Honey – What is It? How Is It Produced?

There are many myths about honey, and because of misinformation, individuals can come to wrong conclusions about what honey is and how is it produced.

A brief description may be helpful. Forage bees, one class of worker bees within a hive, go out looking for sources of plant nectar. The bees use their long proboscis to collect the blossom nectar which is stored in their ‘honey crop’, part of the bee’s esophagus positioned before the digestive stomach.

When the forage bee returns to the hive, the honey is deposited into clean cells. It is not regurgitated over and over from their stomach as some propose and is not in contact with digestive enzymes. This plant nectar is collected by thousands of bees and fills up the honeycomb. The bees are gathering their pantry stores. When the comb is full, the bees will fan the warm air in the hive, therefore creating an evaporation process to concentrate the sweetness of that nectar. When the honey is evaporated to the correct percentage of moisture for storage, the bees cap the cells with new wax, sealing their store for future use. Honey that is uncapped is much like water and will run out of the comb if disturbed. Regulations for honey production call for a maximum moisture percentage of 18% water to keep honey from fermentation and from a diluted product being sold as ‘honey’.

Conscientious beekeepers do not ‘exploit’ the honey bees by taking away their food.  In our operation, each hive is left with 50 to 100 lbs (22.7 – 45.4 kg) of honey for their winter storage. The bees have two full boxes that are filled with themselves and their stock of food. Should they be left with more, there would be more loss of life since in our climate, the bees must also keep their inside temperature above 10C or 50F to be able to move around, and the more empty space, the more cold air.  In a healthy hive with no disastrous climatic events, that amount of honey will suffice until new sources of pollen and nectar are available in the spring.

Beekeepers do not take from the hive ‘home’. Those two full boxes equal that home and if the bees are the ambitious type, they will forage and bring in much more than they need. In other words, God’s lesson book demonstrates diligent work and service in the fact that these little creatures work together unitedly to produce the sweet stuff that can be shared with others = us! When a hive does not produce extra, nothing is taken from it. They are left with their neighbours to buzz in peace.

Honey is known to be anti-bacterial and a good source of micro-nutrients and energy.  It also has a good reputation for some allergy sufferers who use local honey containing small amounts of pollen, which is said to build up the individual’s resistance to potential allergens. We recommend that the honey you use is from reputable sources that locate their bee yards in healthy places, and use responsible healthy management techniques to deal with potential diseases and parasites that could threaten bee health.  It is good to ask questions to see if the source of your honey has been diluted with other sweeteners (which is illegal in this country), or contains residual amounts of medications or chemicals as a used by some producers.

We believe that by using organic methods of production, placement of hives in rural areas without undue exposure to chemicals, that the wildflowers are still producing healthy nectar and pollen that can be used for part of a healthy lifestyle. Have a sweet day!

Pam Stemmler writes from their apiary in Ontario, Canada

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