What is honey? Interesting facts:
Honey is a sweet, thick syrup made by • People have collected honey for thousands
honeybees from nectar. Nectar contains of years. Until the Middle Ages, honey
approximately 70% water and 17% honey. was the primary sweetener in food.
After the bee has collected the nectar, she will
• For every pound of honey produced, bees
store it in a special organ called the honey sac.
fly over 50 000 km, which is more than
Enzymes in the honey sac change large
once around the Earth.
complex sugars in nectar, called
polysaccharides, into simple sugars called
monosaccharides. Upon return to the hive, Where is honey produced in
the foraging bee will transfer the partially Nova Scotia?
converted nectar to house bees, which will Bees are kept in all counties of Nova Scotia.
then remove most of the water through The largest concentration is in the Annapolis
evaporation. Valley (Kings, Hants and Annapolis counties)
Colchester and Pictou counties.
When the water content of the honey has
been reduced to less than 20%, the bees will How much honey do we produce?
store the honey in the cells of the wax comb.
The excess moisture is removed by The estimated value of honey produced in
evaporation as a result of the rapid fanning of Nova Scotia is approximately $1.5 million.
the bees wings over the nectar cells in the hive. Besides producing honey and beeswax,
Since honey contains so little water, microbes beekeepers rent hives to blueberry producers
such as bacteria and molds cannot grow in it. for blueberry pollination and sell hives and
For this reason, honey can be stored for a long queen bees. Bees are very important as
time. Honey contains simple sugars that are pollinators for all fruit crops. Approximately
readily absorbed by the body. Pollen grains 17 000 colonies are used for blueberry
and a wide variety of other substances such as pollination with a value of over $1.3 million
minerals and vitamins are also present in small to beekeepers.
How is honey produced?
Differences in honey colour, aroma and taste
A beekeeper is called an apiarist, the boxes the
are determined by the flower source, not by
bees live in are called hives, and the place
the honeybees. When honey has been left
where hives are kept is called an apiary. There
standing in a cool place, sugar crystals form.
can be 50 000 - 80 000 bees in one hive with
This is a natural process and can be "undone"
one queen bee, thousands of worker bees
by warming the honey. The bees use the
(females) and only a few hundred drones
honey as a carbohydrate source to feed
(males). The queen bee can lay as many as
2000 eggs per day. The eggs are laid in
46 “Growing Nova Scotia”
beeswax cells. The beeswax is produced by honey are in the super. The frames are wooden
glands on the underside of the worker bees. or plastic with a wax foundation. The bees
The wax is secreted in flakes and then chewed will draw out the cells, fill them, and cap
by the worker bees until it is suitable to form them with a layer of wax. When working with
the cells. the hives, beekeepers wear special protective
coveralls with mesh headgear to protect them
The bee larvae are fed royal jelly which is from bee stings. Beekeepers must inspect their
produced by the worker bees. The queen bee hives often, checking to make sure there is 1
is actually a worker bee larva that has been fed healthy queen bee per hive. They also need to
a large quantity of royal jelly produced by ensure the bees have enough room, adding
other worker bees. This feeding process more supers as needed, and that there is no
begins when, for various specific reasons, a disease and no parasites present. Beekeepers
new queen is required by the hive. The extra may have to erect fences to keep out
feeding causes physiological changes which predators, such as bears. One great
turns a worker larva into a fertile queen. importance of honey bees is in the pollination
Drones mate with the new queen bee when of agricultural crops. Pollination is the process
she takes her mating flight, thus fertilizing the of transferring pollen grains from the flowers
eggs. Queen bees can live for 3 to 4 years but of one plant to other flowers of the same
are usually replaced by beekeepers every 2 plant, or a different plant of the same species.
years. Worker bees collect nectar and pollen Pollination occurs as honey bees move from
from flowers and bring it back to the hive. flower to flower collecting nectar for honey or
The average lifespan of the worker bee in pollen for feeding their brood. The beekeepers
summer is six weeks. have to transport their hives to the areas to be
pollinated and back again when the crop has
Honey bees are kept in wooden boxes, called finished flowering.
supers, that resemble a natural beehive inside.
The frames in which the bees will store the Honey is extracted from the honey comb
frames by removing the small wax caps
covering each cell, with a hot decapping knife.
The frames are then placed in a drum-like
machine called an extractor, which works like
a centrifuge. Extractors may hold anywhere
from two frames at a time to more than 120.
The frames are spun around rapidly causing
the liquid honey to flow out of the cells. The
honey is then collected and pumped through
filters before being stored in a tank. The
beekeeper can return the empty frames to the
hives, to be filled again. In the fall, the hives
are readied for winter.
In the past, many Nova Scotia beekeepers
imported honey bees from other countries
rather than attempt to overwinter their
47 “Growing Nova Scotia”
colonies. In 1990 the Nova Scotia border was
closed to the importation of honey bees in
order to reduce the risk of importing honey
bees that were carrying one of two parasitic
mites that can virtually wipe out bee colonies.
Beekeepers were faced with the challenge of
breeding their own bees as well as
overwintering their colonies. Nova Scotia
beekeepers are nearly self sufficient with the
exception being spring queens that are
brought in from Australia and Hawaii to
rebuild colony numbers reduced from winter
How are honey and bee products used?
Honey is used as a spread on toast and bread
or as a sweetener in many baked products,
including breakfast cereals. Honey is regarded
as a fancy sweetener and an alternative to
sugar. Beekeepers collect pollen for feeding
bees at a later date. Pollen is also sold in health What happens after honey leaves the
food and drug stores as a diet supplement and farm?
used in special animal feeds. While honey is
the carbohydrate food source for bees and Honey can be sold in bulk to a packing
provides energy, pollen is the principal protein facility, or packaged in small honey containers
food source for bees and essential for the at the beekeepers “honey house”. The
development of bee brood (larvae). containers of honey are trucked to their
destination. Comb honey is natural honey
Beeswax, among its many possible uses, is sealed in wax made by bees in their hives.
used to produce beeswax candles, furniture Chunk honey consists of comb honey that is
polish and is also used to coat thread. packed in the same container as liquid honey.
Propolis is a resinous material that bees collect What challenges do beekeepers face?
from flower buds. Propolis is used as a putty The income received for honey and
to close off holes in the nest or to embalm pollination must increase as the costs of
foreign materials that cannot be physically production, such as labour, equipment,
removed. Propolis has strong anti-microbial containers and fuel increase, and still allow the
and hydrophobic (water repellent) properties beekeeper a good return. The presence of
and thus has been widely used in diseases and parasites means that beekeepers
homeopathic preparations and by the have to learn new methods of detection and
pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. control.
48 “Growing Nova Scotia”
Who's involved in producing honey? Contacts and other resources:
• Beekeepers Nova Scotia Beekeepers' Association
• Bee breeders
• Tree fruit and berry producers
• Honey processors and graders
• Beekeeping equipment suppliers
• Packaging designers and manufacturers
• Trucker /transporters
• Entomologists (apiculturists)
49 “Growing Nova Scotia”