There is sometimes a lot of misconceptions about Honey. Like, What is it? Where does it come from? When you take it, does it harm the honey bees? Let’s take these one at a time.
So, What Is Honey?
In short, Honey is the honey bee’s food. It is their carbohydrate and is their main source of food. They also consume fermented pollen (called bee bread), which is their protein, and there is a food called royal jelly that the queen and larvae consume. Pollen is mainly used by young bees, and drones. As a whole, though, Honey is their main source of food.
Honey is a viscous substance that honey bee’s make by combining nectar secretions from flowers and plants with honey bee stomach enzymes. It is dried in the hive at exact temperatures and humidity levels with an incredible process. All regulated by the honey bees.
During this process, the honey bees will ‘cap’ or place new wax on top of the cells that are housing the Honey. Once the Honey is capped, it is ready to be eaten by humans. As the water level drops in the Honey, the sweetness increases. Honey with approx 17% water content is considered high Grade.
Where does Honey come from?
Well, as was mentioned, honey bees make it. It is their food. Honey that you buy at the store, farmers market, or from someone like us =), is some of the honey bee’s excess Honey.
According to their design, Honey bees can produce over three times more Honey than they need to survive. So their natural honey hoarding tendency is of great benefit to you and me. A responsible beekeeper will take only a reasonable portion of this excess Honey as ‘payment’ for assisting the bees and providing them a home, much like rent =).
With current hive designs still in use since the late 1800’s, honey bees live in vertical wooden hives (some hives are plastic, some are horizontal – but the most popular with commercial beekeepers in the vertical hives or Langstroth hive).
When you take the Honey, does it harm the honey bee’s?
This modern managed hive design makes it very easy to remove Honey without harming the honey bees. In the old days, if Honey was going to be removed from a wild hive – most of the hive itself would have to be destroyed. So, when Honey is removed in a responsible manner with care for the bees, there is no harm done to the honey bees. They will have more than enough to survive the winters and the year.
There is a push for ‘vegan’ Honey, Honey made without honey bees to protect the honey bees. But that’s due to a misunderstanding of the nature of responsible beekeeping. Since honey bees make such an excess of Honey every year, there is no harm done, and it becomes a symbiotic relationship. We help and assist them, and they pay a small fee with some honey. When done right, its a tasty reward for everyone, and its naturally sourced.
- The Beekeeper’s Handbook 5th Edition: Page 204
- Honey Bee Biology: Page 254