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24 September 2014
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Busy bee - the beekeeper Mike Thurlow

Making honey

Making honey is a process governed by nature and three factors are necessary to achieve success. Firstly, you need the bees, second, you need the flowers, and last, but definitely not least, you need the right weather.

The right weather varies for different plants, but it is normally warm and dry.

When the weather is right, the flowers secrete nectar.

If nectar is present, honeybees are enticed and suck the nectar from the flowers, simultaneously collecting pollen on their bodies, which then pollinates the next flower as they travel from plant to plant.

For each pound of honey produced, each bee must visit 3.3m florets, so there is a lot of work to be done.

Honey dance

The honey dance is performed by special bees, called 'Scout Bees' whose job is to locate nectar and relay directions to their comrades back at the hive.

Scout bees dance in a figure-of-eight, the axis of the eight denotes the direction to the plant relative to the sun, and the number of 8's they dance indicates the distance to travel.

Honeycomb with bees

Honeycomb full of bees

That way each honeybee can set off on their journey with an itinerary, and equipped with enough honey to keep them energised until their return, loaded with nectar.

Nectar contains a sugar called sucrose, and the bees have special 'honey stomachs' which contain an enzyme that stops the honey from fermenting.

The enzyme also breaks down the sugar into glucose and fructose.

This is passed from bee to bee and each time is broken down more and more, until finally, it is ready to be transferred into a cell in the bees wax.

Fan dance

The next stage of honey manufacture is a sight not to be missed.

The bees need to reduce the moisture content of the honey in the cells from 80% to 20% water, and to do that all the bees have to line up and buzz like crazy, fanning an air current around the hive.

This creates a huge roaring noise and a wonderful aromatic smell.

When the cells are full, the bees make more wax and cap off the cells to create their very own storage container for times of shortage like winter.

Bees on glass

Hive of activity

When they need it, all they do is chew off the wax cap, and dinner is served.

When the cells are full, the Beekeepers remove them, replacing the wax with recycled honeycombs so the bees can get to work again.

They always make sure the bees still have enough honey to tide them over during honey droughts!

The Beekeepers then collect the honey through a process of centrifuging and distilling until pure clean honey drips out.

Each of Mike Thurlow's honeys is made from a specific location and has a unique flavour.

All that is left is to bottle the honeys and take them to market… and to your table.

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last updated: 17/10/07

You are in: Inside Out > East > Making honey

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