Honey is bees’ way of storing the nectar they collect. It is both food and a high-octane fuel.
Bees collect nectar, bring it back to the hive and deposit it into the hexagonal wax cells they build. Over the course of a few days, they add enzymes and other substances from their bodies, and evaporate water from the nectar. When the water content becomes less than about 15%, the cell is sealed with wax, preventing it from rehydrating. It will then keep for years.
Honey stores accumulated during the rest of the year keep the bees alive during the winter months when it is too cold to fly and there are few flowering plants.
But most of it is used as fuel to keep the young bees in the brood nest heated to about 35°C in spring and summer. We now know that bees’ wing muscles can heat up to 45ºC. ‘Heater bees’ unhook their wings from the muscle, and lie on the comb vibrating hotly, while other bees bring them honey as fuel.
People also like honey and most beekeepers harvest it. If we do this, we have a responsibility to either leave them enough for the winter and/or feed them sugar when required.
The taste and colour of honey vary greatly. It depends on the flowers that provided the nectar. London honey is highly prized for its complex flavours as cities usually have a greater diversity of flowers and a longer flowering season.
Some of our members may have honey to sell. Please email us if you’re interested in finding out more.