What Happens to Honey If It Is Not Harvested?

what happens to honey if it is not harvested

Many people wonder what happens to honey if it is not harvested. Does it just rot away? Can it go bad? Does it affect the bees’ wellbeing? Or is it just left for the bears? There are several answers to these and related questions and many factors will influence when you harvest, if at all. These questions are important because it’s not just honey in household hives that gets left; honey is also found in the wild. Wherever you come across honey, there are a number of essential things for you to think about before you harvest. Read on to find out more!

Do Bees Die When Honey Is Harvested?

Bees spend all their time during the nice weather making honey in their hives. They have a natural hoarding instinct that will see them continue to make honey to excess until every comb in the hive is full. When the colder weather starts to arrive and the mercury falls below 10 degrees Celsius (sub 50 Fahrenheit), female worker bees and their queen remain in the hive. Male bees do not remain in the hive. Instead, they vacate the hive and succumb to the cold temperatures of winter.

All the sugar they consume (in the form of honey) gives bees plenty of energy. Although they slow down drastically during the cold months, they do not go completely dormant. The worker bees form what is known as a winter cluster, or thermoregulating cluster. They beat their tiny wings to generate heat and their hairy bodies act like a cloak to keep the heat from escaping. Around the outer layer of the cluster is where the oldest bees place themselves. Youngest ones form the next ring. The queen is kept warm in the center of the cluster and they feed on the stockpiled honey throughout the season. They feed even while maintaining their cluster. If the temperature keeps dropping, they tighten their ring around the queen, and on warmer days they will loosen it.

If one were to remove all the honey from the hive late in the season, the bees would not have time to replace what was lost. Unless they can steal honey from another hive, they would die from the honey being harvested because they would starve to death. So, what happens to honey if it is not harvested? All the remaining bees in the hive will eat it to ensure the continuation of their colony in the spring.

Is Harvesting Honey Cruel?

This question has been hotly debated, especially within vegan communities. Is harvesting honey cruel? Yes, say animal rights activists, and here is why. Beekeeping on a large scale is terribly similar to factory farming. The animals become for-profit only, with not a care for their welfare. Production quotas are high and often this means that inhumane steps are taken to adhere to it. For example, some producers cut the wings off the queen so that she is unable to swarm. Unsafe handling of the bees results in legs and wings being torn, and death occurs all too often. Additionally, it is common for queens to be moved from one colony to another. Some bees go with her as protectors. If they manage to survive the transport to the new colony, they will be killed by the existing bees upon arrival.

Is harvesting honey cruel? Yes, if we take all the accumulated honey and leave the bees to starve. This does happen when inexperienced beekeepers get overzealous. Not so much if we are careful about how we do it and we take only what honey the hives can afford to surrender.

What Do Bees Eat When We Take Their Honey?

Bees are simultaneously feared and revered in modern society and as such, most people really are not sure what to think of them. This probably results from the fact that the average person has no interest in encountering any bees, with the exclusion of beekeepers. Only certain types of bees will sting but we are conditioned to avoid these stinging insects because it does hurt when you get stung. Since we keep our distance from bees, we miss out on the wonderful opportunity to study how they behave in their natural habitat, including learning exactly what bees dine on.

Different types of bees eat different foods. The general diet of these amazing insects remains somewhat the same among all varieties, however. Bees are like kids on Halloween – they crave sugar instinctively. Pollen, sugar, and honey are standard portions of their diet. They also get the proper amount of nutrients by eating these foods, which increases their energy level. Since they work so hard harvesting during the year it is necessary that they keep their energy levels up.

How they harvest and eat their food varies among the different roles the bees have within their hive. During the first few days after hatching, all bee larvae receive royal jelly. Protein-rich royal jelly is secreted from worker bees, through glands on their heads. The queen receives royal jelly exclusively throughout her lifetime, beginning in the larvae stage. Worker bees sometimes make their own honey. They mix enzymes with harvested nectar from flowers and wait until the moisture evaporates. The remaining substance becomes honey.

Can You Keep Bees Without Harvesting Honey?

It is possible to keep bees without harvesting honey, but this practice is not recommended for one main reason – your colony will quickly outgrow their hive. This is why it is a good thing if you wonder what happens to honey if it is not harvested – it has important consequences! If honey is not harvested and the hive grows, there are basically three options for dealing with the problem.

1. Keep adding boxes for your colony to populate

Bees have a one-track mind and the only thing on it is their innate need to make honey. There is always more honey made than what they will consume during the winter and that is because they keep producing as long as there is space to put it.

2. Natural downsizing (via the swarm)

If you do not offer additional room to your bees, and the queen has no place to lay her eggs, they will eventually swarm. When this happens, roughly two-thirds of your bees (and their honey sacs filled with honey!) will leave with the queen to find another home. The bees left in the hive will be left to raise a new queen. She will begin to lay eggs after mating. Swarming is the colony’s way of protecting itself and ensuring that it can survive. The bees’ genes become divided and spread out throughout a new population.

Don’t worry about what is left of your colony after swarming; it is likely to be perfectly fine after the number of bees grows back to normal. However, if the swarming takes place late in the season, they may be too weak to survive fall and winter, which could be bad news for your departing and remaining bees.

3. Split the colony yourself

It is possible for you to split the colony yourself. By doing this, you will stop the bees from swarming on their own terms. To do the splitting yourself requires that you carry part of the brood directly to a new hive. Nurse bees will take care of the rest by choosing and raising a new queen. If you do it early in the season, both portions of the colony will have plenty of time to ready themselves for winter. With any luck, with the second hive up and running you will again be able to split your hives the next year and continuously double your numbers, all without harvesting honey.

How Many Times Can You Harvest Honey in A Year?

The simplest answer to this question is that it will depend entirely on how much honey your bees produce based on how active they are. Factors influencing the production are based strictly on how much pollen the bees are able to gather. When there are not enough bee-attracting flowering plants in close proximity to your hives, production will decrease. This is because the farther out the bees must go to find pollen, the fewer trips they can make per day. On the flip side, in areas with many different types of flowering plants located close to the hive, production will increase.

Different types of flowers can also be seen throughout the season, and this may affect how many times you can harvest honey in a year. Different flower varieties mean different flavors of honey. In other words, it’s possible for a beekeeper to get honey that looks and tastes differently if they harvest more frequently. That said, most beekeepers will commit to harvesting honey once or twice per year and such variation is often not caught in those timeframes.

Many beekeepers believe that you should remove no or extraordinarily little honey from your hives during the first year. They believe that bees expend too much energy during that first year producing wax and drawing out their comb. This essential process ensures that the queen has a place to lay her eggs. When you wait out the first year without harvesting honey, the bees become stronger and really have the chance to establish themselves. For a new hive, the average wait time is between four and six months for some honey to accumulate.

How Do You Know When Honey Is Ready to Harvest?

One of the most difficult things for new beekeepers is learning when to harvest their honey. If you’re wondering what happens to honey if it is not harvested, you’re probably also wondering whether your honey is actually ready!

Honey is usually harvested when the substantial flow of nectar draws to a close. This occurs at different times depending on your location. Colder climates will see this occur much earlier than warmer ones. In warm climates, the bees produce honey all year long. In both cases, however, you want to look into your hive and see that it is full of honey that is both cured and capped before you harvest.

Keep a close eye on your hive by checking every two weeks when the weather is warm. Note how many frames of capped honey you have each time you look. If you are using a shallow frame, honey is harvestable once it contains more than three-quarters sealed and capped honey. Being patient just a little longer will reward you with a full frame if you are able to wait!

Can you leave honey in the frame too long?

However, you do not want to leave your frame in place too long either. If you do, there are two things that may happen. The first is that the bees will start to eat the honey they have stored after the final nectar flow. Alternatively, they may take the honey and move it to deeper regions of the hive, making it difficult to harvest. There is also the chance that the weather will turn. Once this happens it is not possible to remove the honey. Have you ever put honey in the refrigerator and seen it turn white and granular? The same happens in the hive. Honey in that state will not come out of the comb. The lesson? It’s better to harvest too early than too late.

What Do You Need to Harvest Honey?

You will not, of course, just open the hive and find it filled with bottled honey (although in dream worlds, maybe that is what happens when honey is harvested!) There are some particularly important tools you must have on hand to do the job properly.

When the honey starts to flow, a variety of insects, including bees, will flock to the area. Because of this, the best place for you to do the honey harvesting is indoors. To start the process of harvesting the honey you will need your protective gear, frame super, a fully fueled smoker, and a hive tool. Hive tools are multi-purpose and are used for various duties, including scraping wax and moving the frames.

A frame super is used to transport the frames full of honeycombs. Beginners will want to ensure their protective gear includes gloves that are sting-proof. The last thing you want is to drop frames and lose honey or injure bees because of a sting!

Vacating the bees

If the smoker is not effective at getting the bees out of the supers, you will require either a fume board, a bee brush, or an escape board. The bee brush gently clears the bees off each frame one at a time. Using the fume board is quick and simple. Bee repellent is sprayed on an insert and the bees vacate almost immediately. For occasions where time is not of the essence, try using an escape board. Bees pass through the hole in the board and are unable to find a way back into the super. With this last method, the hive is generally cleared of bees within twenty-four hours.

Extracting the honey

To extract the honey, you will need an uncapping fork, a heated knife, containers, food-grade buckets, an extractor, a double sieve, and a tub. The heated knife allows you to uncap the cells (remove the layer of beeswax) to uncover the honey. Any cells that the heated knife misses can be unsealed with the uncapping fork. The aim is to remove the honey from the frames with little damage occurring. The drawn comb left on the frame is what the bees will use to start restocking their supply. Wax cappings removed from the frame can be placed in a tub once the honey has been strained from each one.

Uncapped frames get placed into the extractor. Whether you use an electric or manual version is a personal choice. The honey is forced out of the frames by the spinning of the extractor. As it drips to the bottom of the extractor it is funneled out through the double sieve. This prevents impurities and wax pieces from falling into the bucket. Those pieces of wax can later be rinsed off in water and melted down for beeswax blocks.

Containing honey

The best containers to put the filtered honey in are bottles that have been sterilized. Most beekeepers prefer to use glass when bottling their honey, but plastic is common as well. There is a fair amount of equipment that you will need to purchase, but most of it is relatively inexpensive (if you want to support our website, you can always make your purchases through our affiliate links!). If you’re beekeeping for profit, you might already have most of what you need from initial startup equipment purchases. There is a number of beekeeping supply sites where you get what you need online. If you are lucky, though, you live in an area with lots of beekeepers and that has an actual store for you to wander around. The benefit of a real store is that you can see a demonstration of exactly how everything is supposed to work and maybe even get some freebies along the way.

As far as cost, your largest expense will probably be the extractor. Before purchasing bigger items, check out reviews on the different models that are available.

Can You Harvest Honey When It Is Not Capped?

Bees cap their honey with wax only once it has reached a moisture level of 18%. When you come across frames that contain uncapped cells, the honey within may still be good for harvesting, providing it is cured. To determine if your honey is cured, remove the frame, and hold it above the ground with the cells facing down. Shake it gently and observe if honey leaks out. Cured honey will not drip from the cells, so drips mean it is not harvestable. Left out, uncapped honey quickly absorbs water from the air. Honey-containing water ferments easily and the only way to store it safely is by freezing. This is only practical for those who have plenty of freezer space.

So, What Happens to Honey If It Is Not Harvested?

The final answer to this question is two-fold. The honey that is not harvested goes to feed the colony during the cold winter months. They leave what they do not use and build upon it the next season. Secondly, other bees and insects steal honey that is in the hives. Bees from other colonies will bring back honey from another hive to their own. This is quite smart when you think about it, since they will not need to work as hard to fill their cells. Any other insects in the vicinity will feed on the hive honey if they can access it. This includes bugs like ants who are known to love sugar, so you better think hard about your harvesting schedule and ensure they don’t get there first!


Alice is a writer who grew up on a beautiful homestead in rural Old England. She now lives in New England with her fur babies and is on a mission to return to the land for a simpler, greener, and all-round kinder existence.

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