What is nectar and how to honey bees use it? Nectar is the sugary liquid produced by flowers to entice pollinators to visit them. It is about 80% water, with the rest being sugars and plant chemicals. On its own, nectar will ferment and spoil. Honeybees have a system to change perishable nectar into long lasting honey to use as a food source during times when nectar is not available.
First, the oldest bees in the hives are the foragers. They range over an area of 8 square miles searching for flowers. When they find a nectar source, they fill their honey stomachs with it and fly home. Once there, they beg the younger house bees in the hive to receive the nectar. By the time the nectar is placed in a honey comb cell, it has been through 2 or more honey stomachs and the sugar is inverted. Inverted sugar is sugar where the sucrose has been broken down into glucose and fructose.
The nectar in an uncapped honey cell is still too wet to be called honey. At this point it can still spoil. The bees fan their wings to create air flow over the uncapped nectar to evaporate the extra water away. Once the liquid is down to 14-18% water content, it is honey. The bees create wax and seal up the cell. Now it can be harvested by the beekeeper, or left on the hive to provide sustenance over the winter.
As a beekeeper, why should you care what nectar sources are in your area? If you know the plants that are feeding your bees, you can strategically place your hives to take advantage of good natural forage. If you know when those plants will be blooming, you can stay ahead of your bees by giving them the right amount of space at the right time to maximize your honey production and prevent swarming. Some beekeepers move their hives from flow to flow in order to capture as much of nature’s bounty as possible.
One of the unexpected benefits of beekeeping for me has been a new interest in the botany of my local area. I have seen flowers, weeds, and trees my whole life, but it wasn’t until I began keeping bees that I really saw them. Once you learn to identify a few of the nectar species in your area, you begin to see more everywhere you look. I have scoured the botany books and websites for information on plants in my (Midwest USA) area and written a little about each one.
Click on the species for more information
Deadnettle, American Holly, Wild Mustard Wolf’s Bane, Common chickweed, Dandelions, Chokeberry, Buckthorn, Raspberries and Blackberries, Blackhaw, Bugle Flowers, Chives, Milk Vetch, Knapweed, Clover, Lamb’s Ears, Honeysuckle