What do bees give us? – rare, high value products (Part 1)

Hey there, today I am going to walk you through some primary products you will obtain from your beekeeping venture. I will be focusing on products obtained directly from the hive which have not been transformed or mixed with any other product through the process of value addition.

Bees on a comb

Worker bees capping ripe honey

Products obtained from a hive may fall into two broad categories; those products that bees collect, transform and deposit into the hive e.g. honey, propolis, and pollen, and products secreted by glands located in the body of the bee e.g. beeswax, royal jelly and bee venom.

Also, considered under the primary products are the bees themselves in their different castes and stages of development e.g. queens, swarms and larvae.

In this post, I will briefly highlight a few aspects of honey, pollen and beeswax. I will post a similar article with propolis, royal jelly and bee venom at a later date.

So without any further ado, lets jump right in.


Honey is among the most popular products of beekeeping. It is actually the most important bee product in terms of quantity and economic value. The current global market for honey runs into billions of dollars, an indication of its value to the global public.

Comb honey

Comb honey


The history of the use of honey is parallel to the history of man and in virtually every culture evidence can be found of its use as a food source and as a symbol employed in religious, magic and therapeutic ceremonies (Cartland, 1970; Crane, 1980; Zwaeneprel, 1984).

What is honey?

According to Codex Alimentarius (1989) “Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of blossoms or from the secretion of living parts of plants or excretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which honeybees collect, transform and combine with specific substances of their own, store and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature.

This definition clearly brings out two types of honey in terms of the origin of honey:

1. Blossom honey – this is honey from the nectar of blossoms (flowers) of different varieties of bee plants. Blossom honey can further be divided into two categories:

Monofloral honey – honey from a single dominant floral source e.g. Eucalyptus honey, Manuka honey etc. This type of honey can be realized in large mono culture establishments or in a situation where the flowering pattern of a given bee plant is out of sync with other major bee plants in the region. Note that even though different bee species and races have different foraging range according to their environment and ease of access to floral resources, the average foraging range for purposes of bee management is two to three kilometers.

Polyfloral honey – honey from different floral sources, this is obtained when bees forage on many different types of bee plants flowering at relatively the same period. Kindly note that bee colonies show high level of fidelity to bee plants in their foraging behavior i.e. they will exhaust a given floral source before moving on to the next but they cannot forage on different bee plants at the same time.

2. Honeydew honey – this is honey that originates from secretions from plant parts other than flowers (e.g. the young tender buds), or excretions from plant sucking insects on these plant parts. An example here may include pine honey, pine is a non-flowering plant but produces honey of superior organoleptic qualities.


How do the bees make honey?

Many love and use honey, but it is also important that they understand exactly how bees make honey from a layman perspective.

So how do bee make honey? Its simple, worker bees under the category of field bees fly out to look for nectar from flowers. They suck in this nectar into their honey stomach (not the true stomach).

The honey stomach is a storage and transportation tool provided for the worker (field bee) for purposes of the transporting nectar. A field bee can carry up to approximately 60% of her own weight of nectar from field back into the hive, and they do this from dawn to dusk (no wonder they have a lifespan of up to only five weeks).

Once they are back to the hive, the nectar is transferred to several younger worker bees in the hive through a process referred to ordinarily as “mutual communication” or technically as “trophylaxis”.

These younger worker bees transport this nectar within the hive depositing it in an organized manner into comb cells within the honey storage area of the hive.

What is important to note here is that when this nectar is in the honey stomachs of the bees, several substances are added into it including enzymes (like invertase enzyme) which break down the sugars in nectar (mainly sucrose) into simple sugars (glucose and fructose), and other volatile substances, some of which have never been fully identified with the existing scientific knowledge. These give honey its unique characteristics and render it impossible to produce in the laboratory.

The nectar deposited in the cells has high moisture content (sometimes up to 90%). Bees therefore fan their wings in unison, creating air current that blows away the excess moisture reducing it gradually while the enzymatic action continues.

When the moisture content reduces to about 7.8% (or thereabout) depending on the type of flower, the sucrose content will also have reduced to less that five percent, while the percentage of invert sugars will have increased to more than 65%. Bees then cap these cells and the honey is now ready for harvesting (extracting) and is referred to as ripe honey.

So basically this is how bees make honey as can be explained at the most basic level.

The rule of the thumb when harvesting honey: only harvest combs that are more that 75% capped. If this is not the case, then you are likely to end up with honey with high moisture content (prone to fermentation during storage).

Bee pollen

Bee pollination

A worker bee collecting pollen

Pollen grains are small, male reproduction units (gametophytes) formed in the anthers of the higher flowering plants. One of the target foraging goods for field bee is the pollen.

Bees use pollen as protein source in their diets and for feeding raising young brood. Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred onto the stigma of a flower. It can be aided by either wind, water or animals (mostly insects), among which bees are the most important ones.

So what is bee pollen?

Bee pollen is basically pollen grains collected by bees from the field. When bees are collecting pollen from the field, they use special brushes on their hind legs to brush the pollen into the pollen basket or the corbiculae. For the pollen to stick together in the corbiculae, they mix it with nectar or regurgitated honey, it thus forms into pellets. This is the bee pollen and may taste somehow sweet depending on the floral source.


Bee bread

this is partially fermented pollen mixture stored by bees in the comb. It is the bee pollen from the field that bees have mixed with honey and water, and stored in the comb. It used to feed the young larvae and the young worker bees in the hive.


What is in bee pollen?

Chemical composition of pollen varies greatly among bee plants. Pollen from different regions therefore may show variation in quantities of the chemical constituents.

Major components of pollen include proteins and amino acids, lipids and sugars.

Minor components are diverse – essential amino acids, vitamins C, E, B complex (including, niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin (B2), and pyridoxine (B6), minerals K, Na, Ca, Mg, P, S, more than 100 enzymes, carotenoids and flavonoids.

Of the fatty acids in pollen, palmitic acid is the most important one, followed by myristic, linoleic, oleic, linolenic, stearic acids.


So, is bee pollen good for you?

Pollen has many nutritional and medicinal properties with many high performance athletes that use pollen attributing their performance to this “miracle food”.

The only downside is that some people are allergic to pollen


Health benefits of bee pollen

Many health benefits have been attributed to pollen, it has been associated with improvement in athletic performance, digestive assimilation, rejuvenation, appetite, haemoglobin content, skin vitality and sexual prowess.

Pollen has also been associated with the cure of cancer in animals, high blood pressure, male sterility, aneamia, ulcers and nervous and endocrine disorders.

Science has proven the effectiveness of pollen in treatment of prostate conditions ranging from swelling, infection to cancer. It has also been proven to treat allergies.


How is bee pollen collected?

Pollen is usually collected/harvested at the hive entrance using special devices called pollen traps.

Care should be taken not to collect pollen when there is spraying of crops within three kilometer radius of the apiary. This is to avoid contermination of the pollen with pesticides.

After collection the pollen should be dried very fast to avoid growth of mold or rapid multiplication of bacteria.


Beeswax blocks

Beeswax blocks

This is animal source wax that is produced by bees and used to build combs in the hives. Young worker bees in the hive have a set of eight wax glands on each side of the abdomen. These secrete wax that they use in building combs.

After honey harvest from combs or from the capping of extracted combs, beeswax can be processed. The comb remainders or the capping are boiled in water which is then allowed to cool so that beeswax forms a cake at the surface.


Uses of beeswax

beeswax can be used in many different ways some of which include:

– making of cosmetics – creams, lotions, soaps, lip balms etc.

– making polishes – wood polishes, shoe polishes and paints

– used by dentists to fill teeth

– used for making beeswax candles

– used in batiks

– it is also used in beekeeping to make starter combs and comb foundations

The information presented here is just a brief highlight of the products but will certainly provide you with a gist of what these bee products are.

I welcome you to post comments on the article and contact me if there is anything I can explain further or if there is anyway I can help you.

Thank You

David Palla