Many people keep bees for the purpose of producing honey for the family or to sell. But, what about those who really have no interest in honey production. Can you have a beehive if you have no interest in making honey? Sure, but you have to be prepared for what happens if you don’t harvest honey from your hive.
Having a beehive in your backyard can increase the yield of your vegetable garden or orchard. Don’t have a garden? Maybe you just love the idea of sharing your space with some bees.
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Those are all great reasons to be involved in keeping bees. And, it certainly does not hurt the hive to leave all their honey in place. In fact, that would likely say “thanks” if they could.
However, there are some natural bee tendencies that you need to understand in order to keep your colony healthy and happy.
Bees Make Honey for Survival
As we take a look into the life of bees, let’s think for a moment about the goal of the colony. The bees collect plant nectar from many blooming plants and use it to create honey.
Storing food inside the hive, allows the colony to survive during the cold Winter months when no nectar is available. This is how a colony survives from one season to the next as a family unit.
The hive without sufficient amounts of stored food is not likely to live to see Spring. Therefore, the colony sets thousands of individuals to the task of gathering provisions for the hive.
Is Harvesting Honey Bad for Bees?
If the bees need their food stores, is it bad for the beekeeper to harvest honey? No, not necessarily. Bees do a really great job of storing food and they will continue to work as long as possible.
In fact, they are so industrious that they can make much more honey than the amount needed for Winter. They continue to work as long as there is nectar to collect and a place to store food.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of the beekeeper to take only the excess harvest. How much food should you leave for your hives? That depends on several factors including your location.
With experience, or by asking local beekeepers, you learn how many boxes of food your hives will likely need to keep.
Do Bees Die if Honey is Harvested?
Even with the best intentions and planning, a healthy colony can end up in a bad situation. Perhaps, the beekeeper left plenty of honey for the Winter season but now it is February and the colony is running out of food!
What happened? Maybe the time of cold weather lasted a little longer this year. Or maybe, your particular type of honey bees overwinters with a larger population. They may have needed more food that you thought.
This can happen as the weather varies each year. The beekeeper must prepare their colonies for Winter and then monitor food stores throughout the season. Be ready to feed the bees if needed to ensure their survival.
Beekeepers that knowingly take a honey harvest in years without an excess crop are doing the bees a disservice. If you are interested in the best for your bees, no extra honey in the hive means you don’t get any that year.
How to Keep Bees and Not Harvest Honey
Because our bees are such hard workers, they will quickly fill all the available space in the hive with honey. The queen bee will run out of room to lay eggs and the colony will feel crowded.
A crowded colony begins swarming preparations. Part of the colony will leave to form a new hive at a different location. The bees left in the hive will make a new queen and bee life continues.
Swarming is not necessarily a bad thing. You will simply need to ensure that the mother hive is successful in producing a new queen able to sustain the colony.
Honey Does Not Spoil
Honey that is left in the hive and not used will remain good for years. Even though the color may darken, it will remain suitable for the bees to use for food.
Also, once the warm season arrives and the colony is bringing in nectar – it’s okay to take a frame for yourself. The bees should have plenty to spare and it makes room for new food storage.
Hive Maintenance for the Non Producing Colony
If the beekeeper is not striving to maintain strong hives for production, maintenance tasks will be a bit less.
However, you must still monitor your colony and perform routine hive inspections. This action ensures that your hives will remain healthy and able to sustain themselves.
On a good note, the beekeeper who is not interested in honey production will need less equipment. There will be no need to make extra boxes on hand for the bees to fill.
Harvesting honey is a lot of hard work and not something everyone wants to do. That’s okay.
Consider Your Beekeeping Goals
Beekeepers have a responsibility to care for their colonies. We make the choice to keep bees in manmade hives and they deserve proper attention. However, if you really want bees and not the work of dealing with honey – yes, you can do it! But, be advised, that does not mean you can avoid routine care of your colonies.