Sweet Life Science: Beekeeping

The queen is the biggest bee in the hive and the only bee that lays the eggs that become larva, then pupa and finally the female worker bees and male drones that populate the hive.

The eggs are small, white, and elongated, appearing similar to grains of rice (right insert picture).

After three days they hatch into a larvae (left insert picture). The next picture actually provides a better view of honeybee larvae.

The larvae appear as C-shaped, white “worms” and grow over the next six days to fill the whole bottom of the cell.

Worker bees then cap the cells with wax.

This is capped brood. At this point the bees are in their pupal stage.

After about 12 days, adult bees emerge from their capped cells.

You’ll find a cool video of a “bee birthday” on our YouTube channel.

Read more below about these “worker bees” and the different roles they play in the hive.

Not pictured here (perhaps they are shy) the hive will also include a number of drones. Drones are the male bees. They are bigger than the female worker bees. They have no stinger and don’t do much except eat, fly and mate with queens from other colonies. Before you think that sounds like a pretty good deal please know that they die as soon as they mate.

The bees you see out and about on flowers and trees are “worker bees”. Most of the bees in the hive are workers. These are all female bees but are not fertile. They can’t normally lay eggs. If the queen dies the female worker bees may lay eggs..but because “workers” are not mated, their eggs are not fertilized and will only develop into drones.

[Did you catch that: the eggs of a laying worker are not fertilized but will still develop in to a male bee…a drone. How can that be? We’ll add more Sweet Life Science material a bit later but this is possible because drones are “haploid” and have only one set of chromosomes. A laying worker’s egg only carry half of the queens 32 chromosomes. More on this later but it’s nature’s way of enhancing hive population diversity and sustainability thru time.]

So, it’s the workers who make the honey. Workers have different roles depending on how old they are. They:
do the housework
build wax comb
maintain the interior temperatures of the hive
guard the hive against intruders (they can sting, but then they die)
forage for nectar, pollen and water in the later stage of their life
The nectar found in flowers is the main ingredient for honey and also the main source of energy for bees.

To make honey, worker honey bees may fly up to 2.5 miles away from the hive to visit between 50 and 100 flowers per trip. A strong colony may visit up to 50 million flowers each day.

Using a long straw-like tongue called a proboscis, honey bees suck up nectar droplets from the flower’s special nectar-making organ, called the nectary.

When the nectar reaches the bee’s honey stomach, the stomach begins to break down the complex sugars of the nectar into more simple sugars that are less prone to crystallization or becoming solid. This process is called “inversion”.

Once a worker honeybee returns to the colony, it passes the nectar onto another younger bee called a house bee (between 12-17 days old).

House bees take the nectar inside the colony and pack it away in beeswax honey cells. They then turn the nectar into honey by drying it out using a warm breeze made with their wings.

Once the honey has dried out, they seal the honey using beeswax. At this point the honey will store in the hive and be consumed by the bees as needed to get them though the winter until flowers and tress are producing nectar again. It’s also ready for us to harvest a little for ourselves.

The acceptable percentage of naturally occurring water in honey is between 15.5% and 18.6%. The best quality honey as judged in competitions is between 15.5% and 17%, but up to 18.6%, it is still excellent quality.

At Springboro Tree Farms we measure the moisture content of honey with a honey refract meter just to make sure it will not ferment and spoil. You’ll find a number of fun videos on our Facebook page and our YouTube channel on how we extract and process our honey.