Interestingly enough, honeybees are not native to the United States. They originated in Europe (Southeast Asia), and were brought here by the early settlers.
Out of 20,000 species of bees, only 4 make honey. Honeybees are a subset of bees in the genus Apis, and are distinguished by the fact that they produce honey and build colonial nests out of wax, commonly called beeswax. There are currently only seven recognized species of honeybee with over 40 subspecies, though historically, anywhere from six to eleven species have been recognized. Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis are true honeybees.
The honeybee hive is perennial. Although for the most part, inactive during the winter, honeybees survive by clustering to stay warm. They stop flying when the temperature drops below 50 °F and cluster into the center of the hive. Amazingly, by self-regulating the internal temperature of the cluster, the bees maintain 93 degrees Fahrenheit in the center, regardless of the outside temperature. They never sleep!
This is accomplished by the worker bees huddling around the queen bee at the center of the cluster, shivering in order to keep the center between 81 °F at the start of winter and 93 °F once the queen resumes laying. The worker bees rotate through the cluster from the outside to the inside so that no bee gets too cold. A hive consists of twenty to thirty thousand bees in the winter, and up to eighty thousand in the summer. They consume their stored honey to produce body heat. The amount consumed depends on the length and severity of the winter season, but ranges in temperate climates from 30 to 100 pounds. Bees communicate with each other by dancing and by using scents.
Honeybees are normally about 3/4 of an inch long. They are a highly organized society, with various bees having very specific roles throughout their lifetime. There are three types of bees in the hive – Queen, Worker and Drone.
While the queen bee can live up to several years, worker bees only live for approximately six weeks during the busy summer as they literally work themselves to death, and four to nine months during the winter. All of the worker bees are female, but are not able to reproduce. The majority of the bees in a hive are worker bees. The worker bees sequentially take on a series of specific chores during their lifetime: housekeeper; nursemaid; construction worker; grocer; undertaker; guard; and finally, after 21 days they become a forager collecting pollen and nectar.
The drone bee is a male and is kept on standby during the summer months for mating with a virgin queen. There are anywhere from three hundred to three thousand drone bees in a hive. The drone or male bee does not have a stinger, it has a barbed sex organ and after mating, it dies. Because the drone bee is of no use in the winter, they are expelled from the hive in the fall.
There is only one queen per hive. The queen is the only bee with fully developed ovaries. The queen mates only once with several male (drone) bees, and will remain fertile for life. She may lay 600-800 or even 1,500 eggs each day during her lifetime. She is constantly fed and groomed by the worker bees. The queen will lay eggs in the honeycomb cells and babies, called larvae, will make a cocoon and hatch out as adult bees.
Fertilized eggs become female worker bees and unfertilized eggs become male drone bees. When the queen bee dies or becomes unproductive, the other bees will make a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it a diet of royal jelly. Royal jelly is made of pollen that is chewed up and mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in the nursing bee. It takes 16 days from egg to emergence for queen bees. The first new queen will kill all the others, and become queen of the hive.
Bees feed on honey all year round. They also use pollen (produced by flowering plants) as food, feeding it to the queen. A hive of bees collects up to 66 lbs of pollen per year. Pollen is one of the richest and purest foods. It is very good for you as it is all natural and contains protein, minerals, and vitamins.
Honeybees are not aggressive by nature, and do not sting unless they are protecting their hive from an intruder or are provoked. Although sharp pain, swelling and itching are natural reactions to a sting, only a small percentage of individuals are highly allergic to their venom. They have five eyes, 3 small ones on top of the head and two big ones in front.
Agriculture depends on honeybees for pollination. Remember me talking about having to hand pollinate our crops before we got the bees. Without pollination, we would see a significant decrease in fruit and vegetable harvests. Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination.
How is honey made?
Flowers and other blossoming plants have nectarines that produce sugary nectar. Worker bees suck up the nectar and water and store it in a special stomach. When their stomach is full, the bee returns to the hive and puts the nectar in an empty honeycomb. Natural chemicals from the bee’s head glands and the evaporation of the water from the nectar change the nectar into honey.
Honey Bees are attracted to flowers with bright colors, but they cannot see red. When a bee enters a flower, it has to go down deep to get to the nectar. While drinking nectar, the bee gets covered with pollen and also collects pollen in its pollen basket (part of its hind legs). When the bee moves on to another flower, some of the pollen from the first flower rubs off on the second flower. This process is called pollination.
A single honeybee will only produce approximately 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. To make one pound of honey, the bees in the colony must visit 2 million flowers, fly over 55,000 miles and will be the lifetime work of approximately 768 bees. Now you know why honey is so expensive, but well worth it. A single honeybee will visit 50-100 flowers on a single trip, usually flying approximately 3 miles from the hive at 15 miles per hour. Their wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, making their distinctive buzz sound.
Honey benefits are enormous and not just for skin care. It is all natural, easy to digest and has antibacterial qualities. Eating local honey can help with allergies as well. Honey is 80% sugars and 20% water. It has natural humectants properties, which simply put, means that it attracts moisture to your skin. It is also full of antioxidants. There are many types, colors and flavors of honey, depending upon its nectar source. Numerous products are made from honey including our own handmade honey soap. Because the honey varies in color, so does our soap as we only use all natural ingredients.
The pollen also colors the honey and the wax, which is another reason why you may see color variations in our soaps. Our honey soap uses honey and our hard hand lotion uses the bees wax.
Beeswax is secreted from honeybee’s glands, and is used to build the honeycomb. Besides being the key ingredient in our hard hand lotion, it is also used in drugs, cosmetics and candles among other things.
Did you know?
Honey is the ONLY food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.
A typical beehive can make up to 400 pounds of honey per year.
Honey never spoils.
It would take about 1 ounce of honey to fuel a honeybee’s flight around the world.
Although Utah enjoys the title “The Beehive State,” the top honey-producing states include California, Florida, and South Dakota.
While I love learning about and caring for the bees, I also love to harvest the honey and make our handmade soap, lotion and lip balm. I invite you to try our luxury skin care products and maybe a jar of our delicious, all natural honey too.
We will be posting videos and pictures of us harvesting and processing the honey as well as making our handmade soaps so be sure to check us out on Facebook, Pinterest and You Tube. Drop us a line, or a tweet or pin or post…we would love to hear what you think.
Now that you have learned all about honeybees, we thought it would be fun to share how we actually harvest the honey (and beeswax) from our hand raised and nurtured beehives. This process takes quite a long time but it is so worth it when we get to pamper ourselves and nourish our skin (and we say skin because we use it for much more than just our hands) with the amazing, Hard Hand Lotion made from the beeswax. Sorry, I get excited when I start talking about our handmade lotions, soaps and lip balms because they are so incredible. Back to harvesting…
Before we begin preparing the hives to harvest the honey and beeswax, we darn the armor of our bee-fortified safety gear. This includes, a veiled hat specially designed for beekeeping and gloves. We really should wear bee-proof overalls but they are a little to warm for our Central Florida weather.
After we have our protective gear on, we fill a hand held smoker with pine needles and light it. We use puffs of the smoke around the entrance to the hive(s) as we remove the top (doing one at a time), to drive the bees into the lower part of the hive so that we can remove the inner cover.
Next we are ready to remove the honey supers from the hive. Once all of the bees have moved down, we take the honey super that is ready for harvest inside and let it sit for a couple of days to dehydrate. At this point, it is ready for extraction.
The first step to extract the honey is to remove the frame from the hive and uncap the wax-sealed honeycomb using a hot knife or scraper. You have to uncap both sides of the frame. “Decapping” basically breaks open the beeswax from the honeycomb and releases the honey so you can spin it out. We set the cappings aside as they are a key ingredient in some of our beauty supply products.
We set the frame on top of the open extractor or centrifuge while we decap it so that any honey that drips during this part of the process falls into the extractor.
After the frame is decapped, we place it into the extractor (these come in hand-cranked and electric versions), ours happens to be a hand crank – lucky me. Hey, I figure, it’s good exercise. Anyway, once you have as many frames that will fit in the extractor decapped and inserted, we spin the frames, forcing the honey to the walls of the drum where they drip to the bottom. The extractor’s drum has a spigot at the bottom to release the honey. When the honey starts to build up in the bottom of the extractor, it becomes very difficult to churn. That’s when we know it’s time to open the spigot and strain the honey through three sieves to remove any stray bits of wax. We take the beeswax particles and set them aside to use in our hard hand lotion.
Now we are ready to bottle the honey. Using clean, sterilized bottles, we fill the jars, label them and get them ready to sell. We always keep a nice stash set aside to make our luscious honey soap and to drizzle some fresh honey on a nice hot, homemade biscuit! Yum! It doesn’t get any better than that.
After the honey is extracted from the honeycomb, we store the frames to return to the hives.
We take the cappings leftover from decapping stage, melt them down and then let them cool. Any leftover honey falls to the bottom of the pan and the beeswax remains on top. We take the wax off the top and melt it again and pour it through a filter to remove any particles like bee wings etc., to get the clean, pure beeswax that we use to make our Hard hand lotion. Now that you know the work that goes into it, doesn’t it make you want it all the more?
While I love learning about and caring for the bees, I also love to harvest the honey and make our handmade soap, lotion and lip balm.
We will be posting videos and pictures of us harvesting and processing the honey as well as making our handmade soaps so be sure to check us out on Facebook, Pinterest and You Tube. Drop us a line, or a tweet or pin or post…we would love to hear what you think. Better yet, we would love for you to try our luxury skin care products! We are sure after you try them, you will feel like a natural beauty and want to make these a regular part of your beauty supply and skin care regime.