One-tenth of a Teaspoon

Honeybee in flight collecting nectar

Honeybee in flight collecting nectar

I have been reading a lot of books about bees and beekeeping. In one of them a stat was provided which I, quite frankly, didn’t believe. The author stated that a honeybee produces 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her entire life. I thought perhaps it was 1/12th of a teaspoon per day, or maybe 12 teaspoons in her entire life (though 12 cups sounded more like a life well lived to me). I was a bit embarrassed for the author and I wondered if her editor had been fired.

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Then I picked up another book which proclaimed that a honeybee will produce 1/10th of a teaspoon of honey in her entire life. Okay, that is more than 1/12th but … seriously?

I jumped online to see what the consensus is and found that most sources quote the 1/12th figure but I’m going with 1/10th because I want to give my bees the benefit of the doubt and any less is just too daunting frightening overwhelming (I don’t think there’s a word to express my level of awe here) to contemplate. I suspect this stat may only be the honey I harvest in excess of what the hive uses, as if that makes the number less mind-blowing.

In our household we don’t waste honey. Frank rinses the dregs (a.k.a. several life’s work worth) from each honey jar with a cup of hot tea to get the last goodness out. Now our habit of avoiding waste will become my obsession. Any wasted honey is simply too disrespectful of a hive full of ladies who spend their ENTIRE LIVES manufacturing it.

But I eat honey like it flows freely out of a tap. I have even been known (often) to take a dollop on my finger which I savour for the few seconds it lasts on my tongue.

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How much is that? 1/2 teaspoon maybe? The ENTIRE LIFE’S work of 5 or 6 bees? It quite honestly freaks me out to think about. I take multiple fingers full before I am sated. Am I being evil? decadent? selfish?

Wow, one-tenth of a teaspoon is the ENTIRE LIFE’S work of a bee.

Wow.

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About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: www.laurarittenhouse.com for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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19 Responses to One-tenth of a Teaspoon

  1. vuchickens says:

    amazing! how many bees do you have? and how long do they live, on average?

    • Ahhh, that’s the $64,000 question. All of my reading leads me to believe I have about 100,000 bees (2 hives, full summer strength, 50,000 each hive is a reasonable estimate but could be double that if some sources are to be believed). My guess is no one has ever actually successfully counted the number in a hive.

      Each bee lives about 6 weeks. They spend the first 3 weeks inside the hive cleaning, building comb, feeding brood, hanging out with the homies. Then they spend 3 weeks collecting nectar and pollen for the colony. They literally die at work. Life is not a picnic if you’re a bee!

  2. I’m reading “The Buzz about Bees” by Helga R. Heimann at the moment and I’d just got to the bit when she is talking about the amount of nectar a bee carries back to the hive in her crop. I’d say there could be a difference of opinions on how much honey one bee could produce. I suppose you’d have to be talking optimally or in poor conditions to be exact. It seems like it could be a lot more.

    • What does Ms Heinmann propose is the most a hive of bees would produce?

      I can only assume many people have done their calculations to obtain an “average” over multiple years of honey production. This would be based on what they believe an average annual harvest to be and the number of bees an average hive might have over a year. I suspect this includes a winter season with little or no productivity. I also suspect it is for commercial bee hives where the hives are moved to areas where they can be super productive in peak season.

      I don’t have a harsh winter (though locals tell me not to expect a winter harvest) and I don’t move my bees to follow the nectar (they are always in my back yard) so I guess that my bees wouldn’t be far off the average. They will miss the highs and lows of a commercial hive in Europe or North America (where most stats are generated). Certainly those girls who live their nectar collecting life in the height of spring would do much better, but some will live their life in the dormant winter and they’ll produce nothing (for harvest at least) and even be a negative by eating the stores.

      When you have a colony of 30-60 thousand bees it’s got to be about the averages.

      • Firstly, let me correct my mistake, the book’s author is Jurgen Tautz (Heilmann is the photographer). I got the book for Christmas and I had just got to the bit when he talks about the quantities of nectar gathered by the foraging bees and the nectar produced by different flowers. It was at this time I read your blog which seemed to be right on the same key but from a different angle.
        As you point out you cannot think about how much honey an individual forager could produce. If you are thinking of honey production you should take in the colony as a whole over the year. I was looking at how much honey a forager could produce in the summer with ample resources which is a totally different proposition.

        • I do wonder what the best be in the best season could collect – sort of a Honey Olympiad result. And is that bee happier for all the success or just plain tired from lugging that sticky stuff back to the lazy bees who are pacing themselves. I have Animal Farm quotes running through my head: “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS”. And then there are bees who are sent out in search of pollen who don’t get to add (much) to their 1/10th of a teaspoon. Do they feel they got a raw deal?

          Those bees, eh? What an amazing collective.

          • Going back to my book…Tautz looks at the bee colony as a superorganism. It’s more the colony that’s the individual not the single bees. Another way to survive and be successful.

            • I guess that’s the best way to look at it but when I’m watching an individual bee flitter from flower to flower it’s hard not to think of her as an industrious individual. And I certainly cringe when one gets crushed or drowns during honey harvest – it’s feels like a lot more than trimming a fingernail of one creature (or whatever the equivalent would be to lose 1/50-thousandth of a superorganism).

        • BTW – great Christmas present!

  3. Linda says:

    Always hard to believe how hard a bees life is…they never stop working (drones are an exception). Their lifespan correlates with how much work they’re doing though. During the cold winter (if you have winter), the bees live much longer since they’re not working as much. Unfortunately, a lot of beekeepers here in the winter end up feeding sugar water because they don’t leave enough honey for the bees to winter over on.

    • I wonder if the bees prefer a summer life: live hard and die young; or a winter life: take it easy and try not to be bored? We do have winter here, but it’s not very cold and there aren’t long periods when bees couldn’t be flying and collecting so our bees can only dream of a lazy life.

      I realise many bees are fed on sugar water, sometimes because the beekeeper wants the honey so robs more than the bees can afford to lose and sometimes because the summer season simply isn’t good enough to allow the bees to provide for themselves. Those bees don’t even produce that little 1/10th of a teaspoon, instead they go cap-in-hand to a human!

      • Linda says:

        Bees have got to have an easier life when winters are mild…In some areas, it is so cold in the winter that you even have to be careful where you place hives and may even have to offer some sort of protection on particularly harsh nights. I’d take a hard summer over the chance of freezing to death!

        • Me too – unless by hard you mean a heat wave like a lot of Australia is experiencing now. Temps over 40 C (105 F) are lasting for days at a stretch in some cities. At that temp the hive can get so hot that the comb could literally melt! We have water-misters that we plan to put over our hives if we get a heat wave here. Our hives are well positioned so that they get summer shade through most of the day and winter sun (they’re under a deciduous Frangipani tree) but I wonder how the bees in Perth (where they’ve had wickedly hot temps since Christmas) are faring. Not the kind of thing that makes the news headlines, that’s saved for bushfires.

          • Linda says:

            Good point! Hard to imagine it getting so hot for that long! We only had a few days like that here and it’s unusual, luckily. Maybe bees just have a hard life either way…! Unless they’re raised in some mild weather area, but all the places I can think of get a lot of rain! A hard life indeed! Can’t imagine the wax in the hives melting…poor bees!

  4. That is so very amazing. And what a wonderful shot of the bee collecting nectar.

    • It is amazing. One of those things that sort of slaps me up side the head with dose of perspective.

      Thanks for the compliment about the photo. I’ve become quite the bee watcher and I’ve tried to get lots of photos of them zipping in, out and around. They’re really graceful and beautiful creatures.

  5. Yes! Honey is such a treadure all year long. I am so excited to get bees this Spring. Do you have any books on beekeeping to recommend?

    • Congratulations on your plans to get bees. I certainly am glad I’ve done it.

      I can’t recommend any books in particular. What I’ve done is gone to the library and grabbed a whole variety and just plowed through them. I suggest checking your library or your local beekeeping club (I hope you have one). My local club has a whole bunch of books they loan out and the advantage there is that many of them are for the local area which is a help. I’ve now learned that each region has different equipment, different climates, different plants and so it is good to have at least one book that covers your area if you can find it.

      Good luck and I look forward to reading all about your bee experiences in a couple of months on your blog.

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