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How Our Bees Make Honey

This is the best time of year to be a Rogue Farms Honeybee.

Flowers are everywhere. From the showy orange flowers of our Dream Pumpkins, to the soft white petals on the wild blackberries, our 7,140,289 honeybees are surrounded by a bounty of cultivated and wild sources of food. ‘Tis the season of the summer nectar flow.

Part four in our series, Beekeeping 101.

Honeybees pollinating pumpkin

Rogue Farms Honeybees pollinating one of our Dream Pumpkin flowers.

What Is Nectar?

Blackberry Bee Western Oregon Wikimedia

Flowers are like billboards of the plant world. They announce the availability of nectar. Here a Rogue Farms honeybee lands on a wild blackberry.

Nectar is a sugary liquid produced by plants for the sole purpose of attracting honeybees and other pollinators. It’s mostly a mixture of water and sucrose. But honeybees don’t feed on nectar. Instead, they collect it in a special stomach called a crop. Once inside the crop, the honeybee produces enzymes that begin breaking down the sucrose into simpler sugars such as fructose and glucose.

So What Does The Honeybee Do With Nectar?

Hive Splitting-051815-0001

The duties of a colony are highly specialized. Forager bees gather nectar and pollen. House bees make honey and take care of the queen and brood.

When foraging bees return to the hive, they regurgitate the nectar from their crop and hand it over to the house bees. The house bees swallow it, regurgitate it some more, all while continuing to break down the sucrose in the nectar. They’ll repeat this over and over for as long as 20 minutes.

Are You Telling Me That Honey Is Bee Vomit?

It’s more complicated that that, but yes, vomiting is part of the process.

Tell Me Something That Will Make Me Feel Better About Eating Honey.

ExtractingHoney02

Bees store honey in wax structures called honeycombs. When the honey within a cell is finished, the bees will seal the cell with a wax cap.

When they’re done vomiting, the house bees put the nectar into cells in a honeycomb where it dries out until it’s about 20% moist. It’s almost honey, but the nectar needs to evaporate further. So the house bees hover over the cells, fluttering their wings to create an air flow that dries out the nectar until moisture levels drop to 17%. That additional 3% is what turns nectar into honey. The cells are then capped with wax to keep out additional moisture.

Why Does That Matter?

The low moisture content of honey is why it doesn’t spoil or get moldy. There’s not enough moisture and too much acid in honey for bacteria, fungi and mold to survive. As long as honey remains sealed it can last for years. Scientists found 3,000 year old honey in Egyptian tombs and it was still safe to eat.

Beekeeping

The start of the honey harvest at Rogue Farms. Honey filled frames are removed from the supers. Later we’ll remove the wax seals and extract the honey for our Rogue Farms mead, kolsch, braggot and soda.

During the summer nectar flow, the Rogue Farms Honeybees have so many sources of nectar, they produce far more honey than they need. The surplus is stored in the top boxes of the hives, called supers. When we harvest this year’s honey crop, we gather it from the supers, but leave behind the honey in the lower boxes for our honeybees to eat.

Our honeybees take care of us by producing the amber colored, wildflower honey we use to brew our mead, kolsch, braggot and sodas. So it’s only fair that we take care of our bees, by providing them a variety of sources of nectar and pollen that keeps them healthy and happy.

Come to Rogue Farms this summer and feel the buzz!

roguefarms grow the revolution

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