How Honey is Produced

The domesticated bee belongs to the Apis mellifica species. In the old days bees were kept in baskets, wooden boxes, and clay jars of various sizes, even at hollows of trees. To extract honey, old beekeepers would squeeze honeycombs and receive a low quality product. The use of beehives with removable shelves and the application of artificial honeycombs brought about significant changes: honey savings, more wax, ease in harvesting and monitoring of the health status of the colonies, screening of drone-cells proliferation, etc. The beehives used on Crete are square boxes comprising a foundation base, chambers, ceiling (interior cover), roof (exterior cover) and shelves with wax. This beehive is made of wood and divided into two or three chambers that can accommodate respective groups of honeybees.

The society of bees consists of the queen bee, worker bees and drones. The role of the queen bee is to lay the eggs that will later develop into full-blown worker bees, but has no administration authorities, in spite of her name. The task of the worker bees is to feed the queen bee and do all the work required for the maintenance of the beehive inside and outside. The drones condition the environment (warm in winter and cool in summer) where young bees are nurtured. By flapping their wings, drones aerate the beehive. Furthermore, the drones allocate the nectar and fertilize the queen bee. The worker bees will not allow other bees or queen bees in their beehives. The bees guarding the entrance to their hives are quick to detect the approach of alien bees through their antennas. If an alien bee is found in their hive, the latter is approached carefully, searched and thrown out of the hive. If the intruder fails to comply, it is stung to death by the guarding bees. The queen bee has a lifespan of 4-5 years, but at the age of 2 years the queen bee is considered old, is less prolific and eventually replaced by the worker bees. The worker bees live up to 40 days and the drones up to 4 to 5 months. During a mating-flight the queen bee mates with the drone that proves to be faster and stronger than the rest of the suitor drones. Following the mating-flight, the queen returns to the beehive to receive a sanitation care by the worker bees. Subsequently, following a rest of 48 hours, the queen bee starts laying the eggs. Following the laying of 80-100 eggs, the queen bee rests again and is fed with royal jelly by the worker bees. The code of communication among bees is a particular form of dance, sound and odour emissions.

The Queen Bee:
"These insects live in organized communities comprising the queen bee and a few hundred drones and thousands of worker bees. The size of the queen bee is approximately 1.9 cm, which means that she is more developed than the worker bees. The queen bee lives approximately four years. She is equipped with genitalia and bears eggs. Insemination of the queen bee takes place on air. The queen bee bears between 50,000 to 60,000 eggs a year. When the new queen bees are born, the old queen bee leaves the hive taking with her a swarm of worker bees to create a new colony".

The Worker Bee:
This bee is smaller in size than the queen-bee and not sexually mature. Her task is to care for the hive and collect the nectar. Each colony hosts approximately 50,000 worker bees. The size of the drone is approximately 1.7 cm and its sole contribution to the colony is to inseminate the queen-bee. The worker bees have a highly developed sensory system. They can distinguish all colours of the spectrum, excepting the red, even those in the ultraviolet range. Honey bee’s secret wax from the underside glands of their abdomen and mould it to form honeycombs. Honeycombs are hexagonal wax cells built by the honeybees. Each honeycomb serves a particular purpose: some serve as residences while others are used as storage areas for the pollen collected, and still others are used for the safekeeping of the eggs and honey. The worker bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers, including resinous substances for their own nutritional needs. Pollen, the male reproductive cells of flowers, sticks to the hairy legs of bees and is thus carried to the hives. Bees use pollen as food for their young. It is the protein part of a bee's diet. Bees swallow nectar to later heave it as honey. The comb cells destined to host the future queens are larger in size. The queen larvae are nourished exclusively in royal jelly that is produced in the abdomen of the worker bees. When the worker bee discovers a location with ample food then it signals this fact by complex "dance" manoeuvres that relay information about the exact position and distance of the location.