How is honey made from Nectar?

Honeybees will travel several miles to collect nectar from plants. The nectar is the plants' reward to the honeybees for the pollination services they give to the plant. Nectar is drawn into the bees honey stomach whilst on the plant and invertase, an enzyme produced by the bees, starts to work immediately converting (inverting) the sugars to fructose and glucose. Once back in the hive the honey is transferred to other bees where the action of the enzyme continues. The honey as we can now call it, may be consumed immediately. If it to be stored, it is spread inside the cells of the honeycomb and the bees fan it to evaporate off the water content. If too much water is present the honey will ferment. Once the water content has been reduced the honey will be capped within the honeycomb. Here it will not deteriorate for several years and is the bees main winter food source. Higher levels of glucose will cause the honey to set sooner than otherwise, for example honey from oil seed rape and ivy both set quite quickly. When the honeybee is full of honey, she hangs her back legs down to counterbalance the weight of the honey when flying back to the nest.


This picture shows workers fanning at the entrance of a hive one early autumn evening during an ivy honey flow.

Pollen is collected and brought back in pollen baskets on the bees' back legs which you can see easily. Unlike honey it is usually taken into the hive by the collecting bees themselves and packed in the comb. Bees rarely collect both honey and pollen.

There is a small amount of pollen in the honey and some people report that taking honey derived from local plants can reduce the symptoms of hay fever and allergies, although to build up an immunity from the pollens that can cause hay-fever may take a few years. It is not certain if it is the pollen grains in the honey or other ingredients from local plants that can help in the perceived reduction of allergic symptoms. Other ingredients added to honey by the bees have anti-fungal properties. Oh the clever little things!

Honeybee collecting pollen in Norfolk
Honeybee collecting pollen from ceanothus