The honeybee has a delicate body, a short life and many enemies in the world, and yet is not phased and continues to be one of the most amazing creatures on earth. Every day the honeybee goes about her business collecting nectar and pollen from the flowers and taking it back to the hive so that future generations of bees can survive. And of course so we can enjoy the beautiful honey the bees produce, only they don’t realise that is one of the purposes of their actions! The bee is willing to die to defend the hive, a very dedicated animal.
Even though throughout history man and animals have collected beehives for the taste of honey, the honeybee has survived and adapted. Some 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, hieroglyphics show the story of the bee’s life. Primitive man had discovered the delight of honey even then and for centuries honey was the only sweetener available. Aristotle wrote of the bee in 4 B.C and Virgil the poet continued the story over 300 years later. In England under Saxon rule, honey was accepted by some landlords as part-payment for rent. The bee and its honey had truly earned a valuable place in society.
In the 1800’s, in Philadelphia, Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, a minister and teacher, invented his own version of the beehive. It was a rectangular wooden box in which he stood a row of frames. Each frame provided a place for bees to build the wax cells that form the honeycomb. The frames could be taken out separately so that one honeycomb could be removed without hurting the others. The Langstroth hive is used by all Australian beekeepers today.
Introducing the Bee to Australia
The honeybee is not native to Australia. The colonists who came to Australia in its early days missed so many of their home comforts that they tried to introduce many of them to their new country. Plants, trees, animals, birds and many other reminders of home were introduced during those early years. The honeybee was brought to Australia in the early 1820’s. The bee thrived so successfully that other bee species were introduced from Italy, Yugoslavia and North America.
The efficiency of the industry of the honeybee is astounding. Inside the beehive each bee has a special job to do and the whole process runs smoothly. Bees need two different kinds of food. One is honey made from nectar, the sugary juice that collects in the heart of the flowers. The other comes from the anthers of flowers, which contain numerous small grains called pollen. As a bee sucks nectar from the flower, it is stored in its special honey stomach ready to be transferred to the honey-making bees in the hive. If hungry the bee opens a valve in the nectar “sack” and a portion of the food passes through to the bees own stomach to be converted to energy for its own needs.
The bee is a magnificent flying machine, it can carry nectar or pollen close to its own weight. Even the most advanced aircraft can only take off with a load one-quarter of its own weight. When the nectar “sacks” are full, the honeybee returns to the hive.
Nectar is delivered to one of the indoor bees and is then passed mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee until its moisture content is reduced from about 70% to 20%. This changes the nectar into honey. Finally, the honey is placed in storage cells and capped with beeswax in readiness for the arrival of newborn baby bees. Pollen is mixed with nectar to make “bee bread” and is fed to the larvae. A baby bee needs food rich in protein if the bee community is to flourish. Before returning to the flower again for more pollen, the bee combs, cleans and cares for itself. Not because the bee is vain but so it can work more efficiently. Throughout the bee’s life cycle, the bee will work tirelessly collecting pollen, bring it back to the hive, clean herself, then set out for more pollen. Forager bees start out from the hive when they are just three weeks old. As they live to be only six or seven weeks old they have much work to do and little time in which to do it. It takes 300 bees about three weeks to gather 450 g of honey. On average, a hive contains 40,000 bees.
So as you can see the delicious natural honey and honey products we enjoy here in Australia have been produced by shear hard work from a tireless population of bees!