Is Harvesting Honey Bad for Bees?

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With the popularity of beekeeping in recent years – some people wonder about the effects of harvesting on the actual bees-is harvesting honey bad for bees? And, what about those who really have no interest in honey production. Can you have a beehive even if you have no interest in making honey? Let’s explore these issues a bit farther.

Beekeeper in garden taking honey from a beehive.

There are many reasons to get involved in keeping bees-beyond honey. Perhaps you wish to enjoy the benefits of beekeeping for pollination of your vegetable garden or orchard. Or maybe, like me, you are just fascinated by honey bees.

Keeping Bees for Honey – Or Not

In fact, some folks simply want to learn more about this miracle we call a honey bee colony. It can be a great family project with many opportunities to learn more about the natural world.

For those of you that do want to produce honey, I think that is okay too – when done properly. As with any project that involves living things – it is important to understand the needs of our livestock.

Yes, bees are considered livestock by the USDA. If you want to build your own bee farm, your first task is learning everything you can about your “girls”.

Frame from a beehive with bees and honey stored for winter.

Bees Make More Honey Than They Need

Honey bees collect plant nectar from many blooming plants and use it to create honey. Stored inside the hive, this food allows the bees to survive Winter.

Honey bees do not hibernate like some insects – such as Bumble Bees. Rather, they go through a period of inactivity. A hive without sufficient amounts of stored food is not likely to live to see Spring.

Worker bees will continue to collect nectar and make honey as long as:

  • there is nectar to collect
  • a place to put it
  • weather warm enough for flight

This means that a healthy colony is capable of making much more honey than they need for the Winter months. A careful beekeeper can harvest some of the crop and still leave plenty for the bees.

Do Bees Die if Honey is Harvested?

A beekeeper taking a share of the honey crop should not result in dead bees. It is the responsibility of the beekeeper to take only the excess harvest. Plenty should be left on the hive for use by the honey bees.

How much food should you leave for your hives? That depends on several factors the most important one being where you live. Naturally, hives in the cold northern regions of the US need more stored food than those in Florida.

Beekeeper Responsibility

With experience, or by asking members of the local beekeeping association, one learns how many boxes of food their hives will likely need.

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How much honey does a beehive produce ? That varies greatly from hive to hive and region to region. Not every hive produces a harvestable crop during a year.

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.

Honey bees in a crowded colony store honey in comb.

Monitor Colony Conditions

The beekeeper’s job is not done once the harvest is in. Even with the best intentions and planning, a healthy colony can end up in a bad situation. 

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.

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? 

This can happen as the weather varies each year. The beekeeper must winterize their beehives in Fall and then monitor food stores throughout the season. 

A big part of beekeeping in Winter is hive monitoring. Be ready to feed the bees if needed to ensure their survival but sugar cakes for bees are not a true substitute for their own healthy honey.

How to Keep Bees and Not Harvest Honey

Can you keep bees and not take honey? Yes. It certainly does not hurt the hive to leave all their honey in place. However, there are some natural bee tendencies that you need to understand in order to keep your colony healthy and happy.

Because bees are such hard workers, they will quickly fill all the available space in the hive with honey. Their may be no room for the queen bee to do her job of laying 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. Perhaps, you will let the swarm go. 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. It is important to check for disease, pest problems and watch for signs of trouble.

Rotating out old comb for colony health and all the regular hive maintenance tasks needed should be performed.

On a good note, the beekeeper who is not interested in honey production will need less equipment. There will be no need to keep extra beekeeping super boxes on hand for the bees to fill.

FAQs

Does it hurt bees to take honey from the hive?

No, honey bees do a great job of making honey when conditions are right. As long as only the surplus is removed from the hive – the bees should be just fine.

Is honey harvesting necessary for beekeeping success?

No, taking honey from the hive is not a requirement for a successful hive. However, the colony still requires maintenance for good health.

What should I do after harvesting honey to ensure the colony’s well-being?

It is important to continue to monitor colony conditions after harvesting honey. If nectar in the field become unavailable, the bees may run short of stored food.

Final Thoughts

If you truly feel that it is bad to harvest honey from a beehive, this does not mean you can not keep bees. However, you should understand that not taking honey from the hive has effects too – for example more swarming.

Harvesting honey from beehives does not hurt the bees – as long as the beekeeper uses responsible management techniques with the welfare of the colony as the top priority.

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