Andrea Donsky, Founder of NaturallySavvy.com, and I recently visited Hawkins Bee Yard. Andrea was preparing for a TV segment on honey (below) so she wanted to learn everything she could about bees, honey, and how it’s made. Greg Hawkins, owner of Hawkins Honey spent the morning with us: he took us out in the fields to see his beehives and to the facility where he packages the honey. The buzz in the fields was really impressive and we now have a new appreciation for how honey is made and where it comes from.
At the beehives, Andrea and I suited up from head to toe to protect ourselves from the bees. While we looked like white martians, Greg was super brave and didn’t even wear one. According to Greg, the bees were busy making honey so we humans were the last thing they were interested in. Bees are very sophisticated and their social system is quite advanced.
Without bees 1/3 of our food supply would be compromised because the bees make up 80% of the insects that pollinate the plants we eat. We need to protect the bees from pesticides and other chemicals that are affecting their population and leading to them being considered endangered.
The location the bee hives are placed determine the type of honey the bees make. For example, if the hive is set up near clover the honey will mostly be made from the nectar of clover.
The bees bring pollen from flowers back to the hive in little pockets on either side of their body. You actually see the pollen on the bees in the picture below.
Honey is made when worker bees visit flowers and collect their nectar. They store it inside a special “stomach.” When the nectar is inside the bee it mixes with a number of proteins and enzymes to start the honey-making process. The worker bees return to the hive, they transfer the nectar onto the beeswax comb, and repeat the process until the combs are full. The bees then fan the stored nectar with their wings to remove the moisture and prepare the honey for long-term storage. The nectar thickens and eventually transforms into what we recognize as honey. When the nectar has thickened, the bees cap the honeycomb with wax and move on to the next empty comb, beginning the process all over again.
Once the comb is full in late summer or early fall, Greg remove the combs, extract the honey, pour it into drums, and then bottles it to send to customers. A full honey comb can weight between 50 and 60 lbs.
We had the privilege of helping put new queens into the colony. There are three types of bees:
- Worker Bees: These are female bosses and do all the work. They live around 6 weeks.
- Drones: These are the males and their only purpose is to mate with the Queen.
- Queen Bees: These are the “mothers” of the hive and they lay eggs and mate with the Drone. They can live up to five years and lay 2500 eggs per day.
Greg was setting up some new hives so he bought a box of Queen Bees to place into the hives. They come in a special tube that has a candy-like plug. As you can see from the one I am holding, as soon as the worker bees smell the pheromones of the new Queen, they start working on freeing her from the tube. It will only take a few days for them to release her until she is crowned the Queen on the hive.
Beekeepers mark the Queen with marker and change the color every year. This is done to determine how old the Queen is and which year they put her in the hive.
I was really surprised by the sophistication of the bees and how they produce honey. I will for sure be savoring my honey from now on.
Here are some amazing bee facts:
- It takes 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey.
- Each time a bee goes out to collect nectar she will visit 50 to 100 flowers.
- The “buzzing” sound comes from their wings beating 11,400 times per minute.
- The bees communicate with each other by dancing and releasing pheromones or special chemical scents.
Here’s Andrea’s segment on Breakfast Television Toronto. Enjoy!