The amount of honey an individual bee makes, however, is very hard to quantify. Even so, it’s possible to work out when you look at the studies surrounding honey production from an entire hive and the number of bees in any given colony.
The Process of Making Honey
The way bees collaborate is so complete and elaborate, that we can think about a colony as a single organism.
The routine of a honeybee is simply amazing. They fly out of the hive when the sun rises and return to the hive at sunset. They love the daytime and the sunlight, which is why you won’t find them out of their hives at night.
During the time they’re out, the worker bees search for the best nectar, flying from flower to flower. They store the nectar in their honey stomachs, ready to be taken to the hive.
Once the honey stomach — the crop — is full, the worker bee returns to the hive. In the crop, the nectar starts to mix with enzymes — invertase — and breaks down. The workers then pass it between themselves until the nectar reaches the exact point of moisture they want.
Finally, the honey is settled into cells where it’s fanned with by the bees’ wings to dehydrate the honey further. The result is the honey that’s used at your dinner table.
While this is a magnificent process, the ability of a bee to produce honey is governed heavily by the availability of nectar in the first place. The type of nectar collected by the bees will dictate the flavor and color of the honey.
Why Honey Bees Make Honey?
Bees wouldn’t survive if they were exposed to harsh winter conditions. Their hives are designed to protect them during the winter so they can come out and thrive in the warmer months.
It’s important for them to store food to manage their survival in the winter months. This isn’t just to avoid the cold conditions but since most flowers don’t produce enough nectar in the winter.
Bees need a sufficient amount of food in storage to keep not only the entire colony alive during the winter months, but the queen bee as well.
When they aren’t flying out of the hive to gather food, which comes from the nectar, bees still need a lot of energy, because they regulate the temperature in the hive by beating their wings constantly.
Due to its high sugar content, honey has the best source of nutrients and energy, making it perfect for the bees to survive the winter season.
How Much Honey Does a Bee Make?
The fact is, not all bees can produce honey. There are over 20,000 different species of bees all over the world, but only seven species can produce honey:
- European or Western honeybee
- German or Dark honeybee
- Italian honeybee
- Carnelian or Grey honeybee
- Caucasian honeybee
- Iberian or Gibraltar honeybee
- Africanised honeybee
Honey production will vary depending on certain factors. For example, if during the season the weather is unstable, such as lower temperatures or heavy rainfall, it will slow down the productivity of the honeybee. The hive location and the competition from other colonies are two heavy aspects of honey production, too.
In a healthy and stable hive, a worker bee alone, in its lifetime, can produce only 1/12th of a tablespoon of honey. This converts into around 2 million flowers and bees flying about 50,000 miles to make 1 pound of honey.
According to the U.S. National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average yield is 30 pounds per colony.
Unfortunately, the U.S. national honey production numbers have been decreasing over the past years. The U.S. honey production levels reduced by about nine percent to a total of 148 million pounds, relative to 2.67 million colonies, between 2016 and 2017.
This reduction is owed to industrial agriculture. In particular, the destruction of habitat, loss of biodiversity and a lack of foraging due to bee-killing pesticides and monocultures are serious threats to honeybees.
Honeybees are an intriguing target of study for many scientists all over the world due to their unbelievable skills, both for their outstanding colony work and for all the complex processes to produce honey. A single bee can make a difference in a hive by contributing with a small amount of nectar. But, when bees work as a team, they can produce industrial amounts of honey. So if you’re looking to make more honeycomb, for example, then it’s the quantity of the hive that will make the difference, not individual super-bees.
Many of the factors of how much honey a bee can produce are out of its control. Bees, in general, are very much reliant on the environmental conditions around them to produce high-quality honey at high yield levels.