At the end of each beekeeping season, beekeepers are met with a sweet reward for their months of hard work: the honey harvest. Let’s take a closer look at how honey is made, how it ends up in your kitchen, and all the steps in between.
Table of contents:
- How honey is made
- How beekeepers harvest honey
- How honey is extracted and bottled
- What honey can teach you about the environment
HOW HONEY IS MADE
Though there are over 20,000 species of bee around the world, only 8 of those species are honey bees.
Making honey is no small feat for a bee. In her entire lifetime, a honey bee will produce less than 1 teaspoon of honey. When you add a scoop of honey to your tea, you have a few bees to thank for their hard work.
To make honey, bees forage for flowers and collect the pollen and nectar. The pollen is fed to their larvae for protein. And the nectar is transformed into honey!
To turn nectar into honey, the bees have to evaporate almost all of its water content.
When a forager bee returns to the hive, she will regurgitate the nectar into the stomach of another bee. Sounds gross, but don’t let this turn you off honey!
The enzymes in the bees’ honey stomach will thicken the nectar. This regurgitation process happens multiple times before the nectar finally gets emptied into a beeswax honey cell.
Ventilator bees work to heat the hive in order to evaporate more moisture from the nectar.
Once the water concentration of the nectar is down to 17.8%, it is officially honey! Worker bees then seal over the honey cells with a thin layer of wax.
17.8% water concentration is the magic number. At this moisture level, honey will never ferment. That’s right – honey never goes bad!
HOW BEEKEEPERS HARVEST HONEY
Once the honey frames are capped over with wax, that’s the beekeeper’s cue that the honey is ready to be harvested from the hive.
The beekeeper will gently move the bees from the honey box into the brood box (watch the video to see how it’s done). Once the bees are safely moved to the lower boxes, the honey frames are collected and sent to where the honey will be extracted.
The beekeeper will make sure to leave enough honey behind for the bees. First and foremost, it’s their food! Honey provides them with essential nutrients, which is especially important before winter.
HOW HONEY IS EXTRACTED AND BOTTLED
Extracting the honey is the most fun part (aside from tasting it, of course).
The first step is to gently remove the wax cappings from one side of the frames using a special tool.
Then insert the frames into an extractor and spin away!
The honey gets filtered before finally pouring it into bottles.
TRY EXTRACTING HONEY AT A HIVE TO HONEY JAR WORKSHOP
Extracting honey is a magical experience that everyone should get the chance to try. At the end of each season, Alvéole beekeepers host hundreds of Hive to Honey Jar workshops.
Tenants of buildings with beehives are invited to get their hands sticky while extracting, bottling, and tasting fresh honey themselves.
There’s a reason it’s our most popular tenant engagement activity!
WHAT HONEY CAN TEACH YOU ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT
Urban honey provides fascinating insights into the plants growing in your neighborhood.
The color and flavor of honey all depends on the nectar it was made from. The flowers the bees visit drastically change how a honey will look and taste.
Rural beekeepers often produce honey made from one type of flower. But urban honey is much more complex. Think of all the different types of flowers growing in parks, gardens, terraces around your city.
Because honey bees have a foraging radius of approximately 3 miles, neighborhoods right next to each other may produce vastly different honeys. Tasting urban honey from your building’s hive is like tasting your neighborhood’s unique flavor.
Tracking biodiversity through honey eDNA
Honey is packed with information. By analyzing the honey from a particular hive, researchers can identify exactly which flowers the bees collected nectar from. They do this by studying the environmental DNA (eDNA) of the honey.
At Alvéole, we partner with Apilab to extract this data. Apilab is the research institute behind the largest worldwide honey bee biomonitoring network.
Properties with an Alvéole hive can use this information to understand the plant diversity level in their area. You’ll see which flowers are blooming at which period throughout the year. Based on these results, you’ll receive recommendations to improve the quality of biodiversity around your property.
Biomonitoring with honey bees: how it works
Samples are taken from your hive
Your beekeeper will take samples of honey from your hive.
Samples are analyzed
Samples are analyzed by Apilab researchers to determine the diversity of flowers in the area.
Track your impact
Receive annual environmental impact reports. Include this science-based data in your sustainability report and track your environmental impact year over year.
Based on the results, you’ll receive recommendations to improve the quality of biodiversity around your property.
Support pollinators globally
The data from your hive is confidentially shared with a global network of scientists to support research on pollinator health and protection.
HONEY IS MORE THAN A TASTY TREAT
To sum it up, honey is:
- Delicious (you already knew that)
- The result of months of hard work (both for the bees and the beekeeper)
- A way for communities to celebrate a successful beekeeping season
- A sample of your neighborhood’s one-of-a-kind flavor
- A scientific tool for measuring biodiversity
Let’s give a big thank you to the bees and beekeepers who work together to bring us this liquid gold!