A little bit about bees

Honey

Once honey in the hive is ready, a beekeeper removes the wax caps from the honeycomb.  Next they use a special spinning machine to extract honey out of the individual wax cells by centrifugal force. It is strained for wax comb then ready to jar and eat.

Honey comes in three main forms including liquid, comb and creamed. Liquid honey is free of any crystals or wax. Comb honey is as the bee makes it, inside the wax comb.   The wax itself may contain propolis or pollen which in itself has some nutrition.   Very popular in New Zealand is the creamed honey.  Liquid honey is slightly chilled to form crystals then gently stirred (not whipped) to create the cream texture and look.

Tasting honey —  the colour and flavour of honey differs depending on what blossoms the bees visit in search of nectar.  Honey colour ranges from almost colourless to dark amber brown and its flavour varies from delectably mild to richly gold.  As a general rule, light coloured honey is milder in taste and dark honey is stronger.

Some honey varieties have a very distinctive flavour (Thyme and Ling heather) while others have very subtle flavour variations. Manuka honey is aromatic, with a distinctively strong, rich flavour, while Tawari honey has a sweet butterscotch taste. The mild traditional flavour of Clover honey is great for light sauces as well as baking. Rewarewa works with either sweet or savoury dishes while Rata honey, with floral taste, is a premium dessert honey.

The composition of honey is a rich source of carbohydrates — mainly fructose and glucose and on average 18% water, a wide variety of vitamins, essential minerals and amino acids. Honey also contains antioxidants that help delay damage to cells or tissues in our body. Honey is known to be antimicrobial inhibiting the growth of certain bacteria, yeast and moulds.  No other sweetener has this composition!

The Health Buzz — NZ’s Active Manuka honey is world renown for treating minor skin injuries, promoting healing, preventing scarring and keeping wounds from adhering to the bandage.  The high activity range of Manuka honey is widely used internally and externally for ulcers.  Many people use honey to soothe a cough or sore throat. And did you know honey can be used on animals too! 

Honey and beeswax form the basics of many skin creams, lip-balms, and hand lotions because of their natural healing and moisturizing properties. 

You may prefer the culinary delights of yummy honey, however research shows that honey is nature's energy booster!  It provides a concentrated energy source that helps prevent fatigue and can boost athletic performance. Honey supplies two stages of energy. The glucose in honey is absorbed by the body quickly and gives an immediate energy boost. The fructose is absorbed more slowly providing sustained energy.

Have you sampled the honey from our tasting table yet? Tell us which one you like.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Honey doesn't go off — edible honey has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs of the Pharoahs.
  • Honey shouldn’t be given to infants under 1 year.
  • Honey is the only food produced by insects that is eaten by man .


The Beehive

Honeybees live in colonies that are often maintained, fed and transported by beekeepers.  After centuries of careful breeding by humans, honeybees produce far more honey than the colony needs.  Beekeepers harvest the honey.

Beekeepers provide a place for the colony to live and store honey in.  A colony generally contains one breeding female, or ‘queen’, a few thousand males, or ‘drones’; and a large population of sterile female ‘worker’ bees.  The population of a healthy hive in mid-summer can average between 40,000—80,000 bees.

The modern beehive is made up of a series of rectangular boxes without tops or bottoms placed on top of one another.  Inside the boxes, movable frames of wax foundation sheets are hung in parallel.

From this, the worker bees make perfectly shaped hexagonal combs in which bees build up the wax honeycomb to both raise brood and store honey.  Worker bees of a certain age will secrete beeswax from a series of glands on their abdomen.  They use the wax to form the walls and caps of the comb. 

The lower section is called the brood chamber, where the queen deposits her eggs and the nurse bees rear baby bees.  A metal screen called the queen excluder, is placed across the top of the brood chamber, big enough for the worker bees to crawl through and store honey, but too small for the queen to enter, as her body is bigger. The upper chambers of supers, are reserved exclusively for honey and pollen storage.

Those bees nearest to the comb consume honey and convert it to heat and energy, slowly moving to the outside of the cluster of bees.  Bees on the outside move inwards for food and create warmth by ‘bee fanning’, maintaining the temperature of about 34 degrees Celsius at all times.  In hot weather, workers fly out to a water source to fetch water and bring back to the hive to help the cooling process.

Modern hives enable beekeepers to transport bees easily, moving them from field to field collecting different honey and using them for cross pollination.

Honey Hive bees — in summer we have around 40,000 bees in our observation glass beehive. In winter, the queen bee stops laying eggs and all drones are kicked out. Our beehive numbers may drop to around 20,000. The remaining bees hibernate.

The weather becomes too cold for the bees to fly outside so they stay inside the hive and eat the honey they collected over the summer months. The hive basically shuts down.  During this time, our team will feed the bees with thick sugary syrup or if the bees have been really good, we give them some honey!  Only a skeleton crew of worker bees is left to keep the hive alive and functioning until springtime again. 

Have you seen the Queen bee in our display hives?  Ask one of our team to help you.

 


Busy Bees

What is nectar and what is pollen? Flowers collect moisture from the ground through their roots and up into their stems, as well as other nutrients from the soil.

The bees will use their long tongues to suck this moisture (nectar) up from the flower and store it in their honey tummies – which are only about the size of a pinhead. They actually have to visit over 500 flowers to fill up their tummies before they can go back to the hive to pass it on to the younger bees for processing into honey.

Bees also collect pollen from flowers. They have fine hairs all over their body and the pollen is collected on these tiny hairs. The bees scrape the pollen into tiny baskets on their legs and fly back to the hive with their heavy load.

The bees mix the pollen with honey (we call it bee-bread) and store it in the beeswax cells, later to be eaten mainly by the baby bees. It is sufficient in its nutrition to ensure the worker bee will hatch a healthy happy bee from an egg in about three weeks – and that is a lot of growing in a short period of time. If we grew that much in a relative sense, we would all weigh 4,000 tonne as teenagers.

After three weeks of foraging, the worker bee is now six weeks old and near the end of her life. She has flown about 800 kilometres and her wings are becoming so worn she can no longer carry her fair share of nectar and pollen. Knowing this, she will turn her back on the hive to go outside to die. But she will be quickly replaced, for in summer the queen bee lays around 2,000 eggs per day.

But how do the workers bees know where to get the honey, and how is it that they all collect the same honey? The honeybees have marvellous communication within the hive and one of the ways they communicate is by doing a “waggle” dance. In this dance other forager bees can tell the distance and direction of the pollen or nectar and will all go to the same source.  Photo left — the centre bee is ‘dancing’ while others look on, you may see this in our hives.

Beekeepers generally put the hives in the middle of a crop flowering at the time, eg clover, and will collect the honey before the crop is finished and the bees look to other crops. This is also nature’s way of ensuring cross-pollination of the same plant species.

Honeybees will not live in another established beehive. They may go and have a look to see if they can get some free honey – but they will be told to leave. Each bee carries the pheromone scent from their queen and the other bees will know that the visitor is not from their hive.

It is important the worker bees work very hard collecting and storing honey during the summer months as the winter may turn out to be particularly long and cold. If they run out of honey they will all starve to death.

It takes a honeybee’s entire life to make just ½ tsp of honey so make sure you leave no honey to waste and enjoy this delicious natural food made only by the honeybee!


The Queen Bee

The queen bee could be said to be the most important member of the hive.  However, although the name might imply it, a queen has little control over the hive. Her sole function is to serve as the reproducer; she is an "egg laying machine."  She lays her own weight in eggs every couple of hours and is continuously surrounded by young worker attendants, who meet her every need, giving her food and disposing of her waste.

When the queen bee first hatches, she has to be fertilised so that she can lay eggs that hatch into female worker bees. So after a day or two, the virgin queen flies out of the hive and high, high up into the sky, at least 20m or so, closely followed by all the drone bees.  Once the queen has been mated she will be fertilised for the rest of her life and will never need mating again.

Have you ever seen a big mass of bees flying up in the air then landing? This is a bee swarm. This is a natural means of reproducing bee colonies. The Queen takes with her half her children, a cross section of all the bees in the hive, swarming until they find a new place to build a hive.  This commonly happens in spring time.

The remaining bees no longer have a queen bee so they must produce a new one. They will quickly build five or so queen cells – which are larger than normal cells to fit the long queen’s body – and place a fertilised egg that was destined to be a worker bee into each queen cell.   Instead of feeding the larvae a pollen and nectar mixture, the future queen will be fed entirely on royal jelly, from this moment onwards and for the rest of her life. It is this food that makes her a queen bee instead of being a worker bee.  

Royal Jelly is a sticky milky substance excreted from head glands of nurse worker bees for the sole purpose of nourishing the Queen bee to make it sexually mature.  The Queen is hatched from an identical egg as the worker bee, but Royal Jelly — the queen’s food, makes the queen into a larger bee.  Her abdomen is noticeably longer than the worker honeybees surrounding her.

  • DAY 1 All female larvae have the same starting point.
  • DAY 2 Worker and queen both get 100% royal jelly.
  • DAY 3 Nurses stop giving larval workers pure royal-jelly.
  • DAY 5 Workers and queens differ vastly in ovaries count.

It is only the first queen that hatches that can become the queen bee of the hive. She will quickly go around to all other queen cells and sting to death the queen that has not yet hatched. If two hatch at the same time they will have a fight in which only one will survive. This is nature’s way of ensuring a strong and healthy hive.

The queen will live for up to five years and lay over 1 million eggs in that time. If she decides not to fertilise an egg it will develop into a fertile male bee, and because swarming occurs regularly during summer, there must always be drone bees in the hive to fertilise the new queen bee.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Bees have two compound eyes, another three small eyes in the middle and cannot see the colour red.  Bee eyes are hairy.
  • Bees have two stomachs, the crop or honey sac that is like a nectar backpack, and a regular stomach.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Bees never sleep.
  • While taking honey from the hive, beekeepers make bees inactive with smoke.
  • In 1880, the Italian honeybee was introduced to NZ and is still preferred by beekeepers.


Worker Bees

Most of the bees in the hive are infertile female worker bees that perform several tasks to keep the hive running. Worker bees do everything but lay eggs and mate. They build the comb from wax extruded from glands under their abdomen. They clean, defend, and repair the hive. They feed the larvae, the queen, and the drones. They gather nectar, pollen, water, and propolis. Worker bees ventilate, cool and heat the hive.

The life of all honey bees starts as an egg, about the size of a written comma "," which is laid by the queen in the bottom of a wax cell in the brood area of a hive.  A worker egg hatches after three days into a larva and is fed for six days.  It then becomes an inactive pupa.  During its 14 days as a pupa, sealed in a capped cell, it grows into a worker (female) bee, emerging on the 20th day. 

From the moment she hatches, the worker bee starts cleaning the hive and preparing the wax cells for either the queen bee to lay an egg, or for the storage of honey and pollen.  Once the worker bee is a few days old, little scales of beeswax form on her body.  She scrapes these off into her mouth with her legs, chews it, and molds it onto the existing honeycomb to make a perfect hexagonal cell.

As a nurse bee, the worker has to feed and look after the nursery where young larvae or baby bees are developing in the brood cells.  Nurse bees feed the brood royal jelly at first, then pollen and honey. 

Inside the hive, the young worker bee receives nectar from the forager bee, chews it with special enzymes from her mouth for about half an hour, then places it in wax cells spread around the hive.  This spreading of nectar allows the water in the nectar (almost 80%) to evaporate.  Bees may speed up the evaporation process by fanning the processed nectar with their wings.  Once the wax cells are full of honey, the worker bee caps them with beeswax, so they are sealed for later use.

The worker bee has various other jobs to do to keep the hive healthy.  She helps keep the hive clean and tidy, and free from disease by carrying dead bees, insects, and any other foreign objects out of the hive. She works with other bees to keep the temperature of the hive consistently around 36ºC by standing at the entrance to the hive and fanning air in, and out, to circulate the air through the hive as necessary.  The worker also acts as a guard bee, protecting the hive from intruders like wasps and bugs, which are always interested in the delicious honey.

Once the worker bee is about three weeks old, she becomes a forager bee, and leaves the hive to collect nectar and pollen from flowers nearby. While she is out of the hive, she also collects water, and a substance from the bark of trees known as propolis.  The bees gather the bark resin on their back legs and carry it to the hive where they mix it with beeswax and enzymes to make propolis.  Propolis sterilizes and seals the hive, protecting it from bacterial, viral, and fungal infections and is commonly known as ‘nature’s best defence’ when used in health products for man.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • A honeybee visits between 50-100 flowers during a single collection flight.
  • The life span of a worker bee is 5-6 weeks.
  • A worker bee makes about 1/2 teaspoon of honey in its life time.
  • The honeybee is not born knowing how to make honey .

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Bees have two sets of wings that beat in unity.
  • A bee can carry its own weight of nectar and pollen, which aerodynamically is ‘impossible’.
  • The bee’s wings stroke 11,400 times per minute,  making the distinctive ‘buzz’ sound.


Drones

The male bee, known as a drone, develops from an infertile egg laid by the queen. Drones have only one function in the hive.  It is the male drone bee that must fertilise the queen.

Drones are characterized by eyes that are twice the size of those of worker bees and queens, and a body size greater than that of worker bees, though usually smaller than the queen.  Their abdomen is stouter than the abdomen of workers or queen. Although heavy bodied, drones have to be able to fly fast enough to catch up with the queen in flight.

Their big strong wings enable them to fly after the queen when she leaves the hive to be mated. In each hive, there are only a few hundred drones (compared with thousands of their sisters) and only five or six will be able to locate the queen and fly high enough to mate with her. Once they have mated with her, they fall back to earth, dead.  All the remaining drone bees will fly back to the hive with the queen where they will live out the rest of their short life – which is only about four weeks. 

One characteristic of drones is they fly in abundance in the early afternoon and are known to congregate in drone congregation areas a good distance away from the hive.

During winter, there is no longer any use for drones to mate with a virgin queen. The worker bees bite off the male’s wings and drag the drones outside of the hive to die.  Otherwise, the drones would consume valuable food in the colder weather and reduce the possibility of the colony’s survival. To conserve the food in the hive, only worker bees stay with the queen.

Drones cannot sting whereas the worker bee has a poison gland in her abdomen. When she stings another insect (like a wasp), she can pull the stinger out of the wasp’s body and get away. So if a bee is fighting another insect, she can sting many times. But if a bee stings a person or a small animal (eg mouse) the stinger sticks in the skin and keeps pumping poison. The bee flies away pulling out her internal organs.  She is torn in half and dies.

Bees only sting if they think they or their hive are in danger. If one bee is buzzing around you, she may smell perfume, soap, or hair spray and think the smell is nectar (food). She will check you out to see if she can find the nectar, but if you stand very still, she will realize there is no nectar and go away.

Bee venom is synthesized in the venom glands of the worker and queen bee and stored in their venom sacs. Bee venom has been used since ancient times to treat arthritis and rheumatism. It can be taken orally or applied in a cream to the sore area.

Bee venom has marked effects on blood flow and tissue permeability and also appears to increase production of the natural anti-inflammatory compound cortisone.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • On average a bee will fly at 24 kph.
  • Bees have three pairs of legs — the third pair has “baskets”, and the first pair have a pollen brush.
  • It would only take 30g of honey to fuel a bee’s flight around the world.