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How honey is produced by honey bees – 4 stages of honey production

To make 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of honey, the bees in the colony must visit approximately 4 million flowers. In her average lifetime, a worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey.

Bee on flower

The process of production of honey can roughly be divided into 4 stages:

1. Foraging for pollen and nectar

Except for the queen, all bees depend on flower pollen as their protein source and nectar as an energy source. Bees fly away from their hive, searching flowering plants to return with nectar and pollen. Honeybees extract nectar (a sweet liquid found in flowers) using their long, tube-shaped tongue and store it in their extra stomach, or "crop." While the nectar is in the crop, it mixes with the enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage.

2. Digestion

When a honeybee returns to the hive, it passes the nectar to another bee's mouth. In one sense, honey is in part, bee vomit. This regurgitation process is repeated until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb.

3. Dehydration of extra moisture

Honeybee hive

When deposited into a honeycomb the nectar is still a viscous liquid with a large amount of moisture and not like the thick honey we use. To speed up the evaporation process, honey bees fan their wings into the hive. To get all that extra water out of their honey, the bees work again, fanning the honey with their wings to speed up the evaporation process. Honey having high water content ferments easily with time. Ideally, the moisture content of honey should be less than 17%. 

4. Sealing and storing honey

Since honey is hygroscopic, if it is not in a sealed, it will attract moisture from the air. When most of the water has evaporated, the bees seal the honeycomb with a secretion of liquid from their abdomen that eventually hardens into beeswax.  The beeswax protects the honey from air and water so that it is stored safely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months.
Properly stored honey will last years if not decades.  


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