One of my favorite beekeeping-related activities is visiting schools and events to tell people about bees! Later this week, I will be visiting a preschool to do just that. They sent me a great list of questions from the kids. Since there were so many awesome questions, I thought I would post them here. Keep your eye out for the second installment later in the week.
How do bees make honey?
This is a fairly complex question, worthy of its own post, but the simple answer is that bees gather nectar, which is a sugary liquid that flowers produce. They drink the nectar, and store it in a special organ called a crop, or “honey stomach”.
Inside the honey stomach, the nectar gets inoculated with special microbes which will ferment it a little, and help give it that unique honey flavor.
When the bees get home, they regurgitate the nectar into the cells. If this sounds gross to you, just remember, the bee’s crop isn’t anything like a human stomach. It’s not all full of half chewed food and acid. It’s full of nectar and a bit of pollen, not chewed up pizza.
The nectar gets dehydrated in the cell and thickens into honey. The moisture content (water) in honey can vary between 12% and 22% but in the honey industry, anything over 18% water is not technically honey, and isn’t suitable for sale (if there is too much water, the honey will eventually ferment into mead, which is the topic of a whole other post!)
How do bees gather pollen?
Bees use little hairs on their front legs to scoop the pollen up from a flower, then pass it back to a special part of their hind leg called the corbicula, or “pollen basket”. The corbicula is a small concave area, where the bee can pack pollen. There are several long hairs on the corbicula which help to hold the pollen in place.
In addition to the corbicula, the bee’s hind leg has three other special structures that help them get this job done. The rake and comb, which are two groups of hairs that help pull pollen from the front legs, and the press, which the bee uses to pack the pollen into a ball. Sometimes the bee will regurgitate a small about of nectar from her crop to help make the pollen sticky so it clumps better.