Feeding Old Honey To Bees (Carefully!)

feeding old honey to bees

After keeping bees for a while you’ll find you accumulate old honey from various operations. 

It’s all part of the beekeeping process. But it seems such a shame to waste this precious liquid!

A common idea is to use it as food during times of dearth.

So can this honey be fed back to your bees, and are there any precautions you should take before feeding it to a colony?

Can You Feed Old Honey Back To Bees?

Old honey can be fed back to bees if the honey is pest and disease free. Old honey makes a better feeding option for bees in winter than sugar water. Only feed old honey from your own disease-free hives to avoid introducing disease to your colonies.

Beekeepers build up a supply of old honey unsuitable for human consumption from various beekeeping tasks.

Bee removal from buildings and other structures, abandoned or dead hives, and honey harvesting can result in a stockpile of old honey. This is generally not suitable for humans to eat, but it still has use for the beekeeper.

Honey is a natural food for bees (better than any supplemental feed), so many beekeepers will give old honey back to their hives rather than waste this precious resource.

Feeding old honey to bees is a valid option, but not all types of recovered honey are suitable for bees.

In fact, feeding honey to bees is a very controversial topic in the beekeeping industry, with some saying it’s more detrimental than other alternatives. I feed old honey to my bees and have had minimal losses, but you must decide for yourself if this is a practice you want to try out.

Will Old Honey Harm Bees?

Most old honey is perfectly fine for honey bees, but there is still a risk that old honey will harm a colony.

One of the golden rules for feeding surplus honey to your bees is to only feed honey from disease-free colonies in your own apiary.

This precaution is necessary because pests and diseases can be introduced to your colonies by feeding them honey from a contaminated hive.

Can You Feed Your Bees With Crystallized Honey?

Honey has many particles dissolved within the liquid, such as pollen, which forms a nucleus around which sugar crystals can congregate. This reaction, especially combined with cooler temperatures, causes honey to crystalize and become semi-solid.

Crystalized honey can be fed back to your bees. Actually, it makes the feeding process a little easier when the honey is crystalized, and bees are perfectly capable of using it in this form.

Sometimes crystallized honey can get extremely hard, so beekeepers try to transform it into another form, thinking the bees will find it easier to consume. Doing this can be a very messy process. But one of the easiest ways to feed this solid honey back to bees is just leave the open jar in the hive! Give it a go! You’ll probably be surprised how quickly they devour it 🙂

It takes the bees a little longer to consume crystalized honey, and they will eat liquid honey reserves in preference to the crystalized form. This is simply because liquid honey is easier for them to take in. But they won’t ignore a helping of free honey, even if it’s rock hard!

Can You Feed Fermented Honey To Bees?

Honey with a high moisture content can result in the sugar beginning to form alcohol, and the honey will ferment.

Bees will not be harmed by consuming small amounts of fermented honey. In natural conditions, when humidity is high, the bees are typically exposed to some fermented honey in their hives.

Fermented honey should not be given to bees in large quantities. It can cause bee dysentery and weaken the colony.

If you have large amounts of fermented honey, you can heat the honey to almost boiling point, which will cause the alcohol in the honey to evaporate. Once the honey has cooled, you can feed it to your bees.

What To Check Before Feeding Old Honey To Your Bees

While feeding this precious resource back to bees is possible and may help them get through a dearth period, there are some risk factors that you need to check before going ahead with this practice.

  • Check the legalities of feeding honey back to bees. Some regions, especially in Canada, have banned feeding honey back to bees to curb the spread of disease in honey bee colonies.
  • Never feed shop-bought honey to your bees. Shop-bought honey has a high risk of containing American Foul Brood spores, which are not harmful to humans but will devastate your bee colonies.
  • Only feed honey from your own apiary to your bees. Do not accept honey from another beekeeper to feed to your colonies (even if they are from a neighbor). The risk is simply not worth the benefit. If you don’t have your own surplus honey, feed sugar water to your bees.

Can Bees Eat Honey From Another Hive?

Just to be clear… Bees can eat honey from another hive, but there can be risks. You should only feed honey to your bees if the source is your own well-maintained, disease-free bee colonies.

You should never feed old honey from a source that is not your own beehives. It is impossible to know the condition of the beehives and the health of the colony that the honey came from. 

A better alternative could be to feed the bees commercial or homemade candy or sugar water.

Use your judgment!

Does Old Honey Make The Bees Aggressive?

Old honey has pretty much the same composition as fresh honey and does not contribute to making the bees aggressive.

Beekeepers may see bees fighting over the honey if it’s fed using incorrect methods, and it may encourage stronger colonies to rob weaker colonies of this resource. 

It is not the old honey that is increasing this aggressive behavior in the bees but rather the method used. 

How To Feed Honey Back To Bees

Feeding bees out in the open is always a risk, and you will not only be feeding your own bees but wild bees and those from neighboring apiaries.

Robbing is a risk if you place the feeding station too close to any of your hives. Feeding stations should be positioned at least 330 feet or 100m from any of your beehives.

My preferred method of feeding bees is to do this inside the hives using internal feeders. This can be with a top feeder or a simpler method of placing honey in a flat, shallow plate inside the beehive. 

Old honey can be mixed with sugar water and fed to the bees in the fall by using jar feeders. Honey is usually too viscous to be used in jar feeders undiluted.

To sum up

Feeding old honey back to bees can be done if the beekeeper is conscientious and diligent regarding the source of the honey. The source should all be from your own healthy colonies to prevent the spread of illness in your apiary.

There is some controversy regarding feeding bees honey, but in my experience, feeding bees helps surplus honey can help pull colonies through periods of dearth, and the colony is strong and ready for the nectar flows.

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