On hearing the name of the honey bee, the first thing that comes to mind is indeed honey. An essential entity for forests, plants, rangelands and agricultural crops, honey bees not only provide us with honey but also perpetuate flowering plants and ensure agriculture yields of seed and fruits through pollination.
Many people love to eat honey at breakfast, but has anyone among you ever thought how honey, which has great health benefits, is produced? Honey is produced by honey bees in hives under both natural and artificial conditions. Under natural conditions, honey bees build the hives in trees, and under artificial conditions boxes are used for rearing honey bees, which is called beekeeping or apiculture.
Beekeeping is a good source of income generation for rural people. Beehives are natural factories from which pure honey is obtained or extracted for us to use in several forms. While travelling along highways or somewhere in rural places, many people would have noticed wooden boxes kept in queues for this purpose. The honey that we get is extracted from the honeycombs and processed by means of traditional methods or the artificial ones.
Besides honey, beeswax is another useful product obtained from honey bees. Beeswax is commonly used in cosmetics and candle making. Since honey bees collect nectar from different floral sources, therefore the flavour and colour of honey also vary. Honey, which is non-perishable, can be stored for long in a cool and dry place.
The honey bee colony comprises a queen, thousands of worker bees and a few hundred male bees called drones. Nectar collection is usually done by female worker bees. The queen bee and drone bees never forage for food i.e. nectar collection. The queen may live for up to three years or more and may be capable of laying half a million eggs or more in her lifetime. The worker honey bees visit several flowers in far and near landscapes to collect nectar, which is a sugar solution and comprises about 80 per cent water and 20 per cent sugar contents.
The honey bees, after collecting nectar, store it in honey sac where necessary conversion takes place. The bees which forage or collect nectar fly back to the hive where they disgorge the nectar after preliminary conversion. Here in the hive, other bees work upon it through intake to complete the conversion process.
In a similar fashion, a number of bees swallow the fluid and regurgitate with addition of protein and further loss of water content before it is placed in a cell of honeycomb with continuous processing till water is reduced to less than 20 per cent. Later on the cell is sealed with a wax capping to avoid fermentation. The same process is done with hundreds of cells in the honeycomb by the busy bees. Then it is harvested by humans to extract honey and other products from the hives for our use.
The use and production of honey has a long and varied history. Honey is a good source of energy and serves as an essential nutritional ingredient in our diet. Therefore, sandwiches with honey can be a good snack for school-going kids as it is useful in promoting mental efficiency. Honey also has other importance and usages in many cultures and religions around the world. In short, the ecological and socioeconomic importance and advantages of honey are too many to be all discussed here. Honey is indeed nature’s best and sweetest treat.