Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How do Honeybees Make Honey?

Have you ever wondered how honeybees make honey?

Well, flowers need pollination from honeybees to grow fruits, vegetables, and nuts. The way the flowers entice honeybees to pollinate them is by producing a sweet substance called nectar. The bees gather the nectar to turn into honey for their food. When a bee lands on a flower it will stick out its tongue (also called a proboscis). The proboscis is shaped like a straw and helps the honeybee suck up the nectar. 
Notice the bee's proboscis drinking the
nectar from the flower?

Photo: dalantech - deviant art

The nectar is then stored in a bucket inside their body called a honey sac. Honeybees can’t carry buckets like we can, so they store it in a special bucket inside their body. Inside the honey sac, the nectar is mixed with enzymes, special substances which give medicinal properties to honey. These enzymes add antibacterial, antimicrobial, and hygroscopic properties. That means honey is like nature’s Neosporin. Next time you get a cut or wound, put some honey on it and then a band-aid. The honey will clean the wound because of the cleansing properties and keep it moisturized and sealed to help it heal with as little scarring as possible. Many hospitals even use honey to help heal burns.

Honey stored in the honeycomb
Photo: Igor Dmitriey
While the honey is mixing with enzymes, the honeybee will fly home to her beehive. Inside the beehive the bee will deposit the honey from her honey sac into the honeycomb. The honeycomb is where baby bees are laid and born as well as the food (like honey) is stored. The bees will fan their wings over the nectar to dehydrate the honey (take some of the water out). Once some of the water is taken out, we have a thick, syrupy honey. The honeybees will put fresh beeswax over the honeycomb cells to make sure no dust or dirt comes in while the honey is stored until it is needed.

After all the hard work, the bees now have honey. Honey is their main food source, and they often have an excess amount of it. A beekeeper can then come in to take their extra honey they don’t need, so we can enjoy it too. Next time we enjoy honey drizzled on a biscuit or a honey smoothie, we should thank the hardworking honeybees.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Worker Bee

Did you know that 1/3 of our food in the United States requires pollination, and honeybees account for 80% of all pollinating? All of those hardworking honeybees who provide us a majority of fruits, vegetables, and almonds, are the female honeybees of the hive, also known as the worker bees. Have you ever wondered what else the worker bees are capable of in their home?

When a worker honeybee egg is laid by the queen, it takes approximately 21 days to develop into a full adult bee. When it is ready to be born, the worker, in it's cell, will chew through the wax cover and immediately get working. During the first stage of her life, her job is to feed larvae, which are developing young bees. She will give them "bee bread", which is a mixture of pollen and honey. She also has the task of feeding the drones, or the males of the hive, and the queen. In her next stage, she will build more honeycomb and clean around the hive. To build honeycomb, she creates wax with glands under her abdomen. Then she shapes the wax by chewing it with her jaws to her liking. 

As the worker becomes older, she will have more responsibilities for the hive, such as receiving incoming nectar from other worker bees that have been out at the blossoms and plants all day. She will also guard the hive with fellow workers from pests and predators. If there are any dead honeybees in their hive, the worker bees will remove their bodies to keep the home clean.

The most important task of a worker honeybee is pollination. Through her last stages in life, she will fly out in search of flowers that are filled with nectar. She then uses her ultra violet vision to discover flowers that have the most nectar. Next she will land on her favorite flower, and drink the nectar from that flower, which she stores in her honey sack, and her special enzymes will start to transform it into honey. As she drinks from the flower, she is also collecting the pollen from that flower, and it sticks to all of the little hairs on her body. When she is done at that flower, she will then move to a next one, and the pollen from the first flower will brush off of her body on to the new flower. This process is pollination, and it fertilizes the plants to help them produce healthily. 

shallow focus photography of bee on pink petal flower

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Build a Bee Bath

As honeybees are starting to get ready for spring and pollinating flowers, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what we can do to help them. There are 4 things honeybees forage for when going out of the hive: nectar and pollen for food, tree sap to make into propolis (sticky glue to keep the hive clean), and water (because all animals need water to survive). Sometimes it can be hard to find water, and when they do, they also have to worry about drowning. Honeybees need a spot where they can land and drink water without falling in. You can build a small watering hole for bees in your backyard!

Bees also like places with recognizable patterns. Decorating your watering hole with distinct shapes and colors will help the bees navigate back and forth from the water, to the flowers and back to their hive safely. Here are some instructions to make a watering hole for honeybees.

Step 1: Find something for the bees to land on. It can be small rocks and pebbles, corks, styrofoam, marbles or anything you can think of that will give the bees something to land on.

Step 2: Find a container with a wide opening that can hold water. If you are using rocks and pebbles (or something else that sinks), find a container that is shallow. If you are using something buoyant, then any depth of water will work. A plastic bowl, an old and empty pot, and plastic cups are all great options.

Step 3: Decorate your container: Start with a solid color base. Then draw pictures or put on stickers that have simple color schemes. Geometric shapes will work, but if you want to get creative, you can use hearts, clouds, animals or anything with clearly defined lines.

Step 4: Fill it with water and keep an eye out for honeybees and other pollinators to come by for a break.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

2020 Representatives Crowned in Illinois

The new American Honey Queen and Princess were selected at the 2020 American Beekeeping Federation Convention in Schaumburg, Illinois.

2020 American Honey Queen
Mary Reisinger from Texas

2020 American Honey Princess
Sydnie Pauslrud from Wisconsin

Congratulations ladies! They will travel the United States promoting honey and beekeeping and post interesting articles about bees and honey along the way. Keep an eye out for the sweetest representatives in America!
Image courtesy of David Loeb

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Cooking with Honey

Did you know? There are more than 300 unique flavors of honey in the United States! Each of them has a different color and flavor. This is dependent on the nectar sources the bees visit while foraging. If we have a honeybee visiting mainly an orange blossom grove, then that is what we would define as orange blossom honey. There needs to be at least 45% of the nectar and pollen from the dominant source for it to have a prominent flavor. Knowing this, we can play with different types of honey in some recipes to see how it can change the flavor. 

Darker honey tends to be more robust and strong. Lighter honey tends to be more light and mild. Lighter honey like orange blossom, black locust or an early spring wildflower is great in things like smoothies and spreads. Darker honey like buckwheat, chestnut or late fall honey are great for salad dressings, meats and baking because it will have a strong honey flavor.

When cooking with honey, it is likely that things can get messy pretty quick, so here are some tips! A good trick to use is spraying your measuring cup or spoon with non stick cooking spray and the honey will slide right out. Honey will natural crystallize, but it’s still good to eat! Just place the jar or bottle in some warm water. Honey should be stored at room temperature. Honey comes in different forms. Try cream honey, chunk honey and comb honey. See how you can add variety in you meals with these forms.

One of my favorite ways to start my mornings is with a homemade honey berry smoothie. Not only is it a sweet start, it is also a great source of natural energy! My recipe is below, but you can change it up to add your favorite fruits and vegetables.

Princess Nicole’s Honey Berry Smoothie

½ cup milk
2 tablespoons Honey
1 frozen banana
½ cup frozen blueberries
½ cup frozen strawberries 
½ cup frozen raspberries
2 tablespoons of almond butter(optional)


Combine all ingredients into a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a glass. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Sting of a Honeybee

Most people have been stung by a bee in their lifetime, but the sting of a honeybee is a little bit different. When a honeybee stings, it also affects them as well as the individual stung. A honeybee doesn't like to sting. They will only sting to protect themselves or their hive because a honeybee can only sting once, and then it dies. If you look at the end of a honeybee stinger, it looks like the end of a fish-hook that is barbed. When the honeybee stings you, its stinger gets stuck in your skin because of those barbs. When the honeybee flies away, the stinger is still stuck in the skin of the human which causes the honeybee's stomach to rip apart, killing the honeybee.

If you ever get stung by a honeybee, the first reaction will be to pull the stinger out of your skin, but
don't pull it out! When the honeybee flew away, she left that stinger in your skin along with the venom sack. If you pull the stinger out, you will push more venom into your skin, causing a bigger swelling reaction. The best thing to do if you are stung by a honeybee is to use your fingernail and gently scrape the stinger out of your skin. A natural swelling reaction will occur with a honeybee sting so don't worry about swelling. The cause for concern will come if after a sting, you have trouble breathing or swelling of the airway. In a case like that, medical attention is necessary! As for a normal sting with some swelling, the swelling will go down in a couple of days. If you would like the swelling to be lessened, one thing you can do is to take baking soda and mix it with a little water, creating a toothpaste consistency. Put this on the area affected and the baking soda will help draw the venom out, lessening the swelling reaction.

Image result for using a smoker on honeybees
A lit Smoker
When a beekeeper goes to the hive, they may use some equipment that will help to minimize the amount of stings they receive. One piece of equipment a beekeeper will use is a bee-suit. The bee-suit will cover the beekeeper from head to toe and prevent the honeybees from from having direct contact with a beekeeper's skin. Another piece of equipment the beekeeper will use is a smoker. A smoker is basically a tin can the beekeeper will build a campfire in and then use to smoke the bees. The smoker doesn't hurt the bees at all but instead calms them down by masking their form of communication. Honeybees communicate through smells. When they get alarmed, they release the alarm pheromone that smells like bananas. This is signalling to all the other bees that there is something attacking the hive and they need to fight. This is where the smoker comes into play. The smoke will mask those pheromones and help the bees to remain calm while the beekeeper checks on them.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Flavors of Honey

Honey is one of the best foods both for you and flavor wise. Did you know there’s over 300 varieties of honey in the United States? Honey comes in many colors and flavors. Some are a strong and dark in color like buckwheat honey. Others are a light, almost water white, with a light flavor like basswood. 

The flavor of honey is dependent on the nectar sources gathered by the honeybees. Because of this, different states have different kinds of honey. The different flowers where the nectar comes from is what determines the flavor and color of honey.

If a bee visits the flower of a fruit tree, such as an orange or apple tree, traces of that flavor can be found in the honey. This makes them great to use in smoothies. If a honey bee visits the buckwheat, a cover crop with grain like seeds, the honey is darker and bolder in flavor and is wonderful in cooking meats and baking.

A fun experiment would be to find all the flavors of honey available in your area to find your favorite. Each time you go to a new state try their honey to see how it’s different from yours.