A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Did you know Leiden’s Hortus Botanicus makes its own Honey?
Bees are very important for gardens. All plants that pollinate need bees to bloom and reproduce. Pollen is essential for the life of honeybees, too, forming a high-protein diet for its larvae. Bees also need pollinating plants for the nectar their flowers contain, which is the basis of their honey-making. Bees keep honey as a nearly protein-free, long term food source that maintains the lives of the older members of the hive, and sustains the seasonal growth of the population.
When, in the early spring and summer, the hive swells in its population from a few thousand to 40-80,000 bees, most of which are created for honey production, there quickly results
a surplus of honey. The honey production of a hive increases exponentially as the season changes towards summer; because the hive growth limits are linear, once its core needs are met, its the proportion of its larvae that develop to make honey rises dramatically.
A hive that doubles in size can produce between 5-10 times more honey. That can be tens of tens of kilograms per hive.
The sweet, anti-bacterial, anti-fugal, syrup-like result, is happily pilfered by humans, and, in some environments, bears. Modern apiaries, unlike the hand-woven type pictured above, which are replicas of the first ones in the Hortus (c.1595), can harvest honey without destroying the hive inside. The process is essential to keeping individual hives healthy and at peace with neighbouring hives.
Not the entirety of a hive’s honey is harvested. Bees need food for the colder winter months. Once temperatures drop below 10 degrees, bees do not fly. They return to their hive to keep it warm and protect their queen.
The honey made by the bees of the Hortus is mild, and floral. The pollen of flowers is as different as are their colours and aromas. As the Hortus is known for its orchids, it is no surprise that its honey is so mild and fragrant. Being nearly 80% sugar, it contains a lot of energy, but its balanced sweetness makes it suitable for mixing into cooking and consuming on its own.