1. Nectar Collection
Honey bees collect pollen and nectar in the spring when most flowers and plants are in bloom. They use their long, tubelike tongues like straws (called proboscis) to suck the nectar out of the flowers and they store it in their stomachs and carry it to the beehive. This is called foraging.
2. Converting Nectar to Honey
While inside the bee’s stomach for about half an hour, the nectar mixes with the proteins and enzymes produced by the bees, converting the nectar into honey.
3. Filling comb with Honey
The bees then drop the honey into the beeswax comb, which are hexagonal cells made of wax produced by the bees, and repeat the process until the combs are full.
4. Evaporating Honey
To prepare for long-term storage, the bees fan their wings to evaporate and thicken the honey (note: nectar is 80% water and honey is about 14-18% water).
5. Capping Honey
When this is done, the bees cap the honeycomb with wax and move on to the next empty comb, starting all over again.
So, in a nutshell, the honey we eat is flower nectar that honey bees have collected, regurgitated and dehydrated to enhance its nutritional properties. However, a hive only needs a small portion of honey to survive the winter, meaning that the extra honey can be harvested by beekeepers.
The beekeeper will remove the excess honey-filled combs from the beehives, and extract the liquid honey by first removing the wax cap with a sharp knife or a machine and then placing the bee hive frames in a honey extractor to get the honey out of the comb.
Beekeepers have the choice of reusing the comb by putting it back into the bee hives to be refilled with honey. In this way, the bees don’t have to re-build the comb and the beekeepers have more honey to sell.