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Why do bees make honey?

Have you ever wondered why bees make honey? The story begins with summer flowers and ends in the middle of winter. This blog explains the why of honey production.


Why do bees make honey - A honeybee feeding on a yellow OSR flower - image is courtesy of Gilles San Martin - Harry's Honey Cheltenham
A honeybee feeding on an oil seed flower - courtesy of Giles San Martin

Honey is the sweet sticky stuff made by honeybees. People have valued it for centuries – as a source of sweetness, in medicine and in cosmetics.


As any honey lover knows, honey is amazing. But honeybees have been around for millions of years - so, much as we love it, they don't actually make it for us.


WHY DO BEES MAKE HONEY?

Bees are vegetarians. They only feed on the nectar and pollen from flowering plants. They use the sugar found in nectar to power everything they do.


Lots of other insect pollinators bees rely on nectar. Unlike most insects, honeybees are active all year round - they don’t hibernate over winter. But from October through to February, there are no flowers - SO, what do the bees eat?


Honey is over 80% sugar - it's a super concentrated sugar solution. Sugar is packed full of energy. Honey is the honeybee’s energy store.


Honey isn't some handy by-product - it's a way for honeybees to store summer's energy into the winter. It's a matter of life and death!

During late autumn and winter, there is a “skeleton crew” of about 10,000 bees inside the hive. They use honey to keep themselves going during the cold flowerless months.


More importantly though, they use honey to generate heat. In the middle of winter, the honeybees start to get ready for spring. They increase the temperature of their hive from around 25 degrees to about 35 degrees centigrade.


This is the temperature they need to raise their young. The bees generate the heat with their own bodies. Amazingly they use their flight muscles to do this.


By flying without moving, they vibrate their muscles to make heat. It takes a massive amount of energy to generate the heat they need. This energy comes from honey.



The queen, who has laid very few eggs over winter, starts to lay eggs now. In the newly warmed up hive, these eggs will develop in to new bees. These bees will be ready to start visiting new flowers as soon as they appear in the spring.


A colony needs about 20kg of honey to get it through the winter AND to raise young when there may be snow on the ground. This is an important number for a beekeeper to know.


CONCLUSION

For anyone that likes to buy honey, the why of honey-making is fascinating.


For Harry, it's something to be admired and accounted for in his beekeeping year. He makes sure his bees have enough food to get through winter.


For the bees, the answer to the question “Why do bees make honey” is a serious one. It means a winter survived and a colony ready for another spring.


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Photograph of a honeybee courtesy of Gilles San Martin on Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence





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