I've been working on a compilation of interesting trivia about honeybees and honey and would like to post it here for your comments. This is a printout that I plan to give to my honey customers- most of which know little about bees and honey. So I've endeavored to write so that a "layman" can understand without delving into the details and exceptions to the rules that most of us know about when dealing with bees.
Take a look and give me an honest critique.
The following is a collection of interesting facts about honeybees and honey that I compiled to answer many of the questions that people ask regarding my hobby with these fascinating insects.
The honey you have was produced this spring from three bee colonies that reside in my backyard. To make the honey, the bees gathered nectar from literally millions of flowers of several different species within a 2- 3 mile radius of the colonies. These nectar sources include Clover, Holly, Dandelion, Yellow Poplar, Blackberry, Privet and many other wildflowers and landscape plants.
An average beehive contains 40,000 to 60,000 bees during the late spring and early summer. Honeybees usually fly up to 3 miles from their hive in search of nectar and pollen. During flight, a bee’s wings beat incredibly fast at about 11,000 times per minute (that’s an almost unbelievable 183 beats/second!). Forager bees collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make a pound of honey. It's estimated that, collectively, the bees in a hive must fly more than 55,000 miles to bring in enough nectar to make that 1 pound of honey. Each forager honeybee visits 50-100 flowers during each collection trip and brings back about a drop of nectar each time. Yet the average forager collects only enough nectar to make about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. In a good year with favorable weather, a well-managed colony can make a surplus of honey of between 60 and 100 lbs.
During the warmer months, a honeybee's average lifespan is only about 38 days. The queen can live a 3 to 4 year lifespan and can lay up to 1,500 eggs each day. This daily egg production may equal her own weight. Somehow she is able to control which type of egg she lays- those that become female worker bees or male drone bees. Attendant worker bees take care of her every need by feeding and grooming her. Bees maintain a temperature of 92-93 degrees Fahrenheit in their central brood nest regardless of whether the outside temperature is a hot 110 or minus 40 degrees.
Honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans. The nectar brought into the hive by forager bees must be dehydrated to have less than 20% water. The bees do this mostly by increasing air flow through the hive by fanning their wings at the entrance. This air flow and the natural warmth of the hive pulls the moisture out of the nectar. The bees sense when the honey is “ripe” and then store the cured honey by capping it with a thin layer of wax. At this point, if moisture doesn’t reenter the honey, it will never spoil. Edible honey has reportedly been found in ancient tombs that were over 3000 years old.
Honeybees are considered one of the most efficient insect pollinators. Over time, through natural selection, they have developed the right anatomy and foraging technique to pollinate plant flowers while going about their drive to collect and store nectar and pollen. This results in bees pollinating 95 crops in the U.S. and adding about 14 billion dollars annually to improved crop yield and quality. Over 3/4 of the crop plants that feed the world rely on pollination by insects (including honeybees) to produce fruits and nuts. On average, one out of every three bites of food is made possible by honeybee pollination.
Returning foragers perform a complex “waggle dance” inside the hive which alerts other bees to nectar and pollen foraging areas. This dance explains direction and distance to nectar, pollen or water sources. The bees translate the dance (in total darkness within the hive) into directional cues by relating them to the sun’s position in the sky. This allows them to navigate to a specific area, even correcting for wind-drift. On very cloudy days, when few UV rays are present, the bees must rely on landmarks alone. Communication and cohesion within the hive is maintained by several different pheromones produced by bees in varying amounts according to age and caste (female worker, male drone or queen).
Honey has been used for centuries as an effective antiseptic for wounds since bacteria, viruses and fungi cannot survive in it. When a bandage with honey is placed on a wound it reacts with wound fluids to produce a small but potent dose of hydrogen peroxide. The high sugar content and the dryness of the honey also dehydrates and kills the microbes. Treating wounds with honey is making a comeback because of concerns over bacterial resistance to antibiotics. In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved bandage dressings treated with honey produced with nectar from the manuka tree in New Zealand.
Many people use honey (as well as pollen, bee venom, propolis, and royal jelly) for a variety of ailments with apparent success. Some with multiple sclerosis have used bee venom to help alleviate symptoms. Most arthritis sufferers experience more flexibility and less pain after undergoing bee venom therapy. Others with seasonal allergies eat local honey each day so that the small amount of pollen in the honey will decrease their bodies’ immune response to pollen in the environment, thus decreasing their allergy symptoms.
Most honeybee colonies that are properly managed are not easily provoked to sting. Compared to other stinging insects, like yellow jackets, wasps and hornets, they are much less defensive of their colony. Forager honeybees seen out gathering nectar will almost never sting. Mass stinging incidents that make the news are caused by Africanized honeybees that have migrated from South America into the U.S. This sub-species of honeybee is spreading throughout the southern states (although they are still not close to our area) and causing problems when animals and people accidentally come too close to their colony. At this time it's uncertain just how far north they will migrate and still be able to survive colder winter temperatures.
Virtually all pure, unprocessed honey in a container will eventually crystallize if stored long enough- some types in a few weeks, and some not for several years. If your honey crystallizes in the jar just place the container in hot water (about 120 degrees) and let stand until completely liquefied. a warm oven heated to no more than 150 degrees will also liquefy honey after a couple of hours) Never put honey in the microwave! It tends to destroy much of the overall flavor as well as its antioxidant properties, vitamins and minerals. Most store-bought honey is heated to a high temperature and pressure-filtered to keep it from granulating while on the store shelf. Unfortunately, this also harms the flavor and destroys it's health benefits. Store honey at room temperature; never in the refrigerator or any other cool environment.