. Check out NPR Article on these ‘Bee Drones’.
Another issue is hive theft. During the winter, some beekeepers transport their hives to farms in warmer climates where their bees are able to pollinate plants on that farmland. The bees are able to pollinate plants in the area, stock up on their honey, and the beekeeper gets a nice paycheck from the farmer. It’s usually a win/win/win. However, some beekeepers have experienced numerous cases of theft, California in particular. Almond production is high in California due to increased demands in almond milk, almond flour, and other almondy products. A few years ago, $800,000 worth of beehives were stolen from California farms that were housing those visiting bees. As if beekeepers didn’t have enough to worry about, now they have to protect their bees from criminals looking to steal their way into the industry.
Buzz Local, Buy Local
Honey is a sweet treat we all love and use in numerous ways. Continue to enjoy it as much as you can and support your local bees and beekeepers by buying local honey when and where you can. Small mom and pop honey shops are all around this country and are a great way to support local business and a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth.
How Products are Made: Honey
Canadian Honey Council