How Do Bees Make Honey?



How do bees make honey? And... what about why they make it?

It’s truly amazing to think about.

Honey is made by a colony of honey bees living in a nest (in the wild) or in a hive if kept by a beekeeper. A typical bee hive will house about 60,000 bees, most of them workers, industriously making honey!

Bees certainly have to work very hard to make it.

On this page you'll find some great facts and figures. You might like to think about them, next time you’re tucking into honey on pancakes!


So: How do bees make honey’?

It starts with foraging worker honey bees – and flowers, of course.  The male honey bees, (the drones), do not forage for the hive, and nor does the queen honey bee.

As the weather begins to warm up, the bees will begin foraging on flowers.

They will collect the sweet nectar from flowers within a radius of around 4 miles, and this nectar will then be taken to the hive.

The bees have glands which secrete an enzyme. When the bees collect the nectar, it is then mixed with the enzyme in the bee’s mouth.

Back at the bee hive or nest, the nectar is dropped into the honeycomb. These are hexagonal shaped cells, which in the wild, the bees make themselves out of wax.


The bees fan their wings

Initially the nectar collected and stored in the cells still has a high water content. After some time, however, the water content is reduced to around 17%. This process is aided by the bees themselves, fanning their wings, which helps the water to evaporate.


Robbing the hive!

Once the nectar solution has become thicker (more concentrated), at this point, the bees will cap the cells - which means adding a layer of wax over the hexagonal shaped honeycomb cells.

Below is an image of honeycombs the bees have capped with wax*.

When bees are kept in hives, this is when beekeepers know the honey is ready to be harvested!

Beekeepers will then move in to rob the hives!!


The image right shows the process of uncapping - which is removing the wax cappings from the combs*.

I was once asked:

'How do bees make honey in the winter, when it's very cold and there are fewer flower blossoms from which they can gather nectar?'

The answer is that honey bees do not go foraging in winter when it's too cold - instead, the honey is their winter food!

What this really means, is that beekeepers are essentially removing the honey bees' winter food stores.  Some beekeepers remove all of the honey, then replace this with sugar solution (which is less nutritious for bees), however, responsible beekeepers will not do this.  A fair-minded beekeeper will only take away what the honey bee colony can  afford to lose, leaving the rest to the bees themselves.

The honey the bees have stored can keep in these capped cells of the honeycomb indefinitely for the honey bees to eat when they need it, and when they will not be able to forage. During the winter, the colony will need to continue feeding around 20,000 workers and a queen.

So in answer to the question about 'how bees make honey', the answer lies in much hard work from honey bees, especially during spring and summer! Honey bee workers born and active during this time will live for around 6 or 7 weeks, whereas those born in autumn may live 4 to 6 months!

Now some interesting facts and figures relating to how bees make honey:

Amazing facts about bees and honey

  • To produce a pound of honey, foraging bees have to fly a whopping 55,000 miles!

  • That’s a lot of honey bees, working very hard, because each honey bee will only produce around one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey in its life!

  • Oh, and that’s despite the fact that a foraging honey bee visits up to 100 flowers – per foraging trip.

  • So no wonder it takes about 556 foraging bees to visit 2 million flowers, just to make a pound of honey!



Looking out for bees


This brings me to my point about the preciousness of honey, and bee-welfare.

  • The bees need honey for its nutrients. Ideally, a beekeeper will only remove some of the honey from the bees, and will leave behind enough honey for the bees to eat over the winter months. 
    There are times when beekeepers must help honey bees by feeding sugar water (sugar syrup) - for example, after a poor summer with not enough flowers or occasions when bees can go out to forage.  You can read more about why beekeepers feed sugar syrup to bees here.
  • I have included a comparison of honey and sugar on this site. You can find it on my page honey vs sugar.
  • Bees, due to agricultural practice, may be forced to forage on fields drenched in pesticides. For this reason, I recommend you purchase organic honey to help support more ecologically friendly land management practice, which is better for honey bees and other pollinators. If this is not possible for you, you may wish to purchase from a local beekeeper you trust.


So, the bees go to a lot of effort to make honey. 

Meanwhile, beekeepers go to a fair bit of expense and effort in setting up hives and keeping bees in order bring you the honey you use on your bread or pancakes.

I think this is important to remember.

In an era where supermarkets compete with each other on price, to some extent, we've lost touch with the preciousness and indeed specialness of products like honey.

The focus is on 'cheap', but ultimately, I'm not so sure there is any such thing as 'cheap'. In some countries, for example, some of the honey is not true, pure honey - for one thing, it may be mixed with corn syrup. See my honey buying tips.


You can help honey bees by planting flower seeds for Honey Bees.





When and why do beekeepers feed sugar to honey bees?

Read






Wacky Fact!

Did You Know?


Male honey bees (drones) have no father, but they do have a grandfather!

Does that sound impossible?


Read more about Drones!














Why do bees need nectar and pollen?

Read



How do bees collect pollen?

Read



Do bees sleep?
Apparently they do, but how do we know?

Read




Wacky Fact

Did you know?

If the honey bee queen is removed from a hive, within 15 minutes, the rest of the colony will know about it!


Read more about the honey bee queen












Find out more about why bees make honey here.
So now we have answered the question How do bees make honey?, why not find out why they make it?


What exactly is honey? Find out here.


Old wives' tales, or are there really any health benefits of honey?


Find out more about the wonderful world of honey bees, go from How do bees make honey? to one of these links!




Read these fun Honey Bee Facts!

Learn more about honey bees

Find out about the honey bee life cycle.




* Image by User:Ben pcc - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19217325


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Wacky Fact

Did you know?

If the honey bee queen is removed from a hive, within 15 minutes, the rest of the colony will know about it!


Read more about the honey bee queen