It would be nice to think that bees make honey to provide us with a delicious treat, but the fact is that bees make honey primarily to feed themselves. The honey provides them with the energy they need to carry out their roles within the hive; it is also used to feed their young. But why do bees make so much honey?
How Much Honey Can Bees Make?
Only honeybees make honey, and it is the worker bees that do this job. However, one single worker bee can only make around a twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its six-week life. But an entire colony of bees can make substantially more than that. And they do!
A thriving bee colony will make more than enough honey to feed themselves, and they will continue making honey provided they have somewhere to store it. Their reason for making more than they need is because they know that in the winter, they will not be able to make any honey at all. They need to store honey within the hive to keep them alive during the cold winter months, when they are unable to leave the hive and when there is a scarcity of nectar-producing flowers.
But bees do not know how much honey they will actually need, so they will keep producing it. This is why beekeepers are able to harvest honey from a well-established hive at least once or twice per year, while leaving enough for the bees to survive the winter.
How is Honey Made?
Honey is made by worker bees. Foragers are sent out to collect nectar that is produced by flowers. The bees suck the nectar out of the flowers with their proboscis, which is a tubular mouthpart designed for this purpose.
The nectar is stored in the bee’s honey stomach while it traverses more than a hundred flowers collecting more. The honey stomach can hold up to eighty percent of the bee’s weight, at which point it will return to the hive to transfer the nectar before the honey making process begins.
Nectar is transferred to the mouths of waiting house bees from the foraging bees. The house bees will chew the nectar before passing it to another waiting house bee. This process continues until some of the water has been removed and the nectar has been converted into honey. Once this happens, the bees need to remove more of the water from the liquid. They do this by spreading it across the honeycomb and fanning their wings to increase airflow and help speed up evaporation.
When the water content is just below twenty percent, the honey is ready to be transferred to cells in the honeycomb and capped with beeswax.
Why Do Bees Need Honey?
I have already mentioned that bees make honey as a food source for themselves. With every bee in the colony having a job to do, honey is the perfect nutritious source to provide energy.
Drones are produced every year by the queen in order to repopulate the hive. Drones never leave the hive. Instead, they rest and eat the honey stores that provide them with the energy they need to mate with the queen. Once they have mated and propagated, they die.
Worker bees are those that forage for nectar and make the honey. They require honey to provide them with the energy that they need to fly back and forth from the hive, carrying heavy loads.
Honey is also the main food source for bees during the winter months when they have no way to leave the hive and feed on flowers. Provided the beekeeper has left sufficient amounts of honey in the hive, the bees will survive until the weather becomes warmer in the spring, at which time they can leave again.
Bees make honey to feed themselves. Honey is a nutritious food source that provides energy for drones and worker bees. During the winter, bees are unable to leave the hive due to bad weather and because there are very few nectar-producing flowers in bloom. They require honey during the winter for their survival. It is imperative therefore that beekeepers leave enough honey in the hive. Harvesting all the honey will leave bees with nothing to eat and is likely to lead to the death of the entire colony.