How Honey is Made
Official definition from the Rules on Honey:
Honey is a natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants or from the secretions of the living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on plants. Bees collect it, transform it by combining it with specific substances of their own, deposit it, dehydrate it, store it and leave it in honeycombs to ripen and mature.
Honey bees feed on honey, pollen and of course water. Flowering plants and fruit trees, as well as lime trees and chestnut trees, are an abundant source of pollen and nectar for bees. Bees work tirelessly to bring the pollen to the hive in a curbiculum or pollen basket. The collected pollen is sometimes called pollen pellets.
The forest is the source of honeydew for bees, a substance secreted by aphids or leaf lice, scale-bugs and flatid planthoppers (Metcalfa pruinosa). Unfortunately, flatid planthoppers have not been present in Slovenia for around 10 years.
In spring, when the temperatures reach around 12 degrees C, bees begin to leave the hives and start foraging for food.
In Slovenia, the first bee pasture is produced by flowering trees (in the Littoral area and Prekmurje by acacia), hazels, willows and the first flowers (snowdrops, primroses…), followed by other meadow flowers, such as dandelion, and by fruit trees. Wild cherry is very important for bees, as well as lime trees in later periods. In the summer, the forest is an important source of food, with flowering chestnut trees, and spruce and white silver-fir trees producing honeydew.
Humans have not domesticated bees, but they have learnt how to breed them, care for them, and harvest sweet honey in return. Nowadays consumers pay great attention to the varieties of honey. Depending on the type of pasture, honey can be categorised as flower or nectar honey and honeydew honey.
Nectar honey: flower, acacia, dandelion, sage, thyme…
Honeydew honey: forest, spruce, white silver-fir…
Forager bees bring the nectar or honeydew into the hive and transfer it to the young hive bees. The young hive bees regurgitate a very small quantity of nectar several times from their honey stomach, and keep it at the end of their proboscis for several seconds (this may take up to 20 min, for a single droplet). Thus honey is enriched with the secretion from their glands. Once the nectar thickens, it is safely stored into a comb cell. Here honey will be left to ripen for three to four days. Once the water content falls under 20% (18% on average), the bees cap the cell with wax to seal it. Honey is ripe and ready for extraction when at least 2/3 of the comb surface is filled-in. If we start extracting honey too soon then its water content will be too high, which will gradually lead to fermentation in the jars (the honey starts forming bubbles, develops a sour smell and begins escaping from the jars).
It is now the beekeeper’s turn to start work. Beekeepers check if the honey chambers in the hives are full, and if the results are to their satisfaction they may begin with extraction. They will remove the filled-in honey combs and transfer them into a clean room with running water, washable surfaces (tiles) and clean tools. First the waxed comb is uncapped by means of a special rake or knife, the combs thus prepared are then placed into a spinning extractor. Due to centrifugal force, the honey is extracted from the cells and runs towards the bottom of the extractor, and from there into a honey vat with a filter. Honey must be filtered twice in order to remove all the wax debris or even dead bees. After approximately two days foam starts to form on the surface, and a conscientious beekeeper will remove this with a spoon and start pouring honey into glass jars.
Jars receive a label with the basic data on the beekeeper, honey and a traceability lot number. Officially, honey has a shelf life according to Rules on honey. Many consider honey to be imperishable.
Honey is a very important and healthy sweetener and nutrient. For example: common table sugar, sucrose, is a disaccharide. Bees, however, use their enzymes to decompose it into monosaccharides, such as fructose and glucose, which makes honey more digestible. Honey also contains minerals (22 elements), organic acids, vitamins and proteins,
Crystallisation of Honey
Honey crystallisation is a natural process that eventually occurs to all types of honey. Due to the resulting semi-solid state, such honey has been called “strd” ( “solidified”) in some Slovenian regions, such as Carinthia. Some types of honey crystallise sooner than others (like colza and lime honey).
What else do beekeepers have on offer
Creamed Honey: when liquid honey is mixed with crystallised honey then rapid crystallisation occurs, resulting in finer crystals. Most often it is colza honey that is used in this process.
Honey with Cinnamon: it is well known that honey in combination with cinnamon has many medicinal properties (for toothache, headache, cardiovascular protection, lower cholesterol levels, working against bladder inflammation, and for digestive system cleansing)
Honey with Pollen: pollen, too, has many positive effects (such as on difficulties with the prostate of osteoporosis)
Other apiculture products: royal jelly, pollen, propolis, virgin honeycomb, beeswax…